To the Editor:
As a final City Council vote on the Waterfront Small Area Plan draws near, I wish to make several points to clarify issues and dispel myths about the Small Area Plan.
Current W1 zoning has sufficient safeguards against "unbridled as of right development." Special Use Permits are currently required for any proposals over a Floor Area Ratio of 1.0 and most over a FAR of 1.25. Waterfront Height District restrictions apply to all projects within the waterfront area and all proposals within the Historic Landmark District are subject to BAR review. The Small Area Plan does not increase oversight in any meaningful way, but does allow significant density increases.
I have heard it stated that the Small Area Plan is simply a framework and a vision and that all the real restrictions are to be developed during implementation. However, there are concrete statutory changes in the Small Area Plan which once approved are not subject to any change. These include density increases at the three development sites, the addition of hotel use and the text amendments which document these changes. The Small Area Plan does include serious statutory changes that once passed are law.
Some have stated that the City is divided on the Small Area Plan. However, I observe hundreds of "Don’t Rezone the Waterfront" signs in Old Town windows and very few "Waterfront 4 All" posters. Even businesses and members of the Chamber of Commerce in Old Town display more "Don’t Rezone" signs. Outside of Old Town I believe most Alexandrians are ambivalent about the waterfront, but I believe they are disenchanted with City actions on BRAC, similar development initiatives elsewhere in the City, reported conflicts of interest and a general disregard for the will of the citizens. I do not believe there is significant support for the City’s plan anywhere in Alexandria.
Others have said we have spent enough time discussing the waterfront and the City should pass the plan and move on. In business, in government and in our personal lives, we don’t move forward with decisions that are inherently flawed. There is always time to make things right, to improve things and to avoid costly mistakes. The citizens of Alexandria place our trust in those who serve to do the right thing, not to make unwise decisions for the sake of expediency. After two years and one million dollars it may be difficult to admit the current plan is deficient, but it is, and the residents of Alexandria deserve a better plan and better action from the elected officials and staff who serve at their pleasure.
Even though a majority of Work Group members were supportive of the current Plan from day one, a Work Group finding suggested that the current Plan does not have a clear vision. If supporters of the Plan cannot articulate its vision, why would City Council pass the Plan? It seems counterintuitive to develop a vision after the Plan has been passed and is law.
I must respectfully ask one last time — why would City Council ignore the will of their constituents and rush to pass a plan that has no clear vision, has several significant flaws, does little to add restrictions on future development and actually allows higher density, and will adversely impact already saturated traffic conditions in Old Town. Alexandria is asking City Council to do the right thing, to delay action on the current Plan until its shortcomings are fully vetted, and publicly supported modifications are made.