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City Manager: Trading height for affordable housing means ‘unlikely’ impact on historic districts

The most contentious part of last Monday’s Agenda Alexandria discussion on building heights was when City Manager Jim Parajon told the audience that the City Council’s priorities on affordable housing have the best interests of residents in mind.

Many members of the audience voiced disapproval by groaning, “No,” that they don’t.

Parajon, who started work in January, said that the city needs a multi-faceted approach to go through the Planning Commission and be approved by City Council by the end of this year.

“I don’t believe we can build enough supply of affordable housing to meet the needs,” Parajon said. “That means that a comprehensive approach to how to deal with affordable housing is critical. It’s everything from building supply, to addressing things such as stable funding source to wealth creation, and how do we do that and making it more affordable to live in our city, not just have a home or housing in our city?”

The conversation on the City’s proposed bonus density and height program was packed at The Lyceum, where Parajon said that the city would employ a cautious approach in regard to the program, which would allow developers to increase heights of buildings to 70 feet in areas of the city that are capped at 45 feet in height — in exchange for an agreement to build affordable housing within the development.

The Planning Commission deferred the proposal in June after outcry from Del Ray residents, including Nate Hurto, who spoke as a panelist with Parajon.

“The historic nature of our city is being undermined,” Hurto said.

Areas of the city that would be impacted by the proposed change to height restrictions. (Via City of Alexandria)

Parajon said that the proposal would not likely impact historic districts in the city.

“I can’t envision a situation where that would be something that would be supported by the community or the council, or the staff,” he said. “The historic districts are embedded as part of what Alexandria is about. Does it mean that in theory you could potentially do something like this? Yes. But through the public process, and you’ve seen it, a lot of projects are not going to make it.”

In Alexandria, developers of new apartment complexes must either contribute to the City’s Housing Trust Fund or include dedicated affordable housing within their plans to help meet the city’s affordable housing crisis. Alexandria lost 14,300 (or 78%) affordable housing units between 2000 and 2022. Consequently, the city has pledged to produce or develop thousands of units to meet 2030 regional housing goal set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

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