Letter: Appoint Ombudsman

Letter: Appoint Ombudsman

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

The mayor’s Ad-Hoc Monitoring Group for Waterfront Construction continues to identify the many adverse things that might happen to property near one of the six future construction sites on the waterfront. Ironically, they are doing all this without the assistance or advice of the City Attorney’s Office, which refuses to assist committees not appointed by the City Council. In other words, they refuse to speak to the very citizens who pay their salaries .... a sad commentary, at best.

To date, the Monitoring Group has considered an option to barge out demolition materials and barge in building materials to the Old and Historic District, rather than to have hundreds of overloaded dump trucks rolling over our historic streets. The developer of the Robinson Terminal South project (EYA) has agreed to barge the majority (90 percent) of materials in and out of Old Town. The residents living close to the waterfront are most appreciative of this, and they applaud EYA for this promise.

However, the City Attorney and the Director of the Transportation and Environmental Services (T&ES) Department have continually maintained that barging would not be considered for the Carr Hotel development. They have failed to abide by the instructions regarding haul routes within this development’s Development Special Use Permit (DSUP) 2012-0019 by dragging out the process over a period of months, when in fact barging could have been a viable alternative to trucking. On at least four occasions, I have requested the mayor to contact Oliver Carr to discuss barging for his development, just as Bob Youngentob (one of the owners of EYA) has done. The mayor advised me that he had someone working on it, but regrettably, (after about six weeks) there has been no headway.

One critical item that surfaced during the Monitoring Group meeting was the review of an overlay depicting construction schedules of the four private developments: Robinson Terminals North and South, the Carr Hotel and the Old Dominion Boat Club. This overlay revealed that by December 2015, all four development sites will be active, three of which are within a two-block area. The result is going to be chaotic, as dump trucks will be running helter-skelter, noise will be unbearable from the pounding of pilings on multiple sites, and debris, dirt and dust will be strewn everywhere, thus making that part of the city a mess. In fact, Union Street will be essentially shut down. All of this disarray does not bode well for the affected residents, or for the businesses trying to make a living. City Hall must draft a reasonable construction phasing schedule, whereby only one construction site at a time is fully operational. Otherwise, the current plan will result in a large catastrophe. Incidentally, two other developments may further add to this carnival of dump trucks — the redevelopment of Windmill Hill Park, and the city’s Waterfront Improvement Plan (the promenade and flooding abatement).

The real elephant in the room that evening was the city staff’s refusal to ensure that the proper membership of the Monitoring Group be maintained throughout the entire development process. As the developments progress from south to north on Union Street, other neighborhoods will be affected, so new members need to be added to the Monitoring Group, while at the same time keeping the current members, whose areas under construction had not yet ceased. This might mean adding three or four new members to the group, so we respectfully ask the city manager to amend the original group membership to make it more representational.

Furthermore, the city needs to identify one individual to handle all of the inquiries and complaints of citizens for the duration of this massive construction project. Essentially, an ombudsman should be appointed, who is empowered by the council to deal with all aspects of the entire waterfront development. This worked very well before in the case of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge construction, and should be used again.

Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet