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Del Ray residents want deferral of controversial zoning plan to desegregate Alexandria

What two additional stories looks like on a 45-foot-tall structure. (Via City of Alexandria)

A controversial proposal to expand Alexandria’s housing availability is running into opposition in Del Ray.

The Del Ray Citizens Association (DRCA), on Wednesday, will vote on asking the city to extend the timeline for its Zoning For Housing/Housing For All initiative. City leaders say that the massive plan essentially desegregates Alexandria, and includes an incentive for developers to build affordable housing up to 70 feet in height in areas where height limits are 45 feet or more.

Mayor Justin Wilson says the initiative is the “most ambitious housing effort in the City’s history.”

“For much of the 20th Century, wide swaths of Alexandria housing was off-limits to Alexandrians that were not white,” Wilson wrote in his April newsletter. “That reality was enforced by a patchwork of ordinances, restrictive covenants, intimidation and lending practices that served to effectively segregate our City for generations. While de jure policies that explicitly enforced segregation were made illegal long ago, the legacy of these policies live on today. In fact, in recent years, Alexandria has grown MORE segregated.”

Nate Hurto, founder of the grassroots group Save Del Ray, says that the city has not been forthcoming on the impact of the plan on neighborhoods.

“What we’ve been able to put together from a timeline perspective is that we will not see draft of what is being proposed until sometime late summer,” Hurto said. “I think that the big takeaway for zoning for housing is that this is being rushed through with delivery at the end of the year, right over the holiday season.”

The Planning Commission deferred a vote on the bonus height proposal last summer after a wave of protests from Del Ray residents. Under the proposal, numerous areas of the city would be open for developers to move in and increase the height of 45-foot-tall buildings to a maximum of 70 feet in height — specifically along Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray, in Arlandria, Alexandria West, the Beauregard area, the Landmark area, Eisenhower West, Old Town North and Carlyle.

“The current timeline is scheduled to be completed by the end of the calendar year,” Save Del Ray said in an email. “We feel very strongly that this incredibly short timeline is irresponsible and that basic questions will not have sufficient time to be answered.”

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

The proposal is in the community engagement phase between now and June. City staff recommendations will be made in July and August, followed by more community engagement sessions in September and October and then public hearings in November and December with the Planning Commission and City Council.

“There is unequal access to housing opportunities in Alexandria,” City staff said in a presentation last month. “Far too many Alexandrians cannot afford a place to live in our city.”

The city scheduled public feedback sessions on Tuesday, April 18, from 6 to 8 p.m. at William Ramsay Recreation Center (5650 Sanger Avenue); on Wednesday, May 10, from 6 to 7:45 p.m. at the Charles Beatley Central Library (5005 Duke Street) and on Monday, May 22, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Lee Recreation Center (1108 Jefferson Street).

According to the city, the initiative examines:

  • Bonus height text amendment — This initiative would incentivize more use of Section 7- 703 of the zoning ordinance that allows additional height in new residential projects in exchange for affordable housing. Current law allows the provision to be used in areas with a height limit greater than 50 feet, and the proposal is to allow it to be used in areas with height limits of 45 feet or more. A goal of the initiative is to expand housing choices and dispersion throughout more areas of the City in a manner that is harmonious to the surrounding physical context of the visual depiction of community
  • Historic development patterns —  The purpose of this initiative is to identify land use patterns, such as the mix of uses and building types found in historic neighborhoods (Del Ray, Rosemont, Old Town, and Parker-Gray) that can no longer be built under existing zoning. Characteristics of historic land use patterns that are desirable would be identified along with recommendations for changes to the Zoning Ordinance to allow these patterns to be considered
  • Coordinated Development Districts and affordable housing — CDDs establish the zoning for large tracts of land planned for redevelopment. The purpose of this initiative is to ensure that the creation of affordable housing is supported in each new CDD. The recent CDD for the Potomac River Generating Station site is a model that staff will examine for potential application in future CDDs
  • Expanding housing opportunities in single family zones — This initiative will propose a zoning framework to expand housing options in single family zones by enabling new typologies in neighborhoods where they don’t exist now. These options may by their nature be less expensive than the typical new single family home, but this initiative will not be examining the potential for these new units to be “committed affordable” as we have interpreted that without specific tools or public investment to make them so
  • Analyses of industrial, townhouse and multi-family zones — These initiatives will seek to create a common set of rules for industrial, townhouse and multi-family development and reduce unnecessary regulatory barriers to construction
  • Expansion of transit-oriented development — This initiative will review existing permitted densities within the walksheds of existing and planned Metro stations and bus rapid transit stations. It would further analyze any existing barriers currently in place that limit increased densities around transit stations
  • Office-to-residential conversions — This initiative will review Alexandria’s recent experience with office-to-residential conversions, including an evaluation of the impacts of conversions from a variety of perspectives, including housing supply, economic development objectives, and fiscal impact. The project will determine whether the Zoning Ordinance includes impediments to office-to-residential conversions and whether there are areas where we want to encourage or limit conversions

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