BAR Fight in Alexandria

BAR Fight in Alexandria

Parker-Gray and Old Town BAR merger discussion sparks latest Silberberg-Wilson quarrel.

Things were almost cordial. It was the end of the April 10 City Council meeting and, quip or two aside, there had been almost no fight between Mayor Allison Silberberg and Vice Mayor Justin Wilson. The two had been at each other’s throats since Silberberg’s election as mayor and Wilson had recently launched a campaign against Silberberg for the position. For most of the meeting it seemed this tension might stay outside the council chambers for the duration of the campaign season, but it couldn’t last.

Trouble began at the end of the docket when Wilson put forward a memorandum written by himself and Councilman Paul Smedberg asking staff to begin looking into whether it would be feasible to merge the Parker-Gray Historic District Board of Architectural Review (BAR) and the Old Town BAR.

The memorandum states that the Parker-Gray Historic District was created in 1984 after an effort to expand the current Old Town Historic District was rejected. However, reforms in 2013 shifted many of the Parker-Gray requests to administrative approval rather than requiring BAR review. Since then, the Parker-Gray Historic District meeting times have dropped to a 45-minute average. While the last meeting ran over an hour, the previous two meetings were roughly 30 minutes each. The memo states that twice meetings had been cancelled for a lack of agenda items. Wilson and Smedberg’s proposal was to consolidate the Board of Architectural Reviews to one committee, while each district would maintain their distinct guidelines.

The proposal was to table the issue for discussion at the next council meeting, where it would be voted whether or not the council would be interested in having staff review the issue. If approved, staff would study the effects of merging BARs. After forming a recommendation, the item would go to the Planning Commission for a vote, then return to City Council.

But the proposal faced criticism from Silberberg, who said the memorandum had been sent out the day of the council meeting and hadn’t had time to properly be reviewed. After Silberberg said including the average meeting times was misleading, Wilson responded he was just including the facts. The two bickered back and forth until other members of council intervened.

“Let’s step back,” said Smedberg. “It is a process. This could be brought forward sometime in the fall; it just starts a more formal conversation.”

But Silberberg’s comments did touch on an issue that has been a sore point in previous council discussions: how soon before City Council meetings should council members be expected to share their proposals with their colleagues? Silberberg noted that she works to try to submit ideas roughly a week before each meeting, while other council members have been known to submit proposals more last-minute.

“We need to figure out what our expectations are for putting things out there,” said Councilman John Chapman.

He suggested that might be something that might need to be put in writing. “That’s something we need to crystallize for everyone because they hear it from us up here [as part of these arguments].”

While other members of the council moved to docket the item for discussion, Silberberg protested that approving it here implied support for the idea.

“If we take that approach we will never have any new ideas,” Wilson and Smedberg answered in unison.

The memorandum was approved by council for discussion at the next meeting in a 5-1 vote, with Silberberg voting against.