By Carla Branch
Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan released a proposal on Oct. 30, that calls for more open space, more adaptive reuse of historic buildings and better adherence to Alexandria’s history than CAAWP says is included in the City’s proposed waterfront Small Area Plan. Acting City Manager Bruce Johnson has asked the City Attorney’s office, the Office of Historic Alexandria and the Department of Planning and Zoning to look carefully at CAAWP’s proposal and provide detailed analysis for City Council’s review by Nov. 15.
CAAWP concluded that the City’s waterfront plan would bring only an additional four acres of open space, which would be mostly in strips of land between new developments and the river. CAAWP proposed two large parks at the north and south ends of the waterfront similar to Founders Park, which is a five-acre parcel. CAAWP also proposed finding ways to honor the City’s maritime history with a waterfront museum.
CAAWP concluded that the City’s plan focuses more on tax revenue and less on what parks and historic places can contribute financially to the City. CAAWP specifically objected to the construction of hotels on the waterfront, which would be allowed in the City’s plan.
“Hotels can be built anywhere – near airports (Crystal City), Metro stations (Upper King Street), convention venues (National Harbor), or other locations where high-rise hotels are already a part of the fabric. But you cannot replace the already existing 19th-century warehouses at the northern half of the Cummings Turner properties, honor and illuminate an evocative historic space like the base of Prince Street at a remote location, or squander the opportunity to link to great parks with a third and create a cultural center for the City which West Point Park could become. We have the opportunity to preserve special places, as opposed to generating occupancy tax revenues – revenues that are suspect if we ruin the waterfront and Old Town. We strongly urge the City not to squander this opportunity,” CAAWP concluded.
In his Nov. 1, memorandum, which requested the detailed analysis of the CAAWP proposal, Johnson expressed concern about the legality and financial analysis of items contained in the proposal. “While it is comforting that the CAAWP report agrees or does not take issue with the vast majority of the recommendations contained in the City’s draft Waterfront Small Area Plan document, there are areas where the two reports differ. These include, but are not limited to, the following three areas of concern:
1. The report advocates an alternative strategy that explicitly resists change to the waterfront to “safeguard the historic buildings, river quality, and public access” by minimizing redevelopment of privately owned parcels such as non-historic warehouse sites. For instance, it calls for locating new businesses in existing warehouse structures. I believe the forces of change will be pushing on the waterfront for years to come. Can we resist change to achieve a more vibrant, attractive and world-class waterfront that provides benefits to all Alexandrians? Or can we use the opportunities presented by the forces of change to achieve these objectives?
2. The report makes assumptions about the cost to the City to acquire property and build and operate public facilities and spaces. It also makes assumptions about potential revenue available to the City from projected expenditures by visitors to new museums and additional open space. Are these assumptions realistic? Do costs exceed revenue and to what extent? To what extent would an increase in taxes or public debt, or reduction in other services, be required to pay for the amenities described in the report? Would such impacts be financially feasible in the short or long term?
3. The report may be proposing a down zoning or taking of current development rights without compensation to the owners of those properties. I would like an analysis to determine if this is a legally defensible proposition,” Johnson wrote.
Another group of citizens formed Waterfront4All, which supports the City’s proposed waterfront Small Area Plan as approved by the Planning Commission, also reacted to the CAAWP proposal.
“The report was filled with inconsistencies and contradictions” said Dennis Auld a founding member of Waterfront4All. With all the criticism, it’s hard to find any legitimate components of their plan.
“Clearly, these are just cursory observations. We will wait for the City’s analysis of their plan and look forward to getting a better understanding of it from the professionals who have dedicated their lives to the service of our community,” said Auld.
Mayor Bill Euille appointed a waterfront plan work group at the end of June. That group has been meeting since July and will present a report to Council on their conclusions some time before the end of the year. Council could vote on a waterfront Small Area Plan in January.