A new waterfront development with condominiums or town houses, shops, a hotel, restaurant and a boat club?

No, that's not a scaled-down version of National Harbor, the $1 billion retail-entertainment-resort complex being proposed along the Potomac River in Prince George's County, south of the Woodrow Wilson bridge.

The shops and other elements listed above are actually key components in a redevelopment plan being considered by officials on the other side of the river -- in Alexandria.

But with the proposed redevelopment site in Alexandria less than three miles miles upstream, the implications for National Harbor are significant and fascinating.

The Alexandria waterfront proposal could prove pivotal in weakening the arguments of environmentalists and others who seek to block development of National Harbor.

Critics of National Harbor obviously would risk being portrayed as hypocrites were they to continue their opposition and not question a plan to expand commercial development on Alexandria's waterfront.

Ever since the Peterson Cos. proposed building National Harbor two years ago, critics have engaged in a relentless campaign to sabotage the developer's plans, even threatening legal action to kill the project.

An army of instant ecologists, marine biologists, traffic engineers and other self-anointed experts -- some of them from Alexandria -- has condemned the proposed Prince George's development as the source of a certain environmental disaster. Some environmental and anti-development activists have even suggested that the site be turned into a public park or a national cemetery.

The Peterson Cos. plan to build about 1 million square feet of office space, upscale shops, hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues on a 534-acre site, 240 acres of which are underwater.

National Harbor obviously would be much larger than the proposed development in Alexandria, which would include a park and boardwalk along a six- or seven-block stretch of waterfront. But given the proposed locations of the two developments on the waterfront, a key issue that must be addressed is the potential environmental impact.

Amid the hysteria surrounding the National Harbor proposal, critics ridiculed a draft environmental impact statement that was prepared last year for the National Capital Planning Commission. Opponents claimed the study was incomplete and biased.

The draft statement nonetheless concluded that the character of the project would have a negative impact on adjacent residential areas, lead to further reduction in the wildlife habitat and that wetlands and aquatic life would be disrupted as a result of shoreline alterations and projected waterfront activity.

Indirect impacts throughout the area near National Harbor, though, would be "positive overall," according to the draft statement, because the development would "positively contribute to the economic condition of the area and strengthen the image of Prince George's County."

Moreover, the statement pointed out, "Mitigation measures to reduce or alleviate project-generated impacts have been identified, as appropriate."

The NCPC issued a final environmental impact statement in April responding to comments on the draft statement. The NCPC, acting as the lead federal agency for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, will issue its decision on the matter after it receives the developer's final proposal.

Meanwhile, National Harbor's critics can take comfort in comments on the impact statement, by officials in the Environmental Protection Agency's regional office in Philadelphia.

Although acknowledging that the developer has devised a plan to avoid permanent damage to aquatic resources in the area, Stanley L. Laskowski, EPA's director of environmental service, contends the potential still exists for long-term direct and cumulative impacts to those resources.

Laskowski's assumption ("We believe there will be unavoidable adverse impacts") is contrary to findings by other agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers, and he offered no evidence to support his conclusion.

EPA's complaint about the lack of "tangible documentation" showing minorities and low-income residents won't be adversely affected by development of National Harbor is even more puzzling. It is patently ridiculous, in fact, to infer that "environmental justice" may be a problem in Prince George's County.

Not only is the National Harbor site adjacent to integrated middle-class neighborhoods, but the project is generally supported by minorities. Besides, Prince George's County is the most affluent predominantly black county in the country, with a black executive, a predominantly black council, and a strong policy against discrimination by companies that do business with the county.

Any clerk at EPA could have verified that much merely by spending 30 minutes in the county, instead of making uninformed assumptions that add to the hysteria surrounding the National Harbor proposal.