Alexandria waterfront rhetoric ratchets up


Alexandria’s waterfront on Feb. 23, near one of the Robinson Terminals. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For The Washington Post)

The group that arose in opposition to the city’s proposed plan unveiled its 200-page critique-and-alternative proposal Sunday, to a crowd that organizers say filled the Athenaeum. The report isn’t online yet; the group now promises it by Nov. 2, or it will sell you a hard copy for $20. It’s unclear exactly how much support this group has; more than 1,000 people signed its petitions this past summer, but its Web page has had fewer than 3,000 page views, according to its own counter.

The city’s Waterfront Plan Work Group, the eight-member citizen commission appointed by Mayor William Euille this past summer to find areas of agreement and disagreement with the city’s plan, begins this week working on its draft recommendations for the City Council.


Empty property along the Alexandria waterfront in June. (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)

However, the Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan (CAAWP), which handed out a limited number of its reports Sunday, says the city’s plan “is a commercialization plan, not a visionary plan to make the waterfront more interesting from an historical or arts perspective.” It said the city has inflated the costs of building a a less-commercial alternative and never seriously attempted to incorporate public input.

New retail development, CAAWP said in its report, should be located in existing structures, most of them historic buildings. It attacks The Washington Post Co., the parent organization of Robinson Terminal Warehouse Corp. and, separately, this news organization, for Robinson’s negotiations with the city over the complex issues of zoning and density changes on its two warehouses. If the warehouses are ever sold and redeveloped, the city prefers they turn into small-scale hotels; Robinson wants flexibility in case it can make more money repurposing the property for residences, schools or other uses, a difference of opinion that has been aired at the Waterfront Plan Work Group meetings and in letters between the city and company.

CAAWP calls this reliance on residences or hotels short-sighted and calls for a waterfront devoted to parks, open space, museums and other public uses.

The city, which has said it is relying upon the higher tax revenues which come from hotels to help pay for the waterfront redevelopment, including improved sewers, flood mitigation and cleanup of old industrial sites, has overstated how much it will cost to create a waterfront without hotels, restaurants or other commercial options, CAAWP asserts. Auto traffic will only get worse if hotels are allowed on the waterfront, CAAWP warns; furthermore, the group says the city’s models of redeveloped river front distort how tall the proposed buildings will be.

Some of the 700 members of the Old Dominion Boat Club, whose clubhouse sits at the foot of King Street and whose surface parking lot for those members blocks the waterfront, are members of CAAWP. “I’m sure that we need to make the area at the foot of King Street more attractive,” the CAAWP report says, without identifying who the first-person writer is. “However, we don’t believe that City should use the right of eminent domain to take land that belongs to this organization.”

CAAWP also urged the city to included the GenOn Energy power plant in its waterfront plan. It was excluded, city officials said, because it is a complex matter that is likely to take years to resolve.

The CAAWP report has several sections devoted to finances, the gist of which says the waterfront parks-arts-history proposal could be paid for by a mix of specially dedicated city funds, taxpayer-supported open space money, donations from a new city foundation, municipal bonds and state and federal funds.

Patricia Sullivan seeks out news about Alexandria and Arlington County for the Washington Post.

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