Letter: Old Town Perspective

Letter: Old Town Perspective

— To the Editor:

The following remarks were delivered before City Council on June 14.

As a member of the Waterfront Commission, I voted to approve sending a letter to the mayor and council members regarding Olin’s landscape and flood mitigation plan. Therefore, they were well aware of the many shortcomings in the plan addressed by the commission. In addition, there are other issues that I have spoken about during the numerous sessions Olin has conducted to date. I believe I attended most if not all of those briefings.

First and foremost, the single most important issue in this plan concerns flood mitigation. A part of the problem will be satisfied by installing a “check valve” on the Strand in order to eliminate the nuisance flooding in that area.

However, the remainder of the plan to build a bulkhead (promenade) along the waterfront to control flooding up to six feet remains problematic. A number of citizens well qualified in flood control measures have presented differing views than those laid out by the city. In order to get a firm grip on what we need to do in order to stop the flooding in Old Town, the city must get the Corps of Engineers here to assess our problem and give us their opinion on what constitutes the best flood-mitigation solution for our waterfront. Anything short of this runs the risk of not working. With all due respect to our city engineers, we need the experts here.

The idea of putting an ice rink and fountain in Fitzgerald Square is absolutely bizarre. This is a historic city and right in the heart of it the planners want an ice rink that does nothing to promote our historic heritage. This is something National Harbor would do, and it has no place on our waterfront. We would recommend that you find another location for it. There are lots of other areas to choose from. The citizen’s at every briefing I attended recommended deleting the ice rink from the plan.

Putting a fountain on the waterfront dramatically takes away our view of the river. Residents and tourists come to see the historic Potomac River, not a water fountain disrupting their view. Historical charm is what we currently have in our Old and Historic District and that extends all the way to our waterfront. Let’s keep it that way. I ask what’s the matter with passive open space?

I cannot overemphasize the importance of the traffic and parking impacts in the Old Town area. Much has yet to be decided on what configuration the 100 block of King will take. It could be all pedestrian or a mix of what is already there now. However, a number of other traffic enhancements should be made as traffic and parking are driving all of us who reside in the Old and Historic District absolutely bonkers. It appears that the restaurant policy has gone down the drain as we have created over 500 new restaurant seats behind the Torpedo Factory with no consideration as to where are all these people are going to park? These yet to be created parking spaces along with hundreds of other parking spaces that have been eliminated without any new spaces being created is a problem that needs to be solved in the immediate time-frame.

Additionally, tour buses should not be allowed in the Old and Historic District. Park them outside the District and shuttle the tourists to the river. This is a recommendation that has been made numerous times over the years yet to no avail.

In addition, have the trolleys stop at City Hall instead of at the riverfront. That’s only two blocks off the waterfront and not a very long distance to walk. Both these initiatives will alleviate to a great degree all of the current traffic congestion on lower King and Union Streets. In addition, I can’t overemphasize that an active role must be played by our police who to date have totally shunned their responsibility in this regard.

The unintended consequences of threatening eminent domain on the ODBC has essentially resulted in most of the city’s pleasure-boat slips disappearing, especially those slips behind the Torpedo Factory. In addition, the other pleasure boat slips north of the Chart House will be turned over to commercial interests. Those 63 slips need to be rebuilt in another location.

The Seaport Foundation has for years used the Robinson Terminal South as its boat building facility. Since this structure will soon be torn down, the Seaport Foundation at this juncture has no other place to relocate to. This program aids many troubled youths in Alexandria and without a place to conduct their business of building boats the Foundation goes away. It is incumbent upon the city to find a new location for the Foundation and that’s not a warehouse building near the airport which is currently being considered. It must be in the city to serve the city’s at risk teens.

Lastly, to date there has been no financial assessment on how much Olin’s plan is going to cost us. How much will the citizens have to pay? Being a half billion dollars in debt with a yearly debt service of $60 million plus will just add to our current financial woes. We need an accurate financial assessment before one shovel is turned on the waterfront.

Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet

President, Old Town Civic Association