UPDATED: Waterfront opponents fire back at City Hall

Members of Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan shot back at City Hall Tuesday, calling officials “uncompromising” about a week after city staff released a largely negative review of the group’s competing blueprint.

“We seem to be in a situation where citizens don’t seem to have an effective way of engaging elected officials,” said CAAWP co-founder Andrew Macdonald during a press conference held in Market Square. Several other CAAWP members, echoing his critiques of the city’s proposal, joined Macdonald despite the dreary weather.

Three privately owned sites along the Potomac slated for redevelopment under the city’s plan have become the focal point for a contentious, roughly two-year long public debate. The Alexandria City Council is expected to vote on the controversial blueprint on January 21.

The final decision will come after the waterfront work group, a committee of residents handpicked by Mayor Bill Euille to reconcile the city’s plan with resident opposition, makes their recommendations to city council.

Though rhetoric on both sides had cooled following the work group’s creation in the summer, the debate has grown contentious again as CAAWP members defend their dueling waterfront plan. Where the city hopes to foster boutique hotels, CAAWP’s plan – released in late October – calls for more open space and museums.

Acting City Manager Bruce Johnson panned the group’s proposal in a conference call with reporters several days before Thanksgiving, describing CAAWP’s ideas as fiscally and legally “indefensible.”

In turn, Macdonald said city officials were ignoring the positive long-term economic impact of CAAWP’s proposal in favor of quick tax revenue. He called on officials to begin talks with Robinson Terminal Co., a subsidiary of the Washington Post Co., about possibly selling or donating two of the sites at the debate’s center.

“We think there is a plan out there that will be better for the city and the river,” he said.

CAAWP held the conference hours before they were scheduled to appear before the city’s standing waterfront committee for a fact-finding meeting. Members of the committee – a separate body unconnected with the waterfront work group – questioned city officials and CAAWP members alike on their dueling proposals.

Though the dialogue threatened to boil over at times, at least one member of the committee called on officials and residents to strike a balance. Former planning director Engin Artemel said he saw no reason not to include hotels and museums in the plan’s final draft.

“We can have – possibly – our cake and eat it too,” he said. “We can have hotels and museums and open space.”

The meeting came as CAAWP leaders raise the possibility of filing a lawsuit to keep the city from moving forward with their plan. Macdonald confirmed last week that the group was exploring their legal options, but said nothing had been decided.

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