Alexandria is likely to act on waterfront plan

Impatient with the failure of years-long negotiations, Alexandria city officials are expected to announce Tuesday that they will move forward with the city waterfront plan, possibly by seizing a small, private parking lot by eminent domain.

The Old Dominion Boat Club, a 130-year-old local institution, has not responded the city’s proposals which became public this summer for how to resolve differences over the fate of the club’s waterfront parking lot, or on how to address the persistent flooding that plagues the area after heavy rainfalls.

Mayor William Euille (D), city manager Rashad Young and city attorney James Banks have scheduled a 10 a.m. press conference “to discuss the City’s next steps in implementing the Waterfront Small Area Plan in relation to the Old Dominion Boat Club (ODBC) parking lot and adjacent areas in the Waterfront Plan area,” a press release said.

City officials would not speak publicly about their plans, but sources said taking the parking lot by eminent domain “is always an option,” one that city legal staff have previously discussed.

Boat club president Miles Holtzman did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

“Eminent domain” are fighting words in Virginia, particularly since voters last year passed a constitutional amendment that strengthens private-property rights against government “takings.” But although it limited the circumstances in which governments can seize private property and requires just compensation, the amendment does not outlaw it, city sources noted.

The city’s waterfront plan, which passed after a pitched battle in early 2012, aims to remake the Old Town waterfront into a busier, more pedestrian-friendly and publicly accessible space. New hotels, residences and some retail development are expected. Two giant Robinson Terminal warehouses, which bookend the eight-block waterfront plan area, were recently sold by the former Washington Post Co. to two separate sets of developers.

The boat club sits right in the middle of the redevelopment area, at the foot of King Street. The clubhouse itself, which dates to 1923, would not be affected by the waterfront plan, but its adjacent 53-space parking lot has been a sore point for years. Locked and surrounded by a chain-link fence, the lot is essential for boat access, storage and vehicle parking, club members have argued.

Across a street called The Strand, a handful of parking spaces are also owned by the club. They back up against a building that houses a Thai restaurant and a Starbucks coffee shop. The building tenants routinely sandbag entrances and windows during wet weather and high tides.

The city plans call for an improvement in storm sewers and installation of flood prevention in the area, and it needs the cooperation of the private club to get that acomplished.

The club and the city have engaged in legal disputes in recent years, lately over who controls Wales Alley, a one-block-long access to the waterfront just south of King Street. The Circuit Court a year ago ruled that the private boat club could not prevent the city of Alexandria from making changes to the alley, because the club no longer owns an easement to it. That decision is on appeal to the State Supreme Court.

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