Kristos Kiriakow managed to sail from Italy to Greece to escape Mussolini's Fascists 41 years ago, but he has just been flattened by the rising role of anger in Alexandria against over-development of the waterfront and the proliferation of restaurants, and drinkers, in Old Town.
Kiriakow, 63, owner of two Alexandria restaurants, recently was denied his long-delayed bid to open a third restaurant on valuable waterfront land he owns adjacent to the Torpedo Plant.
Kiriakow's request brought to the fore many of the issues concerning the waterfront -- issues the city has been grappling with over the last few months. They include the impact of citizens' groups, the federal title claim to the waterfront, the use of public funds to by private land and the City Council's ability to forge what some members claim is a vision for the 18th-century city after the year 2000.
Last week, a bitterly divided City Council denied Kiriakow's request to construct a 250-seat restaurant in a building he owns at 211 N. Union St.
"It's not fair," the barrel-chested restaurateur said during a break at the Charcoal House, one of the two restaurants he owns.
The city now is considering purchasing the land from Kiriakow for at least $1 million. But Kiriakow's first choice is still to build a restaurant.
After the rejection, Mayor Charles E. Beatley Jr. conceded that the long-range decisions on developing the waterfront may cause hardships for some Alexandrians.
"We will have a lot of heartbreaks up and down the river as we develop the waterfront," said Beatley who led the fight against the restaurant.
"This is one of them."
Kris Kiriakow was born in Farrell, Penn., near the Ohio border, but his parents returned to the Greek island of Rhodes when he was 5.
In 1939, he escaped from Mussolini's soliders and came to America with barely the clothes on his back, then served 42 months in uniform. After the war he worked as a meat department manager for a food chain in Virginia. In 1957, he opened his first restaurant, the Charcoal House, and three years later, Kristos Steak and Seafood Inn.
Kiriakow originally purchased his one-acre waterfront property for $250,000 in the late 1960s.
"I used to dream of opening a restaurant down there," he says in heavily accented English.
The land is now occupied by a deteriorating brick building and a parking lot Kiriakow leases to the city for $650 a month.
When Kiriakow bought the land, slum housing existed in Old Town brick-by-beam with finely restored townhouses, and imitation federal style homes were selling slowly for $40,000 each.
The concepts of low-rise development, preservation of historic buildings and a public spirit that extended beyond a landowner's property line, were rarely voiced in the city.
Instead, business, development and expansion were the goals.
In the mid-1970s, the waterfront began changing drastically. Land values skyrocketed, new homes were built, old homes restored and bars and elegant restaurants began replacing warehouses, chemical plants and abondoned buildings.
Where winos once slumped in doorways, young people now nodded off after too many beers.
In 1973, fearing another Crystal City the U.S. Justice Department claimed title to the waterfront as a means of stopping pending development. Kiriakow was among the property owners named as defendants. Through some shrewd negotiation, and what he says was a desire to please city officials, Kiriakow gave the city a half acre of underwater land in return for being dropped from the federal suit.
Because of the arrangement, Kiriakow was the only private landowner able to attempt construction on the waterfront.
Last year, in an effort to control the new "rowdyism in Old Town," the City Council passed an ordinance requiring a special use permit for new restaurants. It was that ordinance which ultimately blocked Kiriakow's restaurant plan.
At almost the same time, the council gave the okay for redevelopment of the Torpedo Plant on the waterfront. And Kiriakow began going ahead with plans for his property.
Kiriakow first proposed a five-story building, but at the city's request scaled it down to four above ground stories. In subsequent meetings with city officials, he reduced it even further. The process took more than a year and, Kiriakow says, cost him more than $60,000.
When Kiriakow finally presented his plan, citizen groups in the area objected. Although most of the groups praised Kiriakow, they contended that his restaurant would be too massive and would detract from the surrounding neighborhood.
Despite the objections, city agencies approved the plan and submitted it to the City Council for review.
When it finally got to the council last week, the conflict between private ownership and public use met head on.
"It was a great shock to me when I realize the Kiriakow property hadn't been folded into the Torpedo Plant development," Mayor Beatley said at the council session to consider Kiriakow's plans.
Beatley objected to the traffic the restaurant would being to Old Town and to what he called the "Chinese Wall" effect the building could create. He suggested that the city condemn the property under its right of eminent domain and buy it from Kiriakow.
Council member Donald C. Casey seconded thos objections, and said the restaurant would be "out of keeping with what we've tried to do in that area."
However, council member Carlyle C. Ring, Jr. wondered if the council was being fair, especially since the city itself had proposed a restaurant at the Torpedo Plant.
"If it's inappropriate to have a restaurant here (on Kiriakow's property), it's inappropriate to have one at the Torpedo Plant," Ring contended.
Because the current assessed value of Kiriakow's land is $1.08 million, the city probably would have to pay at least that if it decides to go ahead with the purchase. Council member James P. Morgan Jr. said he didn't want to see any development there, but also didn't want to see the city spending $1 million for the land. Vice Mayor Robert L. Calhoun and council member Marlee Inman agreed.
Council member Nelson E. Green Sr. supported Kiriakow's plans.
"We own some justice to this man," Green said, "for delaying so long."
As a compromise, Inman proposed approving a 150-seat restaurant, although Kiriakow's attorney Harry P. Hart said that was not economically feasible.
The motion lost, 4-to-3, with Inman Ring and Calhoun voting for it.
The next vote was on the original proposal for a 250-seat restaurant. It failed 4-to-3 when Calhoun and Inman joined Beatley and Casey in voting "no." Ring Greene and Moran voted for the plan.
Finally, Beatley lent his personal support to buying the Kiriakow property, and his motion to discuss a purchase with Kiriakow passed 5-to-2 with Inman and Green voting against it.
Ironically, the council approved Kiriakow's site plan for the building itself, since there was no legal reason for them to deny it.
But Kiriakow wonders if he will ever be able to build on the land.
"It's an injustice," Kiriakow said recently, even though he may profit if the city purchases all or part of the land.
What Kiriakow fears most is that the council will take no action while it deliberates some more.
"What can I do?" he asked.