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Alexandria City Council Poised to Rezone Waterfront

City manager declines to talk about developers interested in the waterfront.

City attorney Jim Banks, City Manager Rashad Young and Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille appear at a press conference announcing they are moving forward with rezoning the waterfront.

City attorney Jim Banks, City Manager Rashad Young and Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille appear at a press conference announcing they are moving forward with rezoning the waterfront. Photo by Michael Lee Pope.

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City Manager Rashad Young Answers Questions About Waterfront Rezoning

Can City Manager Rashad Young name any developer who is interested in the waterfront? During a recent press conference about the waterfront plan, the city manager was asked that question. His response was quick, pointed and definitive.

“No,” said Young. “I can't name any specific developers that are interested in the waterfront.”

But then the city manager acknowledged that many people have been talking about doing deals, and that a handful of developers have, in fact, expressed an interest in developing the waterfront. When asked who expressed an interest, Young backed down from his previous position and admitted that yes, he could identify a developer who has expressed an interest in the waterfront.

“Everyone knows - or, not everyone - it is common knowledge that there is a hotel developer who is looking to develop a hotel on the waterfront,” Young said. “We know that's out there. Residents know that's out there. That's not something we are trying to hide or walk away from.”

The developer Young refused to name was Carr Hospitality, the Washington-based developer who has already submitted plans to City Hall for a 120-room hotel on the Cummings property. Last year, the developer submitted a design concept that was considered by the Board of Architectural Review. Members of the board had some concerns about the proposal, which was not approved. It was an academic discussion anyway because the zoning has not been increased to meet the demands of developers. Meanwhile, some say the city manager should have been more forthcoming when asked about development pressures.

“The city is not being transparent,” said Boyd Walker, one of the leading opponents of the waterfront plan. “It's sort of a lie by omission.”

THE ALEXANDRIA WATERFRONT has been at the center of controversy for almost two years, as city leaders have moved to almost triple the allowable density compared to what's there now. The plan would allow 800,000 square feet to be developed on land that currently has about 300,000 square feet. That created a groundswell of opposition in Old Town, where neighbors collected signatures to require a supermajority vote of the City Council to approve the proposal - a threshold that supporters could not meet until Democrats ousted the two Republicans who opposed the plan.

“What's the real agenda here?” asked Bert Ely, member of the waterfront work group. “It's almost as if the waterfront is being used to mask the real intent here is, which is to gut the protest petition.”

Supporters of the plan say Alexandria needs the tax revenue created by the additional density, which they say will pay for flood mitigation while adding to the tax base. Even though the existing zoning would allow for an additional 350,000 square feet compared to what's there now, city planners hope to tack on an additional 150,000 square feet to that - a proposal that would almost triple the density compared to what's there now.

“If we don't move the process forward, there may never be expressed interest because prospective developers or investors may not want to do anything on the waterfront,” said Mayor Bill Euille. “We need to be able to be generating some tax dollars and revenues so that we can move forward to do the things the citizens want us to do on the waterfront like open space and flood mitigation.”

LAST JANUARY, the previous City Council approved the plan in 5-to-2 vote after a contentious daylong public hearing. Dozens of people testified in favor and against the plan, although a clear majority of neighbors in Old Town who live closest to the properties at issue are against the plan. Since that time, the plan has been caught up in a number of lawsuits, most of which have challenged the city's efforts to dismiss a protest petition of neighbors requiring a supermajority vote. The previous council lacked a supermajority vote, although the new council does not.

“Elections have consequences,” said former Vice Mayor Kerry Donley. “And I think it's time to approve this plan and move on.”

Now that Democrats have ousted the two Republicans, supporters of the waterfront plan have a clear supermajority vote. So the city manager is now willing to yield to the demand of the protest petition and meet the threshold of six votes. City Council members are scheduled to vote on the rezoning March 16 despite outstanding legal challenges in the Alexandria Circuit Court and the Virginia Supreme Court.

“It's outrageous,” said Ely. “What they are proposing to do is gut a very important due-process provision for property owners.”