Council member Redella S. “Del” Pepper crafted a compromise from the dais that reduced the number of hotels that could be built on the waterfront from three to two with no more than 150 rooms each, a cut of one-third from what city planners proposed.
“For decades, I’ve said the highest and best use of our waterfront was green grass, trees, flowers and maybe benches if we could keep people from sleeping on them,” she said. “I came to feel there were more exciting things that could be done with the waterfront.”
Vice Mayor Kerry Donley said the waterfront plan brings new parks, more public access and additional historic preservation for any property that is redeveloped.
“We removed the piers, we removed the parking structure at the foot of King Street and the restaurant” that once was proposed there, Donley said.
But opponents, bitterly disappointed over being rejected on their attempt to force a supermajority vote, said they would immediately appeal that decision to the Board of Zoning Appeals and from there, if necessary, to the Circuit Court. A supermajority would have required six votes to pass the council.
The vote came at the end of an 11-hour meeting, during which more than 100 residents heatedly testified whether the proposal to unify Alexandria’s waterfront parks and allow hotels or other commercial developments would help or hurt the city.
The plan, in the works for three years and unveiled last spring, would create new parks, allow construction of hotels where warehouses now stand, encourage commercial development and build a miles-long pedestrian walkway.
Opponents say that it rezones portions of the waterfront and gives developers and business interests too much influence. They also say it will allow dense development that will bring traffic and parking nightmares.
Although the city’s proposal covers the majority of its shoreline, the area under greatest dispute is eight blocks in Old Town that include the Robinson Terminal Warehouse Corp.’s huge properties and the area between them. Robinson is a subsidiary of The Washington Post Co.
The disagreements have been heated from the start and have not abated during more than 150 meetings over the past three years. The city remains as divided as the Revolutionary and Civil War skirmishes that help define this 263-year-old burg. Detractors say the sessions were the same meeting 99 times over.
The opponents of the plan have engaged in an array of actions: circulating petitions, staging protests, posting placards, writing their own plan, monitoring city meetings, creating online videos and trying to force the council to pass the plan with a supermajority vote rather than a simple majority.
Organized by the Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan, various opponents who spoke at Saturday’s hearing called the city-backed plan “highly dubious and skewed,” “selling our city down the river” and “neighborhood genocide.”
Supporters of the plan decried the “mean-spirited rhetoric” and “distorted and dishonest” allegations from the other side.
“This is a battle for the heart of this city and its soul, and it will not be over today,” opponent Katy Cannady said.
“From the west end to the south end to Old Town, residents are clearly aware that business interests have denied residents any voice in how this city is developed,” Linda Couture said.
A countergroup, Waterfront for All, supports the city’s plan and also was out in force Saturday.
Both sides accused the other of spreading misinformation and having hidden agendas. Both sides employed letters to the editor of local newspapers and blogs, recruited notable supporters who sent letters to elected officials, and sought every advantage in public perception.
Supporters called the city proposal a choice “between obsolescence and irrelevance versus progress and continued regional competitiveness,” “an elegantly balanced plan” and something that will create an “economically sustainable, active and vibrant waterfront.”
Mayor William D. Euille and Donley strongly denied CAAWP’s allegations that they have conflicts of interest on the matter. Council member Frank Fannon, a 17-year member of the Old Dominion Boat Club, which is also a player in the waterfront controversy, also said he would not recuse himself from voting.
Fannon and Alicia Hughes were the two “no” votes.