Residents Slam City's Waterfront Proposal but Business Praises It
A marathon meeting on the city's latest proposal for Old Town Alexandria's waterfront heard 35 speakers
As Faroll Hamer, director of the City of Alexandria’s Planning and Zoning Department, presented the latest draft proposing significant changes to the waterfront before a standing room only crowd at City Hall, a member of the audience sporting a sticker with the slogan “Don’t rezone the waterfront” audibly said, “When are these people going to stop speaking so we can scream at them?”
That largely was the atmosphere at the meeting where a majority of 35 speakers slammed the proposal, saying the city was ham-handed in its crafting of the ill-conceived plan and that it favors hotels and commercialism over the best interests of residents and the city.
Hamer pointed out in her opening remarks that 21 large community meetings and 52 general interest confabs had been held on the issue prior to Tuesday night’s meeting.
Planning and Zoning Deputy Director Karl Moritz acknowledged in his presentation that the city has considered “key issues that folks have brought up” such as the amount and type of development, timing, flood mitigation, parking, a building proposed for a waterfront park and regulatory approvals.
But “nothing has elicited quite as much excitement as a hotel on the waterfront…We think hotels are a good use,” he said. “They have the lowest impacts on traffic and parking,” and added that they would be developed over a 15-year period.
Clapping followed speakers opposing the plan while hissing occasionally came after plan proponents.
“The plan is more appropriate for National Harbor,” said first speaker Bert Ely. “I urge to postpone until the fall to consider the plan.”
Andrew Macdonald, former vice mayor of the city, commended earlier development of the area when toxic warehouses turned into a park but added, “What started so well began to unravel…The current plan builds upon the 1980s development” and today the city wants to “exploit the waterfront just as stupidly.”
Macdonald said the city “has disenfranchised key components of the city” and the process has not included a dialogue with residents.
“You must reject this plan and the zoning changes on which it rests,” he said. New zoning proposals would allow hotels and commercial development in some places where it is currently not allowed.
A document dated Apr. 5 from the Robinson Terminal Warehouse Corporation to the Planning Commission said the current plan “will be read by potential purchasers as, in essence, requiring hotels at both Robinson properties,” but a hotel consultant has told Robinson that “a hotel simply is not a viable use, specifically at Robinson sites.”
The Robinson Corporation also told the city in this memo that the city’s study “uses data gathered from completely different markets nearer to the Metro” rather than at the waterfront.
President of the Old Town Civic Association John Gosling said at the meeting 79 percent of his group’s members are not in favor of the plan and asked that the plan “make a stronger commitment to civic and cultural amenities.”
Residents opposed to the plan repeatedly criticized its lack of embracing Alexandria’s rich cultural heritage and called it a cookie-cutter plan for “Anytown, USA.”
James McCall, a member of the Alexandria Archaeological Commission who wrote the history piece of the plan, asked: “What about this plan celebrates Alexandria specifically?” He said the current plan depends too much on developers to “create these cultural elements.”
However, Judy Noritake, chair of the Park and Recreation Commission, offered her support for the plan but asked the council to consider including a park maintenance facility and a place to put garbage. She added that the off-leash dog park at Founders Park should be moved, which elicited several opposing comments from later speakers.
The Alexandria Chamber of Commerce and the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association offered a handful of speakers supporting the plan.
Chamber Chairman-elect Andrew Palmieri urged the commission to approve the waterfront plan. “We’re concerned it might not go far enough, but we think it’s good enough to move forward.”
The Alexandria Restaurant Commission also supported the plan.
Charlotte Hall, vice president of the Potomac Riverboat Company, supported the plan on behalf of ACVA.
Bittersweet Catering and Cafe owner Jody Manor, also speaking on behalf of ACVA, said he opened a business in the waterfront area food court last year “and I can tell you that Alexandria’s waterfront is appalling.”
Lauren Garcia and Val Hawkins of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership supported the plan.
The commission intends to take action on the plan in May.