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Votes

Letter: Explaining Her No Vote

To the Editor:

I voted against the Waterfront Small Area Plan and accompanying text amendment on Saturday. I want to clear up any misunderstanding on why. In reading across post-vote e-mails from constituents, I was most struck by the following statement that may frame the issue for others so I wanted to share it: "I’m not sure what motivated your decision to vote against a very reasonable, market-driven waterfront plan — political opportunism or a conviction that additional taxes are a tradeoff for ‘historical’ preservation." The constituent went on to say, "[f]or the city’s sake I hope your cynical vote is mere opportunism and not a deeply held belief on how to sustain an urban economy."

The answer is neither. Public service requires more from me and my history on council is as a spendthrift committed to low taxes and a balanced commercial-residential tax base, which in essence, requires more not less development to be realized … but it has to be in the right place. In making my decision, I first removed personal passion and individual emotion from the root of my thinking. With all staff reports and work group reports in addition to thousands of emails, I objectively evaluated the facts and the law, considering what decisions would be legally defensible and winnable if the city was sued. As a steward of our resources, that’s my job. Second, I considered the will of the people I represent, to the extent that their will would not put the city in a compromised legal or financially deleterious position. The distant third was my own personal views.

My no vote can be summed up with the following: 1) the 1992 comprehensive down-zoning was legally defensible and winnable based on comments made by our city attorney during the work session preceding the public hearing; 2) approval of the text amendment required a supermajority vote pursuant to the petition put forward pursuant to Section 11-808 of the Code; 3) the economic analysis remains presumptively flawed and too incomplete for comfort in that it does not adequately cost out how the plan can be realized without an undue burden on taxpayers, especially given the city’s competing priorities for core services and development in other areas of the city (notably, flood mitigation and a host of other feasibility studies need to be completed that will undoubtedly reveal a host of issues not previously contemplated that will drive up cost, which is consistent with development history in the city being over budget); 4) an option to seize property owned by the Old Dominion Boat Club by eminent domain is unacceptable but part of the plan in order to open the foot of King Street; 5) a deeply held belief that there can be development, but it must be controlled one project at a time on our waterfront to avoid the chaos experienced with BRAC-133 and to regain public confidence in our planning processes (and yes, though less desired, we can get proffers this way to realize the comprehensive vision that incorporated public art and history); and 6) serious flaws in our processes, including how we have engaged and treated our citizens, with the bulk of my constituents siding against the plan.

Now, as for what I want, what I believe and what I support: I want and support a vibrant waterfront that does have one small boutique hotel, but preserves our strong public art and historic presence and more dense development in more suitable areas of the city where there are more robust public transportation and the capacity for more transportation infrastructure. Unfortunately, the plan we approved is not what I consider the optimal vehicle for accomplishing what I consider best for our waterfront, which adds so much character to our city. And finally, I believe that civility remains the core for defining democracy and while we, as a community, have fallen short of that in this debate and allowed passion to rule, in some respects, common sense and common decency, we aren’t too far from grace where civility cannot once again be the order of our day and our dealings as we work to make more perfect "One Alexandria."

Alicia Hughes

Alexandria City Councilwoman