Alexandria To the Editor:
Recently a flyer concerning the Alexandria Waterfront is being circulated by CAAWP. Upon reading it, it reminded me of why a few of us citizens came together to start Waterfront4All. We formed because of the constant barrage of misinformation the opposition to the City’s Waterfront Plan was disseminating. This flyer showed that even though CAAWP has given up on the issues about the plans, they are still pursuing an aggressive position that is simply not truthful. It is OK to have an opinion that is for or against the plan. It is wrong to couch opinions in inaccurate statements.
Let’s start at the beginning of the flyer.
It says "It’s your Waterfront, Alexandria - Why the rush to give it to outsiders?" Rush? It has been nearly three years that this plan has been vetted in public, with many suggestions from citizens incorporated in the plan. For some time now no new valid issues have emerged. It is time to vote and move on to other pressing City business.
As to giving the waterfront to "outsiders" just what does that mean? I am guessing CAAWP means their dreaded word "developers." Developers enable the City to grow for its citizens providing housing, retail, other amenities, and tax revenue. If Council failed to vote in favor of the plan, it would result in the current property owners moving ahead developing residences and offices without any City input. The current property owners pay $500,000 in tax revenue every year. As any property owner, they need to get value for this payment. Today, it is empty warehouses with by-right zoning. Proposed text amendments on the three properties are the center of the waterfront debate and the City can control the outcomes on these properties through utilization of the SUP process. These outcomes are readily identified in the City’s Plan.
"A cascade of new hotels, offices and shops – oversized buildings crammed into just a few blocks of historic waterfront"? Hardly. There is about 8 million sq. ft. of development on the waterfront now. The overall amount of development proposed for the three sites is about 800,000 sq. ft., 160,000 sq. ft. more than they can do now. Therefore only a 2 percent increase over existing development. Again, of the 350 acres on the waterfront, the three parcels occupy only 8.5 acres. The original plan called for 600 rooms. Citizen input reduced that to 450. These are boutique hotels, ones that will fit in well in Alexandria and the type of waterfront amenities that citizens will enjoy
"along with thousands of more trucks, buses and cars." Where do thousands of vehicles come from? There are about 1200-plus parking places around this area today. Hotels, by many studies, result in the fewest traffic concerns compared with residential and offices. In the CAAWP plan, they called for a museum which would produce 500,000 visitors per year. The city analysis is this attendance is overestimated and the traffic generated by 500,000 visitors would be difficult to absorb. 500,000 visitors would equate to about 1400 vehicles per day. I can imagine Old Town residents objecting to this increase in traffic.
The next five points in the flyer: Long-term economic growth, Strong property values and city revenues, Successful local businesses with a stake in Alexandria, Resources for our schools, and a priceless quality across the city can be obtained by the City plan, not the CAAWP proposal. Stephen Fuller, expert on local economics says so in his letter of Jan. 11, 2012: "Smart, carefully thought out plans geared to the long term ….. good for everyone." I agree, and that is what the city has done. The City produced a balanced plan, not one driven by revenues as CAAWP proclaims. The CAAWP proposal asks the City to purchase those three properties for between $100 million (CAAWP number) and $200 million (City number). This is simply not economically or legally doable. There are approximately 950 acres of park in Alexandria, 150-plus of which are on the waterfront. This means about 15 percent of city parks are already on the waterfront, which is less than 4 four of total city area. Also currently 40 percent of the waterfront is parks. We need parks and open space throughout Alexandria, especially in the West End. Drying up the open space fund for waterfront parks is not fair to all of the other communities in Alexandria.
Finally, "We have one chance get this right." I totally disagree with this notion. The City’s plan is right for today, and for the future. Every day you can read in the papers about changes to an area developed many years ago. Alexandria historically had an industrial waterfront. Can anyone here predict what people will want 50 to 100 years from now? No. When doing long range planning, you do look years down the road, but you have to deal with the resources you have now and the majority of you planning process reacts to that. The resources we have now do not allow the City to implement the CAAWP plan, nor would the citizens accept it if that were the choice. The City’s plan elegantly balances current needs for the waterfront and the City of Alexandria.
After reading the City Plan, the CAAWP proposal, and the Work Group report, it is my opinion that the only real issue on CAAWP’s agenda is "no change" at all. I say this because all three reports show about the same references to history, arts, and culture. The CAAWP proposal does not, even though they emphasize these values, say as much about these features as the City plan. CAAWP likes to say that the City plan is a "Hotels plan with a history afterthought." After reading the CAAWP proposal you could say the "CAAWP plan is parks, with a history afterthought." If I lived around the waterfront, I probably would be worried about more traffic and parking issues also. They do put up with more than most other neighborhoods. The waterfront plan is not the issue. The need for "close to my house parking," is the real problem in Old Town. Parking is an aggravation to people that live in wonderful waterfront cities, whether San Francisco, London, New York, Boston, Miami or Alexandria. By the way, the City’s Waterfront plan not only absorbs the parking of the boutique hotels, but adds parking.