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January 10, 2012 Published in City Hall, Other News

Ely Submits Waterfront Work Group Minority Report

By Carla Branch

Burt Ely, a member of the Alexandria Waterfront Small Area Plan Work Group, sent a minority report on the Work Group’s activities to the Alexandria City Council yesterday. Ely’s report concluded that the City should go back to the drawing board on planning for the City’s waterfront.

The Work Group, which was appointed by Mayor Bill Euille in consultation with members of City Council, began meeting in July. They reviewed the City’s draft waterfront Small Area Plan, heard testimony from members of the public on a variety of topics and had a presentation on an alternative waterfront Small Area Plan, which was drafted by Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan.

The Work Group sent its report to Council late last month. That report included comments from group members on every discussion topic and a record of all votes taken.

“I felt that, although my comments were recorded in the report, they were not done so in a cohesive manner that properly reflected my concerns,” Ely said. “That is why I have chosen to bring all of my comments and concerns together in one document.”

The group decided not to issue two reports although there was not agreement on every topic. “We felt that, by including everyone’s comments on all of the topics we discussed, we let every voice in the group be heard,” said City Councilman Paul Smedberg, who convened the Work Group. “As a result, the report was much more extensive than it might have been.”

“I find the draft Waterfront Small Area Plan substantively flawed on numerous grounds,”Ely wrote in his minority report’s executive summary.  “I also believe the process by which the draft plan was developed was defective.  For these reasons, Council should reject the draft plan and make no changes to the text defining the W-1 zone, as specified in the City’s zoning ordinance.

“Stripped to its essence, the draft Waterfront Small Area Plan published by City staff in July 2011 is nothing more than a marketing brochure intended to promote changes in the zoning parameters of the W-1 zone.  These changes would permit more varied uses, specifically hotels, and greater density and flexibility for development within the four segments of the W-1 zone.  The result almost certainly will lead to redevelopment on a scale that will overwhelm the Alexandria waterfront and endanger the character of the Old and Historic District of Alexandria.  If ever there was a plan that would kill the proverbial golden goose – the attractiveness of Old Town Alexandria for Alexandrians and visitors alike – this proposed Waterfront Small Area Plan is it.

“The recent plan to redevelop portions of our historic waterfront began on October 27, 2007, when the Mayor’s Economic Sustainability Work Group recommended that the City encourage mixed-use development along the waterfront.  From that date forward, through numerous “charrette charades” and public hearings, the essence of the Waterfront Small Area Plan – increased commercial development along and near the waterfront – has remained unchanged.  While City staff claims they have listened to the citizenry, they clearly have disregarded the groundswell of opposition against the plan as set forth in the draft Waterfront Small Area Plan and the proposed   W-1 zoning change.  Although the waterfront plan has evolved somewhat, including changes recommended by the WPWG, the plan still is fundamentally flawed.

“Given the defective design process which led to a flawed Waterfront Small Area Plan, Council should restart the waterfront design process, this time providing for genuine public input from the inception of the planning process.  It also makes no sense for Council to adopt the draft Waterfront Small Area Plan given that a significant portion of this plan may be changed when Council adopts a new Old Town North Small Area Plan. 

“While most agree that there should be some redevelopment along the waterfront, compatible with street capacities and Old Town’s historic character, genuine alternatives must be considered next time, including the inclusion of more public open space and respect for Old Town’s historic importance and character,” Ely wrote.

Council and the Planning Commission will hold a work session later today to discuss the Work Group's report. Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on the City's draft waterfront Small Area Plan on Jan. 21.

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