The Robinson terminals are not grand buildings, but they are big. They are also front and center at the City of Alexandria’s waterfront redevelopment plan.
The city, for example, sees a revived area at Robinson Terminal South that would feature a hotel, housing units, retail and on-site and underground parking.
Plans for a new hotel are being considered for a site down the street at the Cummings/Turner Warehouse. Its neighbors at the warehouses at 204 and 206 S. Union St. also are on tap to get a major facelift.
The Waterfront Plan Work Group has spent weeks discussing interlinked issues including parking, density and viability of the city’s proposed plan.
Work Group members last week heard from lawyers Duncan Blair and David Miller representing Robinson Terminal Warehouse Corporation, which is a profitable subsidiary of the Washington Post.
“We agree with the plan as a template,” said Blair, adding that they don’t agree with every aspect of it.
“Robinson Terminal’s interest is that when the property is sold that the tools are in the toolbox,” he said.
Robinson Terminal has been operating in Alexandria since 1939, noted Miller. He explained to work group members that in 1973 when the federal government sued a few dozen owners of property along the waterfront, Robinson reached a settlement in the early ‘80s. That agreement called for certain height and density requirements.
“We believe the ‘82 settlement ensures quality development,” Blair said.
That settlement did not require the city’s more stringent permitting process but it did require public improvements of Robinson such as building a deck at the end of Oronoco Street, the bulkhead at Point Lumley and parks at the end of Duke and Wolfe streets.
“There’s already been dedication and improvements in reliance on the settlements,” Miller said. “We feel like we can work with the plan. The plan is either giving something or taking something away.”
In 2004, the lawyers told the work group, Robinson began exploring real estate needs for a possible sale, focusing on Robinson Terminal North located by Founders Park. However, it became obvious that any buyer was perplexed as to whether they were buying a property with the conditions of the ’82 settlement or with current zoning.
“It was cordial, but didn’t get to where we needed to be,” Blair said, adding: “We never stopped talking to the city….The city said why don’t we set aside the litigation so that [the waterfront plan] process gets us close enough to where we need to be. ..It doesn’t do everything a land owner in our position would want.”
Robinson Terminal sued Alexandria in 2008 over rezoning changes the city made in 1992, but set aside that litigation and “since then we’ve been watching with great interest as the plan has been developed. If passed, I think we’re back to where we were in ’04,” he said. “The Post is a long-term thinker. They are not going to rush to dump a property at the wrong time.”
Blair said he hopes the plan passes so that Robinson Terminal can once again test the waters for a possible sale.