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Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Unresponsive City Staff?
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Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Unresponsive City Staff?

The following open letter is addressed to the mayor and City Council.

As a corollary to the "Out With the Old, In With the New ..." and "Council Vote Will Reveal Priorities" letters a good number of concerned citizens recently sent to you, we ask for a quality answer to inquiries of over a month ago: When exactly did Planning and Zoning and City staff first learn of the plan for Mark Center tree cutting?

Planning and Zoning Department in its reply, as well as those from some on council, in early December 2017 dodged this question, or never answered it fully. It is important because it has been reported that residents, Morgan Properties, and perhaps others alerted city staff to the planned clearcutting at Mark Center in early November 2017, well before over 500 native mature canopy oaks and other trees were unnecessarily lost.

Reportedly, the mayor called Morgan properties as soon as she heard about it. She was told that Morgan properties left two messages with city staff but never heard back from anyone.

Staff said that even if staff had heard about it there was nothing they could do because it was on private property and the city has no power over what landowners do. Did they ever hear of education, persuasion, or incentives ?

The mayor then had a long conversation with their president who said every tree removed was dead, sick, or too close to the buildings and damaging the foundations. If this was true, then we have an even greater crisis in Alexandria. What is sickening and killing all our mature trees? It is hard to believe every single one of 500 mature trees needed to be destroyed.

He said they would be happy to coordinate their replanting plan with the city’s guidance. We should have some mature trees back in about 50 years. Perhaps the city could have offered guidance and expertise before all the trees were destroyed ?

The smoking gun is who knew about this before the slaughter and felt these trees were not worth even a conversation to see if some judgement might not save many of the trees.

It all gets back to attitude and goals.

If it turns out that the city knew about the Mark Center tree massacre a month before it happened but did nothing until citizens cried out in disbelief, then it underscores exactly what proponents of improving the plan for Karig Estates and others in Alexandria have been saying all along — that environmental protection, safeguards, and policies get short shrift in the city from a complacent P&Z and city staff. If true, how else could one honestly interpret the situation?

On its own, the Karig Estates debacle demonstrates an overwhelming body of technical information disregarded, manipulated, and suppressed by P&Z and the city, resulting in the city's sticking to bad land use planning and giving flimsy explanations to the public for doing so. (Some of Council have also expressed that the overall review and public hearing process was botched.) This Information would have been helpful in providing a good outcome to the project for all — if utilized in a timely, transparent fashion, which unfortunately it wasn't.

It all gets back to attitude and goals.

The Mark Center tree massacre which happened at roughly the same time as the unfairly city-controlled Planning Commission hearing of Nov. 9, 2017 should be instructive to Council in showing that P&Z's motives, land use supervision, and subsequent decisions are greatly subpar when we are trying to qualify as an Eco-city and that the Karig Estates now-approved proposal should be remanded back to P&Z with instructions for substantive revisions.

Either way, we would please like to have a timely, straight answer to the question above — without the burden of having to generate yet another FOIA.

Robert and Suzanne McLaughlin

Cynthia Evans

Bonnie Petry