Waterfront opponents want ethics pledge
Two weeks before the Alexandria City Council is to vote on the future of the city’s waterfront, the citizens group opposed to the city’s plan wants council members, planning commissioners and a rival citizens group to disclose any financial interest in the redevelopment.
Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan, which has criticized the city’s proposal to reshape the Potomac River waterfront, also wants the council, the appointed planning commissioners and Waterfront4All, an opposing group that has supported the city plan, to sign a promise to refuse political contributions from those who benefit from waterfront redevelopment and to refuse to invest or do business with those who do.
Andrew Macdonald, a CAAWP co-founder who stepped down as Alexandria’s vice mayor in 2007 and is considering running for mayor this year, said his organization would do the same.
“In order to have a fair and open process, these relationships can have a very negative impact on public decision-making,” he said. “Maybe that’s not what’s happening here; maybe it’s just a philosophical difference of opinion, but there’s enough of a feeling in the city that things aren’t as transparent as they should be.”
Mayor William Euille (D), Planning Commission Chairman John Komoroske and Gina Baum, founder of Waterfront-4All, said officials are already required to disclose financial conflicts of interest. They said CAAWP’s challenge is a political ploy.
“This is strictly political posturing,” Euille said. “I’m hearing lots of misrepresentations and statements alleging this whole process is moving forward because members of council or the planning commission will benefit financially — that’s simply not true. I will make zero, not one penny, on that waterfront.”
Komoroske said: “I guess I should be offended by CAAWP’s loaded question implying that there is something shady going on, without any evidence at all. But instead it’s just sad that CAAWP is resorting to smear tactics instead of reasoned debate.”
Baum called the CAAWP request “an attempt to cast a shadow and call into question the motivations of our public servants without any justification.”
Tensions remain high between city officials and CAAWP, which has threatened to sue the city and to unseat council members and the mayor if they adopt the city staff’s proposal on Jan. 21. The city proposes to allow some commercial development, including hotels, on the waterfront. It originally wanted to buy or seize by eminent domain the Old Dominion Boat Club’s chain-linked parking lot, which sits at a key waterfront location at the foot of King Street, and use the land for a park. The city abandoned that effort in the summer, but it remains in conflict with the boat club over parking and access to its boat ramp.
CAAWP board members have accused city officials of wanting to rezone and overdevelop the waterfront in order to boost tax revenues. The former acting city manager blasted the group’s alternative plan, which proposed significantly reduced commercial development on the shoreline, as financially unfeasible and legally indefensible.
The citizen organization is collecting signatures from residents to try to force the City Council to have a “super majority” to pass the proposal.
CAAWP also considers The Washington Post suspect in the controversy. Robinson Terminal Warehouse Corp., a subsidiary of The Washington Post Co., sued the city over a 1992 rezoning that reduced the value of two huge waterfront properties on the north and south end of Old Town. The company dropped its suit after discussions with city staff, and the city’s plan proposed to return the warehouse zoning to its previous level, which would allow Robinson to redevelop.
The Washington Post Co. owns The Washington Post and its Web site.
Others also are engaged in the civic debate, sending letters to the editor of a weekly newspaper, blogging and drawing up full-fledged position papers from political candidates.
Kevin McVicker of Shirley and Banister public affairs, who often represents the Old Dominion Boat Club, circulated documents to the news media Friday purporting to show conflicts of interest between the mayor and vice mayor and the Virtue Feed and Grain restaurant. McVicker would not say who he was representing.
The boat club has charged that the restaurant impinged on its access to the water, and the city sided with the restaurant. Both elected officials said they have no stake in the restaurant.
The City Council and Planning Commission will hold a joint work session Tuesday evening to review recommendations from the work group and discuss possible changes to the city’s draft plan in advance of its formal public hearing and vote Jan. 21.