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Alexandria group mobilizes against Waterfront plan

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Members of the Old Town Civic Association are mounting a campaign against the proposed $42 million Alexandria Waterfront plan.

The multiyear project, which would span about three miles from Daingerfield Island Park to Jones Point Park, is primarily parks and pedestrian piers.

The community’s concerns are focused on the more than 800,000 square feet of proposed development, including three hotels, homes and restaurants. The majority of that development would be at three sites: The Washington Post Co.’s Robinson Terminal North and South facilities and the 200 block of Union Street.

City planning staff members say taxes from the development will pay for the parks within 18 years, but generating revenue is not a priority for the Old Town Civic Association. The group wants to see the constant flooding on their streets remediated, existing zoning levels preserved, better access to the water and inclusion of the area’s history.

“In other words, do not take the developer’s proposals as a plan,” said Poul Hertel, a former president of the association.

Nearly 80 percent of 166 Old Town residents who responded to a community survey said they were not in favor of the current waterfront plan, especially proposals for Robinson Terminal South and the Waterfront Park building. The survey was sent to about 450 dues-paying members.

Several association members met last week to prepare for their comments on Tuesday to the Alexandria Planning Commission. A petition also is being circulated within the neighborhood urging that the density of the area be preserved.

“Things are coming to a head on the waterfront now just because the Planning Commission meeting is the very first opportunity people have had to express their opinions to people who might listen,” said Katy Cannady, a Rosemont resident.

Cannady said she attended some of the planning meetings over the past two years, but said complaints were disregarded. Other homeowners said they wanted to see a comprehensive list of ideas that the community could incorporate into a plan. Instead, they were presented with variations of the existing plan, they said.

City officials said the plan is a guide for producing the best possible uses for land that will be developed anyway. Almost 650,000 square feet of office space and new homes could be built within the waterfront plan’s footprint.

To better deal with parking and traffic and to ensure that the city would be able to afford the new parks, city officials included hotels, which bring in six times the tax revenue of residential development, said Faroll Hamer, the city’s planning director.

“If you decrease the density, you have to start thinking about what amenities you are going to give up,” Hamer said. “Alternatively, if you don’t want to give them up, how is the city going to pay for it?”

Hamer said there had been 18 community meetings in the past two years, and that plenty of changes were made because of the public’s input.

“We have responded. We just haven’t always agreed,” she said.

Alexandria City Council members said several issues in the plan were being worked out, such as using nearby garages for parking and ongoing discussions with the Old Dominion Boat Club.

The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in January that the private boat club has title to its property, ending a 30-year lawsuit with the federal government over public water access. The city’s waterfront plan still includes a redevelopment of the boat club’s parking lot.

Council member Alicia Hughes (R) said that after years of litigation, “What motivation would they have to give the city what it wants?”

Hughes said she would find it difficult to vote for a plan that includes transforming the boat club property when the city has no right to the land.

There are no plans to sell the Robinson Terminals, which are used for storing newsprint and other materials, Robert W. Taylor, Robinson Terminal president, said in a statement.

“The company has no plan or schedule as to when or how it would market the properties so that future development might occur,” he said.

© The Washington Post Company