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Alexandria council looks for waterfront compromise

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Alexandria City Council members, in their first public remarks about the hotly contested waterfront plan since last summer, indicated Tuesday that a version of the plan is likely to pass when it comes to a vote in 10 days.

Four of the seven council members are likely to approve the plan to redevelop the Old Town waterfront, based on their comments during a joint session with the city’s Planning Commission. And another member said she found the discussion “encouraging.”

The proposed plan would allow some commercial development, including ­hotels, on the waterfront, create new parks and link disjointed parks together with full pedestrian access. It also would address flooding and sewage runoff, which occur during regular rainstorms. The plan would also contribute to a nascent Art Walk and highlight the history of the 230-year-old port.

What becomes of four pieces of private property and whether the city should rezone them to control development have stymied an agreement for months.

One property is a parking lot owned by the Old Dominion Boat Club, which successfully parried an earlier effort to seize it by eminent domain. The other three are warehouses, two of them owned by a subsidiary of The Washington Post Co. The other warehouse is known as the Cummings-Turner property on South Union Street, and its owners plan to build a boutique hotel there.

Opponents of the city’s plan have argued since spring that it gives away a valuable asset to developers for more tax revenue. They filled council chambers Tuesday night but were not allowed to speak because the meeting was a work session, not a public hearing. Their group, Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan, demonstrated outside City Hall before the meeting.

The city plan notes that more than 301,000 square feet are already developed on the three warehouse sites, and property owners have the right to build an additional 346,362 square feet. Allowing 160,800 square feet more would give the city a bargaining position to exert control over development, city officials said, as well as five acres of new parks.

“By right, those [owners] could develop, and all we’d get is a walkway,” said council member Paul Smedberg (D).

Allowing commercial development, including hotels, on the waterfront would bring “anticipated revenue from redevelopment . . . sufficient to pay for the plan in about 25 years,” said Karl Moritz, deputy planning director.

Mayor William D. Euille (D), Vice Mayor Kerry Donley (D), Smedberg and council member Rob Krupicka (D) indicated they support the waterfront proposal.

Council member Redella S. “Del” Pepper (D) said that although she remains concerned about increasing density along the waterfront, she believes that there is room for compromise.

“What I heard tonight is very encouraging in terms of what I can pass,” Pepper said.

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