The issue of riverside redevelopment saw some lively debate at a forum attended largely by Old Town residents and hosted by the Old Town Civic Association at Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy on Wednesday night.
Candidates debated citizen engagement and the possibility of rezoning some portions of the city’s waterfront to allow hotels. The city in January passed a plan to redevelop its waterfront, but it has not approved a proposed zoning change permitting development such as hotels there.
“I would not rezone the waterfront. You do not need to rezone to gain amenities,” said Republican candidate Bob Wood, who lives near the city’s riverside. “Council can exercise leadership over the process,” adding that council members shouldn’t constantly concede to developers and should be careful not to turn a “gem of a waterfront to generic.”
He later characterized a current Carr Hospitality proposal to put a hotel on the waterfront as “too big” and said it “defied physics.”
Fellow Republican and incumbent Councilman Frank Fannon said the plan must be improved and should be treated “parcel by parcel” to make the best decisions.
Incumbent Councilwoman Alicia Hughes, who is serving a term as an independent but is running as a Republican for the November election, said the waterfront small area plan should not cost the city $3 million. She also advocated developing “parcel by parcel.”
Democrat Allison Silberberg said she did not believe the plan was “visionary enough” and would have liked to see a small, permanent band shell in Oronoco Bay Park.
“We should pause and get it right," she said. "While National Harbor is great to some people, there are thousands of National Harbors. There is only one Old Town.”
She added later that the process should be opened up so “citizens are involved from the outset” and that she would not like to see rezoning of the waterfront.
Libertarian Robert Kraus said the city must stop giving special favors to developers and the plan should be put on hold.
Glenda Davis, who is running as an independent, said the city “tends to think within the box all of the time” and would like to see a more “creative” and “innovative” city. “There are so many options,” she said, adding that she did not see a necessity for more hotels and restaurants on the waterfront.
Democrat John Chapman said the planning process highlights the need to reevaluate how citizens are involved in creating small area plans.
“It’s not about the number of meetings we have, it’s about the quality of those meetings,” he said.
Independent Jermaine Mincey said he does not believe a revote is necessary but the city needs to reach out to the community.
Democrat Tim Lovain, a former council member who is running again, agreed that the process “could have been better” but said the plan improved over time and became balanced. He added that he had concerns with Hughes and Fannon, who both voted against the plan, saying they didn’t get involved with the details but merely voted against it.
Democratic incumbent Del Pepper reminded the audience that she was able to get her fellow council members to reduce the number of allowable hotels from three to two just prior to their final vote and that she “tried hard to reduce the density.”
Justin Wilson, also a former council member running again, said the preservation of the status quo is “not an option.” He said the city had three choices—by-right development that could have led to many townhouses, buy some of the most expensive properties in Alexandria or lastly, engage in a public-private partnership.
“I would have gone with the third choice,” he said, which offers 5.5 acres of open space and $7 million in flood mitigation.
Democratic Councilman Paul Smedberg was not able to attend the debate due to a previously scheduled work commitment. Mayor Bill Euille also did not attend the mayoral debate portion of the evening, leaving independent challenger Andrew Macdonald alone on the stage to field questions from moderator John Porter.
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