A Halloween display on Alexandria's South Fairfax Street gives a sense of some residents’ feelings about the city's proposed waterfront plan. CAAWP co-chair Andrew Macdonald e-mailed this image to city officials, calling it “light-hearted.” (Mark Mueller)

Alexandria city officials said they will investigate whether the alternative waterfront plan proposed by a group of local residents this past weekend is “financially feasible or legally defensible” as the city prepares to decide what will happen to its Potomac River waterfront.

“It appears this report advocates as little change as possible in regard to private property on the waterfront,” acting city manager Bruce Johnson said in a Tuesday conference call with reporters. “Will this lead to an attractive, vibrant, world-class waterfront? Clearly, the report and vision of the alternative group is minimal change.”

Johnson said he is asking city staff to look into the proposals that the Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan made in their report and to respond publicly within a few weeks. Johnson said he received the 200-page report only this morning, although it was provided to supporters and some city officials Sunday night at a CAAWP event.

Johnson expressed some skepticism about the idea of issuing city bonds or outright buying some of the private property, including two huge warehouses owned by Robinson Terminal Warehouse Corp., a subsidiary of the Washington Post Co., which also owns the Post newspaper and Web site.

“The city’s debt capacity is about tapped out at the moment,” Johnson said. “Yes, we could issue bonds, but we’d have to do something less in the city, like sewers or transportation or other infrastructure.”

City attorney James Banks and planning director Faroll Hamer said the city had never discussed with Robinson or Post Co. officials the idea of buying the properties. Banks also said that the city did not attempt to persuade Robinson to drop a lawsuit against the city by allowing higher density zoning, which is potentially more lucrative.

“Absolutely not. Simply did not happen,” Banks said. “I do not answer this question lightly, I am not trying to equivocate or give you an legalistic answer. ... Nothing happened other than the normal planning process.”

As to the report’s criticism that the city spent two years on public input without actually listening to what citizens had to say, Johnson said: “Listen doesn’t mean agree. We listened to a lot of things [but] because we did not agree with positions advocated by this group... doesn’t mean we didn’t listen.”

CAAWP co-chair Andrew Macdonald said Tuesday that he hopes this review will be a starting point, not an endpoint.

“The committee never really had a say at the very outset about what we want to see on the waterfront, including no development or very little development,” he said. “The starting point of discussion was on third base. What we’re asking the city to do is not to have no plan, but to consider the long-range costs and benefits of several alternatives, including ours, so the community can determine if it matches their [desires].”

The city’s waterfront plan, which became controversial after it was released last spring, was altered, but even the revised version attracted opposition from those who think it includes too much proposed development. Mayor William Euille appointed an eight-member citizens’ group to try to find areas of agreement; the group is scheduled to start work on its draft report to the City Council tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. The council expects to receive the finished report later this month.

“There may be some areas that the Council as elected representatives of the city will just have to decide,” Johnson said.