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Waterfront Work Group Strives for Consensus on Flooding Mitigation, Parks

Waterfront group makes headway, but concerns loom over best approaches.

The group striving for common ground on the city’s waterfront redevelopment plans met this week to address flood mitigation and some aspects of parks and recreation.

Group member Mindy Lyle asked City Engineer Emily Baker, on a scale of 100 to zero, what are the city’s chances of getting flood mitigation grants, to which Baker said “not zero, but low.”

Businessman Bert Ely, who is also a member of a group seeking an alternative to the city's plan, asked why it should include recommendations for flood mitigation at all.

“Is it a significant enough issue?,” he asked.

“I believe so and that’s what we heard from the community,” said Baker. “It should be incorporated in what’s being done in parks and open space.”

The city’s flood mitigation plan would protect 19 structures at a cost of $15,000 to $20,000 per structure, according to Baker.

Christopher Ballard, a principal at McWilliams/Ballard, said: “It’s as much a physical issue as a marketing issue. There’s a perception – when it rains, people stay away…People may say I can’t believe they’ve gone to all this time and effort and not address the flooding issue.”

City Councilman Paul Smedberg reiterated that plan should include Windmill Hill Park and other further points in flood mitigation. “It’s not just three blocks,” he said, referring to the centrally located King and Union Street area.

Nate Macek, who is the city’s Waterfront Committee chairman, noted that there’s a cost to the city for debris cleanup from flooding.

Several group members, including urban planner Elliot Rhodeside, along with Baker expressed concern about the ability to effectively elevate some streets to achieve flood mitigation.

The group also focused its efforts on reaching an agreement regarding development at the foot of King Street. They agreed that a plan should include a new pier extending from near the foot of King Street for water taxis and permanent or visiting ships of character like the Godspeed.

Most members agreed, but Ely expressed concern that “essentially that means the [Old Dominion Boat Club] loses its parking lot. “The notion of a pier at the bottom of King Street has negative implications for one of the boat club’s piers….Is King Street the best place for water taxis?”

The group, which appeared to move at a faster clip than earlier meetings, also dipped into parks and public spaces.

Lyle urged for a connected waterfront that allows for complete public access but Ely reminded her “there is still some privately owned property along the shoreline.”

“Right now, the waterfront is a series of parks that don’t really product a clear, high quality designed place along the waterfront,” said Rhodeside. “There needs to be an integrated design that uses the waterfront holistically from Daingerfield Island to Jones Point.”

Ely disagreed that there should be continuous public access.

There was some back and forth over agreeing on the statement “ there should be a net increase in parks and public spaces along the waterfront.”

David Olinger of the Old Town Civic Association said it should be a “significant increase” but Lt. Gen Bob Wood who participated via phone, said it should say “net increase.”

“The city has put forward an effort to buy up as much open space as possible,” Smedberg said. “Clearly there’s a commitment there to add a net increase.”

The group also took a look at whether they could agree upon the use of parks and public spaces including small-scale activities for families and children.

Ely said he wanted to make sure that a particular structure associated with such activities would not be too big “like a big rollercoaster.”

The group decided to revisit some of the parks and open spaces issue, which has seen open discussion, but remains a sticking point.

After the meeting, Smedberg said he was pleased with the group’s progress and was glad they were getting into some of the more specific issues rather than administrative.

The next meeting will be held Oct. 12 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Cameron Station Great Room at 200 Cameron Station Blvd. It is open to the public.

anneamp October 02, 2011 at 04:48 PM
No matter what one says about "the process in a democracy," if you spent Saturdays, at the Farmer's Market talking to people about the plan, you might find that many of them do not feel that the City has listened to many of the concerns that have been voiced. Siting a plan the City and the Chamber are supporting is an incomplete response at best. How about some analysis of the quality of life for neighbors, and impact on nearby property values? I believe that many people may agree with aspects of the plan, but there are real concerns about how more development will impact Alexandria. Senator Patsy Ticer's comments reflect how some Alexandrians feel about development in the city. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LJV7xZcgIA As Ticer notes, the future of Alexandria is about thinking constructively about a compromise between some commerce and great public access on the waterfront in a way that preserves a beautiful city for the long term.
Dennis Auld October 02, 2011 at 06:06 PM
I have spent time at the Farmer's Market and at varouis times and locations have talked with people who live by the waterfront. Some express what you say, however some have expressed that they feel their property values would go up with hotels at the site, and not if parks/museums were there. They also know theit taxes would go up if the City purchased these properties and put in parks. I do not think the City's plan is only supported by the City and Chamber. I thanl you for the link to Sen. Ticers comments. Being a good politician, she was still very careful in her words to give both sides of the argument wiggle room. She does support some commerce. I have looked at several waterfront plans across the U.S. I can say that this one has a higher ratio of park/open space than any of them. Also, history resides throughout this city, not just on the waterfront. I beleive that the City's plan is not short circuiting history, but givng Alexandrian citizens an opportunity to have a much more viable waterfront than exists today, funds itself, and creates a better attraction for attracting visitors and the local population to our waterrfront supporting businesses up and down Old Town.
Dennis Auld October 02, 2011 at 06:32 PM
Thank you Andrew. Since you reference this report, I assume you have a copy of it. If you can tell me where I can stop by to get a copy, I would appreciate it. I also think that other readers of this thread on the Patch would be interested in seeing it also.
doug redman October 02, 2011 at 08:20 PM
Andrew...thanks for your reply to my earlier question regarding the current level of usage of our parks and for providing more information relative to your position on the development of our waterfront. Just to clarify, I am not opposed to additional parkland and a variety of cultural uses for our waterfront. I simply believe, maybe unrealistically so, that there is a solution that all can get behind and be happy with that would include more park space, a variety of other uses, some of which would be commercial. Relative to my comment that the parks we currently have are underutilized that is exactly what I meant. We have lived in Alexandria for 18 years and over that period of time have observed, inccorrectly or not, that there are at best, in most instances, a scattering of people over our existing parkland. I would love to see more festivals or a concert series in our parks. To date that hasn't really happened, at least not that I am aware of. Having said that I don't believe that is a reason not to add parkland but rather consider how much should be added and what can be done with the remaining balance of land. In short, a compromise solution. Thanks again for your response. It did provide me with some additional insight as have most of the other comments.
Gina Baum October 02, 2011 at 10:01 PM
Doug, So glad you mentioned the usage of the parks. Part of plan includes improvements to all of the parks for more active uses created by artists. The plan for Oronoco Park includes a vision to make it more freindly for concerts and staging...grading like a green amphitheater. Its a great point that is addressed in the plan. This element was addressed at the most recent workgroup meeting. I have posted the video on the "Support Old Town Waterfront -- Waterfront4All" Facebook page if you would like to watch and listen to it. Thanks
Boyd Walker October 03, 2011 at 12:42 PM
I want to respond to three comments. One is the insistance that CAAWP is trying to raise taxes. Andrew and I both supported the Chamber of Commerce in their fight against the Commercial Add-On Tax, and thankfully we were sucesfull. We supported it over concern with small businesses and the impact this tax would have. We are equally concerned with the impact this level of development in a small area would have on businesses. King St. still has vacant storefronts, and other businesses who do not have the support to succeed. Small businesses are the backbone of Alexandria, as Bill Reagan with the SBDC points out. Yes, an Anthropologie store will be nicer than what was there or a vacancy, but it does not make Alexandria a unique place to visit. What is costing taxpayers is the amount of money the city is spending to accomodate development. The consultants are on contract, and never have to be voted on. We spent 1 million on the Braddock Rd. Area and now we have spent another million on the waterfront. We are spending 1 million to manage traffic around BRAC. Not to mention the added expense of maintaining roads, traffic in old town, parking enforcement, more expensive flood mitigation to protect hotels. Parks actually increase the value of properties around them, which will offset some of the tax revenue. Also, since we ended up with a 10 million dollar surplus last year, do we really need to keep on pushing tax revenue increases through development.
Boyd Walker October 03, 2011 at 01:04 PM
Next, in regards to your comment that Developers provide an essential service to our city. You are correct, they contribute to political campaigns that cost far more than the elected officials make once they are in office. They work with banks. They even fund our many land use attorneys who sit on the back benches of city council meetings. EYA, one of the most succesfull developers in Alexandria, brought us Fords Landing and convinced the city they could not restore the historic Ford Plant that was there, even though that was the original plan. They built Rivergate. They developed Potomac Yards, and fought contributing anything to a Metro station, yet built a building next to the tracks that looks like a station in Potomac Greens, and advertize that their development is next to a Metro that they didn't have to pay for. Their latest project in Alexandria involves tearing down 5 blocks of public housing, which was supposed to include replacement of the public housing in corner condominium units, but somewhere along the line the plans changed.. Some developers truly have the communnity in mind and gladly contribute to causes, but there primary prpose is to make money doing what they are doing. Unless of course you believe Mitt Romney, that corportaions are people, and we should be concerned about their feelings.
Boyd Walker October 03, 2011 at 01:25 PM
Lastly, your comment: "the community has had choices, has voiced them, and the City has made accomodations to the Plan. This is how the processin a democracy works" reminds me of another politician, Medvedev. I was just reading an article about why he is swapping roles with Putin and it sounds quite similar. "only people, only our citizens are capable of determining the final accents, by voting for this or that person or this or that political force, or otherwise rejecting them. That is what Democracy is." http://tinyurl.com/3w6jt3b So, the decison has been made, the people have spoken, and it is time for a vote. Wow, no wonder we don't criticize Russian Democracy, as it is so similar to our own. Really, the people are just finding out how things really work, looking carefully at the plan, which is voluminous, and trying to figure out what is best. That is why they need real options to consider, not just whether you support those in charge.
anneamp October 03, 2011 at 01:52 PM
I second what Mr. Walker says about process in a democracy. I am worried about any statement that tells me how "process in a democracy" works, especially when that process is defined by a series of past-tense phrases that make it sound like Alexandrians somehow can't say anything more about the plan.
JohnFitzgerald October 03, 2011 at 02:56 PM
Here Here! Agree with Mr. Walker and Anneamp. We can have healthy debates like this because of the great land we live in and those who came before us. Please listen to all 4 minutes of Patsy Ticer's comments. I believe that Mr. Auld may be mistaken about her stated position and recommendations. Some commerce is fine - I agree. Too much (as with the plan you support in my opinion) risks damaging that which makes Alexandria unique. We must protect our identity and retain our historic integrity. We have one chance to get this right for current and future generations. If the plan has legitimate flaws and areas which require further analytical analysis (which i believe is the case), then I think Mr. Auld would at least agree that those aspects need to be thoroughly addressed before moving forward. Else you are asking Council to vote on something with limited data (I think you can relate to that given your database work). Further, we risk making a collossal mistake (think BRAC). Ms. Leone and others stated that the plan is not "perfect" yet she and others still implored Council to move forward with it.... Mr. Auld, dont you agree that what she and others see as being imperfect about the plan should be investigated further prior to going to a vote? I struggle to understand the logic behind Ms. Leone's comments in that regard. Spirited debate is healthy and i hope i didnt come across as attacking anyone personally, as that was not the intent.
Gina Baum October 03, 2011 at 03:46 PM
Bottom line is, these parcels will be developed with or without a plan. With the plan we get, a continuus walkway, improved parks with more active uses, additional park land to the tune of 5.5 acres, and an arts and cultural walk. Without a plan we get condos and office buildings. If the opposition was interested in compromise, they would work within the plan to improve a great plan even further. Instead, they want to scrap the three years of development with extensive community wide input for their own desires. Hardly democracy! Sounded like to me Ticer was saying a she supports a well balanced plan....like the one we have.
Gina Baum October 03, 2011 at 04:17 PM
Doug, Here is link to the video from the 9/21 work group meeting regarding exactly what you were talking about...goto about 55 minutes in to hear more about the plan for Oronoco Bay Park...and listen to some of the ridiculousness... http://alexandria.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.phpview_id=29&coa_clip_id=1894&coa_view_id=29
Andrew Macdonald October 03, 2011 at 04:24 PM
I don't think Senator Ticer supports the current plan. Fact: The development parcels in question do not need to be replaced with hotels etc. That's fiction. We can decide to do something entirely different, if its in the best interest of the community. If not, what is the purpose of this planning process? Fact: The likelihood of town homes and condos and offices being built at the two Robinson Terminal sites is much greater then you suggest. Why? The City's plan does not currently require developers/property owners to build hotels at these two sites. Fact: The market place, not the community will therefore make the choice for us. I guess this is what you mean by a good plan? The improvements you mention, above, will come at a great cost and do not reflect, I believe, a shared community vision for the waterfront. We can do a lot better then you suggest. And if we don't, I think Alexandria will be a much less attractive place to live, work and visit. On October 30, CAAWP will expand on these ideas, for free. Andrew
Gina Baum October 03, 2011 at 04:42 PM
Now I get it Andrew. In fact, the main points most people agree on: a continuus walkway, improved parks with more active uses, additional park land to the tune of 5.5 acres, and an arts and cultural walk... Your group opposes... which is why YOU think we need a new plan.
Andrew Macdonald October 03, 2011 at 04:45 PM
No, we want to scrap 3 years of meeting that accomplished little beyond showing the community that the City had already decided in advance what it thought was a good waterfront plan. What the record does not show, unless you dig a bit deeper, is what was actually going on behind this so-called public process, the hundreds of conversations and meeting between between senior staff and developers. This plan was all but crafted before the process began.
djrobb October 03, 2011 at 05:04 PM
What about the legal situation? It seems like Michael Lee Pope boiled much of this conversation down to its core in his Connection piece. "A settlement agreement was reached in 1983 limiting development to 238,816 square feet at Robinson Terminal North with a height limit of 66 feet." ...a decade later the city tried to reduce the zoning... "planning officials decided to limit the development to 195,296 square feet with a height limit of 55 feet."... "Back in 2008, when city officials first began considering a new small-area plan for the waterfront, Robinson Terminal made a preemptive attack in the Alexandria Circuit Court. Charging that city officials engaged in "illegal spot zoning""... "When asked about his legal analysis of the case, Banks (city attorney) said that defending the current zoning would be difficult." "Planning officials say failing to adopt the current plan could put the city in a difficult position — one in which the Robinson Terminal Corporation would get the additional density without amenities such as one-acre public pier or increased regulatory control for restaurants and hotels."..."So we’ve created a trade-off where they get the density and we get the amenities. (Hamer)" Suit is on hold to see if the plan provides a "sufficiently flexible guide for potential mixed-use redevelopment"..." under the 1983 settlements to take into account the interests of everyone involved,the city,the community and Robinson Terminal," said attorney Duncan Blair.
Gina Baum October 03, 2011 at 06:34 PM
That's a very good analysis... They go to court, they get the density and we get nothing in return OR we work with them on a plan, they get the density and we get: improved parks with more active uses, 5.5 acres additional park land, a continuous waterfront walkway, and an arts and cultural walk. Plain and simple that's the choice...
Andrew Macdonald October 03, 2011 at 07:10 PM
I think that Mr. Banks is quite wrong and I think that the City had every right to do what it did in the 1990s. I also think that hotels are not allowed in the 1983 Agreement and that few will be built, even if they are permitted under a new rezoning master plan. Hence the financial assumptions in the City's plan are quite flawed too. Of course, I have no doubt that Mr. Blair would argue that his client, the Post, thinks otherwise.
Dennis Auld October 03, 2011 at 07:14 PM
Well Boyd, I don't really know where to begin to respond to your comments. I am still trying to figure many of them out. I do know this, that responding will not shed any light on this issue, only heat, which does not contribute knowledge to any of the readers of this thread. I prefer to respond to your earlier post, that of announcing the CAAWP plan on Oct. 30. It will be good to have a document to review and comment on. That will be more productive for followers of this issue.
djrobb October 03, 2011 at 11:06 PM
It sounds like if the city tries to do anything that would negatively impact the value of those properties (like decreasing allowed uses, densities, heights) the Robinson would resume their lawsuit. I see these options. 1. City rezones parcels for less development, or limited uses, and loses in court to Robinson. Robinson could sell and developer could build office, commercial or residential under the terms of 1983 agreement. 2. City wins above lawsuit and can prevent major development on these lots if they choose to zone down. This is an ideal situation for current plan dissenters because it devalues the properties which would make museums etc more feasible. 3. The city could rezone the lots now to also allow for hotels. If that happens, they will likely become hotels. That's because zoning to allow for hotels increases the value of those properties. Its a boon for Robinson and may be better for alexandrians (some direct neighbors aside) than residential or office because it allows some public uses. 4. Regardless of zoning decisions, the city could purchase the properties and do whatever they want with them that the public would agree to. This would be more affordable if it's not rezoned which would drive values up. 5. The city could find a buyer that would use it for public use like a foundation that wanted to open a museum or concert hall. It would be directly subsidized by city or indirectly through lost taxes (opportunity cost). Offset by some tourist dollars.
Dennis Auld October 03, 2011 at 11:20 PM
John, and anneamp, first of all, I agree with you both that vigorous discussion on City plans are healthy and necessary. My point is that in the last two years there have been over 100 meetings of various kinds to get input from Alexandrians on the Waterfront Plan. See http://www.alexandriava.gov/planning/info/default.aspx?id=51632. In addition to these meetings, there were numerous meetings with smaller groups, such as civic associations all over the City, including about 6 or so specifically with the Old Town Civic Association Board. From these meetings that gathered citizen input, many changes were adopted including those detailed in http://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/planning/info/Waterfront/Ten%20Changes%20to%20the%20February%20Plan%20-%206.9.2011.pdf. My point is when do you realize that all issues have been adressed and covered, and it is time to vote. I feel we have reached that point. Hopefully, with the release of the CAAWP plan, we can narrow the field to those items, discuss them, resolve them, and vote. BRAC is a colossal mistake. It had no citizen input. To compare the possible implementation of the Waterfront Plan, and the process to get to this point to BRAC is simply not applicable. Also, Ms. Leone's comment is not internally inconsistent. What plan has ever achieved 100% agreement. No plan is perfect, so waiting until one is would mean that no plan would ever move forward. I'm sure you made many decisions in your life without 100% of the facts.
Gina Baum October 04, 2011 at 12:37 PM
If you think Mr. Banks is wrong (as stated above) then ask any other attorney...and they will tell you the same thing...spot zoning is illegal. Downzone another's property and endure a long losing court battle. Somehow I think if someone downzoned your property, you would be the first in line at the courthouse.
Carlyle resident October 04, 2011 at 01:16 PM
Has there been any discussions about museums? If so is there any idea what kind of museum could be built here that would actually attract visitors and fit in with our history? Like a National Civil War Museum? I think what makes our City great is (besides the history, people and culture) is that we have an area where you can walk around and shop, eat, see interesting things. It provides hours of entertainment for visitors. Parks could add to that, but so could hotels, museums etc. I don't know which attracts the MOST people or what is the best mix but it seems a compromise is doing a little of all of those things. What is really important is the execution. I'm sure a really nice Kimpton on the waterfront would add more to our community than a basic hotel. I'm sure a park with ball fields, picnic spots and great views would attract more people than just a bunch of grass an benches. Same with restaurants. I guess my question is will the waterfront plan involve a mix of ideas or simply one idea (just parks or just hotel development etc.)? I
Andrew Macdonald October 04, 2011 at 01:23 PM
Citizens for An Alternative Waterfront Plan (CAAWP) is the only group exploring such ideas in a real way. The City has essentially said "museums" will cost too much, etc. For that reason, citizens are having to do what the City should have done at the start: explore ALL ideas. Not doing so will cost more. Hope you will attend our October 30th event at the Athenaeum where we will release "our concepts" for a great public waterfront. (More information about the event will be posted on our web site below.) Andrew Macdonald C0o-Chair CAAWP alternativeAlexnadriaWaterfontplan.com
Andrew Macdonald October 04, 2011 at 01:33 PM
If I'm not mistaken, the entire waterfront was rezoned at that time. That's not spot zoning. The real issue here is not, however, how much you can build at a particular site, but whether building hotels or as I have said repeatedly what is the more likely market option, more town homes, the best and highest use of the Alexandria waterfront. Waterfont4$ALL apparently thinks that this sort high density development on the shoreline is an acceptable compromise, but many residents do not, for very good reasons.
Gina Baum October 04, 2011 at 01:43 PM
The City did explore this option and came to the conclusion that museums on the waterfront would deter visitors from the many historic sites we currently have... essentially putting them all out of business. Not to mention Alexandria couldn't compete with the kind of museums nearby like the Smithsonian(s).
Dennis Auld October 04, 2011 at 03:58 PM
Well Andrew, I am now somewhat disappointed. Earlier in this thread CAAWP was promoting the release of their plan, on Oct. 30, and I was looking forward to see a substantive document that could be looked at, reviewed, and commented on. Now you are calling it a "our concepts" instead of a plan. Does this mean that what we will see are a list of desires, without any supporting documentation to back them up? I will still be anxious to see the "concepts" but my expectations are now somewhat lowered.
Gina Baum October 04, 2011 at 05:06 PM
In response to Andrew, spot zoning, downzoning is how you get all parks and museum.
djrobb October 04, 2011 at 05:15 PM
In order to be seriously considered, I do hope the CAAWP plan includes both an analysis of the legal situation and the financial situation. This may be a tall order for a plan produced for free without consultants but it's important that what is presented is grounded within reality. It will need to be within the bounds of feasability showing a clear and viable rode map for it to give city counsel pause. So, it can't just include the what, but also the how.
Gina Baum October 04, 2011 at 05:22 PM
Where did Andrew's comment about not agreeing with his plan = people don't care about the city.... GO? So those of us who do not agree with the almighty opposition DON'T CARE? That's quite a statement Andrew. "what is a vision but one think is very clear: the report we will release on Oct. 30 is being put together, at no taxpayer expense, by citizens who care deeply about about the town they live in." ....A la the rest of us apparently don't care or don't count in his view.

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