Panoramic photo of Alexandria City Hall

The Alexandria City Council has voted to rezone the Beauregard area, a move that allows developers to go forward with an immense project slated to demolish 2,475 modest garden apartments and replace them with an upscale condominium development.

The project, which is expected to displace 10,000 current Beauregard residents, holds the promise of  846 units of replacement affordable housing. But opponents say the overall  loss of so many low-cost apartments will have a devastating affect on low and moderate income families and the community.

“You’re evicting us from our home where I’ve seen my sons grow from babies,” Hector Pineda, president of the Beauregard Tenants Association, told the council. Members of the group, who describe themselves as the backbone of the city, include  Latinos, African-Americans and Asians as well as whites. Pineda said he and his neighbors do not oppose the development, just the loss of housing they can afford.

“Keep rents low so we can all benefit from it,” Pineda urged the council at the emotional April 13 hearing.

Several councilmembers described as difficult the decision to move forward with the project, which will include 6,600 condominiums, retail stores, parks, a fire station, a hotel and an athletic field.

But in the end, they voted 6-1 to approve increasing the allowed density on the site. The lone dissenting vote was cast by the city’s vice mayor Allison Silberberg, who said that the plan the city was approving does not  preserve enough guaranteed affordable housing to ensure that lower and moderate-income residents will be able to afford a home in the city.

“This is a very hard vote for me,” Silberberg commented. “The people affected have told me that not finding the middle ground (being guaranteed housing they can afford) would make them feel not part of the community.” Silberberg added that guaranteeing 1,000 units, preferably 1,300, would sway her.

The 846 affordable apartment units to  be built or preserved at the site will be  made available to low and moderate income families for the next forty years, in accordance with a deal made by the city with developers including JBG Properties. Officials called the plan the largest effort ever made by the city to preserve affordable housing.

Councilmembers said the city had been searching for  years for a viable plan to rebuild Beauregard, before finally reaching an agreement with  JBG, which bought the property in 2005. The deal the city finally reached with JBG was in the works for three and a half years.

“There is never enough affordable housing,” Councilmember Bedella Pepper said. “The city really has made an effort; this 800 is more than all those other (similar plans around the Washington region) put together. It may not be enough, but it’s a breakthrough.”

Mayor William Euille said the effort to preserve affordable housing would be ongoing.

“There is a commitment to preserving affordable housing in Alexandria, but the thing you need to do is keep working at it,” he said.

Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Alexandria-based Coalition for Smarter Growth, praised the plan at the hearing.

“This to us has the most specific requirements and detailed plans for affordable housing in the region,”  Schwartz told the council.

“We would be losing those market-rate units anyhow; now we’re getting (committed) affordable housing. We should be making plans like this more often,” Schwartz added.

Demolition is scheduled to start in 2015, with most of the affected moderate-income garden apartments to be razed in 2020. The specter of the project moving forward  is already frightening Pineda’s wife Veronica Calzada. She broke down crying as she attempted to address the council.

“JBG should have a heart,” she said.  “What they’re doing is driving us out and hurting us. The stress; I’m not sure how long I can live with it.”