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Votes

Letter: Vision-based Planning

— To the Editor:

Mr. Auld’s letter in your most recent edition (“What’s Best for All Residents”) is full of straw men. No one in CAAWP (or anywhere else that I’m aware of) is arguing for mindless “preservation” of the kind that he knocks down. Opponents of the proposed rezoning (may it rest in peace) agree that the waterfront requires sensible, low-density development, appropriate for a National Historic Landmark. That should mean development driven primarily by public welfare (including residents’ concerns) and long-term profitability, not short-term profits and long-term mediocrity.

Among other things we must pay special but not exclusive attention to the two big Washington Post warehouses. One of them, Robinson Terminal North, is one of the unknown treasures of the National Capital Area. If you stand on its pier and look up and down river, especially at the magnificent perspective looking north, you will see what I mean.

If we handle the development of this site with taste and skill, we can accomplish something that future generations of Alexandrians will be proud of. They will feel about us the same way that we feel about those who saved Old Town from reckless development in the 1960s, and others who later turned the Torpedo Factory into an Art Center, anchoring (among other things) the future prosperity of the historic district.

Mr. Auld trots out another straw man — that CAAWP has advocated “purchasing these properties for parks.” CAAWP does not have a politbureau, and individual members have said many things at different times. But CAAWP has always put primary emphasis on parks, museums and open space, to be achieved through public-private partnerships, including, but not restricted to, use of City and other public funds as well as NGO and philanthropic support where appropriate. That is what most other cities that have achieved successful waterfront development have done.

My own preference for Robinson Terminal North, spelled out in an letter to the Gazette-Packet published on Dec. 21, would be a decentralized, multi-purpose Museum of the Potomac River, the headquarters of which would be on the Robinson Terminal North site. It would be set in a well-designed (but not necessarily huge) building with ample green space around it, and take full advantage of the site’s pier for riverine and maritime displays. It would among other things serve as a nucleus for other historic displays and museums along the waterfront.

This is just my idea, and others will have other ideas. With zoning in limbo, this is the time to examine all of such ideas and decide on a community-based vision of what we want the waterfront to be — a goal sadly lacking up to now.

Achieving such a vision will take time and cost money. It will require sophisticated fundraising and some fresh thinking. We might emulate the success story of Oklahoma City, where three-term Mayor Mick Cornett, chairman of the National Republican Mayors Committee, has — in this reddest of red states — successfully advocated a temporary, targeted sales tax dedicated to civic improvements, including waterfront restoration, on the grounds — which his voters accepted — that such investment will pay in the long run.

Once we have the vision thing thing sorted out, we could even try approaching the Grahams (not their local lawyer) to see if the Washington Post, which is a great civic institution as well as a profit-making enterprise, would cut us a deal. Stranger things have happened.

Robert Pringle

Alexandria