Parking lot or park? Boat club’s riverfront land prompts verbal battle


WASHINGTON, DC - Oct. 16 Boat trailers rest in the parking lot of the Old Dominion Boat Club in Alexandria, Virginia, Wednesday October 16, 2013.The city of Alexandria is threatening eminent domain to take over a parking lot a waterfront parking lot owned by the club. (Photo by Jared Soares for The Washington Post) (Jared Soares/For The Washington Post)

The Old Dominion Boat Club and the city of Alexandria squared off Thursday over what will become of the club’s King Street parking lot, in a preview of the arguments both will make in a public hearing later this month.

The city is considering seizing the half-acre lot by eminent domain because, it says, years of attempts to negotiate public access to the Potomac River have led nowhere. The club, which owns the land and has sued the city multiple times over what it considers encroachments on its properties in the area, says it has made concessions, most of the lawsuits have been resolved and it wants to continue negotiations.

In what amounted to a rehearsal of the arguments that will be aired in a public hearing Nov. 19, both sides Thursday night laid out their reasoning for the city’s Waterfront Commission. A partisan crowd of more than 100 people, mostly boat club members and Old Town residents, jammed the City Hall conference room for two and a half hours, lobbing questions of their own after the commissioners had their say.

After describing 40 years of lawsuits, attempted resolutions and negotiations, deputy city manager Mark Jinks said “The city’s goals and the boat club’s goals remain far apart,” a statement that prompted an immediate outcry of “No, they’re not!” from the crowd.

The city traces its attempts to create continuous public access along the Potomac River back to the 1970s, through a labyrinth of lawsuits, property disputes and incomplete land use plans. In 2005, the City Council took the threat of eminent domain off the table so that negotiations with the boat club could move ahead, but those talks stalled in 2008. When the bargaining resumed early this year, the city said that the boat club reneged on previously agreed upon points.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” Jinks said. Despite many attempts over the years to find a compromise, he said, both sides remained far apart.

Eric DeSoto, chairman of the club's board of directors, told the Waterfront Commission that the club was frustrated by the inability of city staff to directly negotiate. The club, which was slow to respond to the city’s compromises offered over the summer, was taken by surprise when Mayor William D. Euille (D) announced at a press conference Oct. 8 that the City Council was ready to consider taking the land by eminent domain, and turning the parking lot into a public park.

DeSoto said the club has agreed to provide a wide public walkway along the river in front of its parking lot, and a wide sidewalk along the Strand on the west side of the lot, but does not want to lose half of its lot that the city says will be needed if the parking lot stays. He urged a single agreement that will complete all the legal disputes between the two entities.

“We don’t want to be back in front of this commission again,” DeSoto said. “Let’s stop the insanity. Let’s do it now.”

The documents presented by both sides will be posted on the city’s waterfront web pages, http://www.alexandriava.gov/Waterfront , on Friday.

The commissioners and the audience members who spoke said the parties are not as far apart as they think. The parking lot, now more than 20,000 square feet, would have to shrink to 11,500 square feet if it stayed, the city said. Several speakers suggested splitting the difference.

But the city also wants any public access to become city land while the club prefers to retain the ownership and lease or provide limited rights to the property. The waterfront commissioners will vote on its advisory recommendation at an early-morning meeting Nov. 19, less than 12 hours before the 6 p.m. public hearing.

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