Alexandria, VA

At the finishing line for the mandatory affordable housing requirement for development, the policy hit some stumbling blocks as the City Council and a representative of the developers clashed over last minute changes and additions as Saturday’s City Council meeting.

Several proposed changes have been in the works for years that would essentially codify an existing voluntary contribution for additional density in developments into a mandatory requirement.

Staff, affordable housing advocates, and developers have worked for months to craft language for the new policy, and suggested amendments from Council members Mo Seifeldein and John Taylor Chapman irked development attorney Cathy Puskar.

“The reason you didn’t see us sign up is because we thought, while not everyone is happy with everything in this policy, everyone who participated in this process could agree we struck the right [tone],” Puskar said. “It’s kind of unfortunate to be seeing that language was sent out late last night that we didn’t have time to consider. We don’t even have the language you guys are discussing.”

The general gist of the amendments was changes that would mostly streamline the contribution to a flat 10% requirement with developers required to pay for studies that might be able to indicate a lower figure should be required for the development — but with no requirement that the Council adhere to that suggestion.

“The reason we have had the success with developers agreeing to abide by voluntary affordable housing is because we all agreed on process,” Puskar said. “It’s a little disappointing you guys are now changing what was discussed and negotiated with that group at the 11th hour.”

Seifeldein argued that the language changes don’t fundamentally alter the substance of what was agreed to. Karl Moritz, director of Planning and Zoning, said the typical process is that the city contracts out analysis and other requirements like a traffic study and bills the applicant separately, to ensure the study is not swayed by being hired directly by an applicant.

Puskar also protested that the burden of the study was being put onto the applicant without any guarantee the council would be required to adhere to its results, but Mayor Justin Wilson pushed back against the assertion that the council should craft policy that would tie the city’s hands on future developments.

“I have some agreement with your concerns about the language, but there’s no circumstance where council is going to say ‘this is going to be determinative,'” Wilson said. “The council can’t bind a future council. If future councils wants to ignore pro formative analysis, they’re free to ignore whatever they want.”

The council agreed to meet with developers to discuss the new policies before coming back for final approval next month.

Staff photo by Airey

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