To the Editor:
I attended almost all of the meetings last fall of the Waterfront Plan Working Group appointed by Mayor Euille. From the minutely detailed presentations by Alexandria City staff and the probing questions asked by Working Group members, I came away with a very clear picture; namely, that there is no plan to the City’s so-called "waterfront plan." To call it a concept is being generous. In my opinion, it ranks somewhere between wishful thinking and window dressing, the sole purpose of which is to support an argument for increased density on three waterfront sites.
There is not sufficient space here to go into details, but here are a few examples to illustrate my conclusions:
The City’s waterfront "plan" fails to address at all adequately the increased traffic and parking congestion that will accompany any new development on the waterfront. There was no traffic study at all done on Union Street, which would be most affected by waterfront development. After the traffic fiasco associated with BRAC-133 in the West End, one would think the City would have learned better, but apparently this is not the case.
The City’s "plan" for sub-grade parking on a waterfront that is already prone to flooding would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. And the response to questions about the feasibility of staff’s proposals for flood mitigation were brushed aside with the dismissive comment, "Oh, that will be studied in the implementation phase." Excuse me, but basing a so-called "plan" on ideas that may prove not to be feasible makes about as much sense as planning to build castles in the air.
And then there was "Fitzgerald Square." Originally conceived to be the centerpiece of the entire waterfront "plan," this recommendation ran afoul of the inconvenient fact that the City does not own this part of the waterfront and that the Old Dominion Boat Club — which does own it — has no interest in giving it up. This led to a threat to use eminent domain to take the property, which was an embarrassment to the City and which wisely seems to have been taken off the table since then.
I continue to be perplexed by the City’s deeply flawed approach to waterfront planning. If the 1992 zoning is in fact legal, then the only reason for the upzoning currently proposed for the Robinson Terminal and Cummings-Turner sites is to cave in to the property owners’ wishes for greater flexibility in developing their sites. However, the hotels which this upzoning would allow are at best problematical. The Washington Post Company, which owns the Robinson Terminals, appears to have conflicting views about this. On the one hand, they argue that the upzoning that would be permitted by the current waterfront plan would give developers "increased flexibility" in developing these sites, when sold, i.e., to build hotels. On the other hand, they appear to regard at least the site of Robinson Terminal North as unlikely to be suitable for a hotel. If this is in fact the case, as I believe it to be, then why is the City persisting in pushing this agenda?
The site of Robinson Terminal North is also known to be contaminated by pollutants from past industrial activities and would have to be cleaned up by any prospective developer before new construction could begin, which would add to the developer’s costs.
It’s time for City Council to put a stop to this nonsense, scrap the current, deeply flawed waterfront plan, and engage in a process that really does have the potential to produce a world-class waterfront. Other cities have found ways to develop their waterfronts with great success. Given the unique role of Alexandria in the history of our nation, City Council owes it to future generations to do as well for our city.
Hugh M. Van Horn