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Votes

Letter: Work Group’s Recommendations

To the Editor:

As co-authors of the final report of the Waterfront Plan Work Group, we must address two misperceptions of the Work Group's work that have been perpetuated in media articles and letters-to-editor from individuals on both sides of the Waterfront Plan debate. One concerns a misunderstanding about the purpose of our votes and the other concerns our position on eminent domain.

It has been repeatedly stated that the Waterfront Plan Work Group approved the Waterfront Plan by a 4-3 vote. In reality, the Work Group took no vote in favor or against the Waterfront Small Area Plan in its totality. We clearly state in the Forward to our report that "It is neither a consensus report nor an approval of the draft Waterfront Small Area Plan."

Instead, members of the Waterfront Plan Work Group took a series of votes in agreement or disagreement with plan statements and recommendations. All seven members of the Work Group found consensus on many of these votes. Some featured a 6-1 or 5-2 split. One issue in particular — the amount of permitted density and the number and size of hotels — split the Work Group 4-3. The viewpoints on both sides of this issue are clearly presented on page 17 of the Waterfront Plan Work Group Report. Notably, there were other development issues on which the Work Group generally agreed, including findings that mixed-use, commercial development was likely and desirable, but that it should be balanced with high quality open space to preserve the historic nature of Old Town.

The Work Group's 4-3 split regarding the tenor and scale of development should not be misconstrued as a summary vote regarding the Plan. Indeed, there were many areas where we found broad agreement, regarding the public realm; parks and public space; the foot of King Street; marina, piers, and shoreline; art and history; flood mitigation; parking; traffic and circulation; and implementation; funding; and environmental issues. In each of these areas, the Work Group offered numerous suggestions to improve the Plan.

Regarding eminent domain, the Work Group was in broad agreement that eminent domain should play no part in the acquisition of private property along the City’s Waterfront. Such action, with all its uncertainty and legal complications, inhibits planning for important and feasible alternatives and needlessly delays important progress serving both the public’s and our City’s best interests. In the very first finding of the report (pg. 10), we state emphatically that our group "strongly discourages the use of eminent domain to accomplish the recommendations of the [Waterfront Small Area] Plan." As our report affirms (pg. 10), "Nothing in the Work Group report should offer rationale for eminent domain action." In particular, we strongly state in our discussion of actions at the foot of King Street (pg. 33) that negotiations, not eminent domain, should be applied to resolve property issues. To be very clear, our group lacked any authority to prescribe specific action the City may take. But, to perceive that we somehow found eminent domain and negotiation as equal alternatives with one simply "preferable" over the other is to grossly misread the strongly held sentiment of this citizen group.

We hope that the 71 new recommendations offered by the Work Group to improve the Waterfront are the lasting legacy of our work.

Nate Macek and Bob Wood

Alexandria