Alexandria City Council approved plans Saturday to construct a new affordable housing complex at the corner of E. Reed Avenue and Route 1 with a vote that was conducted twice, after the two dissenting council members asked to vote again so they could support it.
The project submitted by nonprofit AHC calls for a three- to five-story building with 78 affordable housing units that will be marketed to residents with incomes up to 60 percent of the area’s median income for 60 years.
The hang-up for Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg and Councilman John Chapman—two members of council serving for the first time who both campaigned for more affordable housing in the city—was on parking at the complex.
As part of a financing package for the project, AHC will charge residents $35 a month for parking in a below-grade garage. Several residents of nearby Lynhaven expressed concerns the new renters would park for free on already crowded streets to circumvent the parking fee in the new building.
The city’s Planning Commission agreed with the Lynhaven residents at a Jan. 4 hearing, recommending parking at the complex be made free to residents.
The parking fee was seen as an integral part of the financing and tax credits for the project.
Silberberg offered a motion to uphold the Planning Commission’s recommendation. Chapman supported it, but the five other members of council voted it down. Both argued some of the tenants the building is trying to attract simply need cars for jobs and the cost of parking might be too much.
“Parking is an issue we will discuss,” Mayor Bill Euille said. “I honestly believe [the project] is something we need to do. If we don’t do it, it sends a message we don’t care. We do care about providing affordable housing.”
Silberberg and Chapman later voted against a motion without the commission’s recommendation.
During a lunch break after the vote, Euille asked Chapman if he realized he had just placed a vote against affordable housing, according to The Washington Post. Silberberg told Patch on Monday that Euille asked her the same question.
The pair asked for a re-vote, which was granted at the end of the meeting. Chapman and Silberberg then both voted in favor of the project without the Planning Commission recommendation.
“I think this was probably one of the first times I have gotten lost in the weeds,” Chapman said after the revote, adding while pursuing affordable housing, it’s important not to get hung up on “sort of the small issues” like density, transportation and, in this case, parking.
Silberberg urged and encouraged AHC not to charge for parking when she voted for the project.
She told Patch on Monday she felt council should have approved the project with the Planning Commission recommendation.
“Did I err in my [initial] vote? I am proud of my vote and John’s vote,” Silberberg said. “We have to do the right thing not only for the AHC residents but the people of Lynhaven.”
Silberberg said she received indications from Euille that he agreed with her perspective. She thought there was a way to work out a deal on the parking and there would be discussion of several more options.
“Discussion was so fast and furious and I tried to usher in my motion,” Silberberg said. “I voted for the project because I wanted to be on record of supporting affordable housing. That’s the right thing to do.”