Alexandria’s fractious debate about the future of its waterfront became slightly less polarizing Tuesday morning as the Waterfront Work Group in its advisory report to the city, said it found substantial agreement on what the city needs to do about waterfront design, maintenance, traffic and establishing a significant public space at King Street and the Potomac River.
The differences that remain, however, are the most complex: How much density and development should be allowed, how to pay for the waterfront revitalization and whether hotels should be allowed where they are now banned.
“The work group did what we were asked to do,” said Nate Macek, co-author of the report. “There was never an expectation that the work group would come to consensus. We’re illustrating the full range of options ... and distilled them in a way that makes the [City] Council’s work a little easier.”
“I think we gave a lot of ground for the [city] leadership to act, and leadership is key,” said co-author Bob Wood. “Our job was to review the fact and assertions and separate fact from fiction.”
Alexandria Mayor William Euille (D), who entered the press conference after it started, said he hadn't yet read the work group’s report, but “the city’s been dealing with the waterfront for 30 to 40 years, and at some point, you have to make a decision.”
The City Council takes up the matter Jan. 10, and it has scheduled a Jan. 21 public hearing and vote.
The seven-member work group group, appointed by Euille last summer after the City Council was unable to decide whether to adopt, adapt or reject the planning department and Planning Commission’s recommendations , spent the last four months studying the plan and hashing out whether various constituencies could agree on any of it.
The activist Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront, which opposed the city’s plan last spring, said at an earlier press conference Tuesday that while the work group incorporated some of their ideas in its report, “we’ve been dismissed from day one,” and will “do everything we can stop this rezoning from occurring,” said Andrew McDonald, CAAWP co-founder.
The city’s plan would allow the two huge warehouses on either end of the waterfront to return to the zoning in place between the early 1980s and 1992. That level of zoning allows more dense, and more profitable, uses than the current industrial zone. The warehouses are owned by Robinson Terminal Warehouse Corp., a subsidiary of the Washington Post Co.
Although not everyone agreed, the majority of the work group concurred with the city plan’s proposal of a mixed-use development on the warehouse sites.
“The idea on those parcels is to have maximum flexibility,” said Wood. “From [Robinson’s] own studies, their own experts, hotels were unfeasible.” If Robinson decides to redevelop the property, they would have to go through a special use permit process; the work group suggested additional guidelines that would limit development.
The president of Robinson Terminal Warehouse Co., Robert Taylor, was at the press conference and said the company would continue to work with the city.
In two other major findings, the work group also urged council members to set up a separate senior director and public body to oversee the development of the waterfront. Although revenues that come in as a result of waterfront development should be applied to waterfront amenities, the work group said, the cost of a new waterfront, beyond what is paid by developers, grants or other sources, should be borne by all the citizens of the city, and not just Old Town residents.