0
Votes

Letter: Council Could Have Compromised

To the Editor:

Last Saturday, City Council passed the Waterfront Plan and the Rezoning of three waterfront parcels to encourage development. On one side were citizens, who at their own cost and expense put together a plan which the city said had many good ideas, but when the city added them up, they said they proved unfeasible. So they threw all of them out, and proceeded with the plan they had the whole time. In any negotiation, you always start with a higher price than you are actually willing to pay, so the city had a long list of amenities, and when several of their ideas proved infeasible, they simply threw them out and said "look, we made changes." But they held fast to the one tenet of the plan that was most disagreeable, rezoning.

But thankfully, a group of residents gathered the necessary signatures to comply with an official protest of the rezoning. The City Attorney James Banks refused (maybe on the advice of his counsel) to advise the citizens how to submit the protest, or what the city would require. Frankly, I don’t think they believed it could be done. This followed a pattern of the city attorney trying to characterize efforts by citizens to make constructive changes to this plan. First he said the plan that we presented was "down zoning" and therefore illegal. When we established that we only wanted to keep the "current zoning" he denied that the city was changing the zoning at all, and therefore citizens have no right to protest. Interesting that when the motion to pass the plan was introduced by Paul Smedberg, he introduced it as the Small Area Plan and Zoning changes. No complaint from the city attorney there.

There was a memo, clearly ignored, like so many other pieces of good advice along the way, by Faroll Hamer, director of Planning and Zoning (there is that word again), and James Banks, talking about the merits of separating the zoning from the conceptual plan. It says "Council, if it chooses, may legally act to adopt the Waterfront Plan without also approving the zoning of specific parcels to those uses and densities anticipated by the Plan" Unfortunately, Council chose not to do this even though there were several reasons to do so listed in the memo:

I. … concerns about the Waterfront Plan's proposal for zoning to allow hotels and increased density. With more time and discussion about implementation, concerns may be allayed.

  1. Two out of three development opportunities on the Waterfront are for Robinson Terminal, and likely not to be developed soon, thereby making zoning action unnecessary now. There is currently interest in the redevelopment of the Cumming Turner block, but that could change (and probably has).

  2. Part of the reason for citizen concern is the fact that there are no specific development plans before the City now. It would be easier to support a development concept when there is an actual application and proposal to view.

  3. Assuming an implementation group is established with subgroups to work on specific elements of the Waterfront Plan, such as history, parking, and flood mitigation, there would be a ready venue for citizen review of zoning concept when a developer is ready to proceed.

  4. There is the potential to achieve more from a developer in a rezoning process, for example through proffers, than through the SUP process. (acknowledgement that there are no proffers.)

  5. If rezoning does not take place and a property owner seeks development approval under current zoning, staff will apply the Development Guidelines in the Plan to the extent it is able to do so.

For example, there is discretion in the SUP arena to apply such guidelines, although it would be limited to those that are not inconsistent with current zoning.

If the city were truly interested in avoiding litigation, by the protest petitioners, or other legal challenges that may arise, there is an option. The City seems to be going to great lengths to avoid litigation with Robinson Terminal and the Washington Post, and to not have to defend the 1992 comprehensive zoning of the city, that the Washington Post wants to overturn. Wouldn’t they want to avoid litigation against their own citizens. Or are the interests of businesses more important to protect? City Council can bring back the vote and remove the zoning, and a compromise can be struck.

Otherwise the city council has chosen to expose the divide between businesses and citizens instead of bridging the gap.

Boyd Walker

Alexandria