Opinion: Does personal financial gain trump citizens’ interest?

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From the moment I first drove down King Street, I have always loved Old Town — its historic streets and architecture, the waterfront along the Potomac and the dog-friendly community.

Recently, however, I have sadly become disenchanted with how this town is run. The waterfront controversy made me realize how unpleasant our local political system really is. The fact that some of our council members have full-time employment that might conflict with city decisions is appalling. Even more worrisome, it is increasingly apparent business interests appear to be driving the decisions of the city. Developer interests appear to supersede those of taxpayers and voting residents.

Let’s look at what has driven and supported the city’s proposed waterfront plan, which involves re-zoning to allow increased density and hotels on our waterfront where neither is legally allowed. How did this happen?

First, the owners of the Robinson Terminal warehouses sued our city to force us to change the zoning. It seems they felt increased construction density and the approval of hotel development would allow them to earn a better return when they sold their warehouses. Yet the Robinson Terminal Warehouse Co. expert determined, in a letter to the Alexandria Planning Commission on April 5, hotels were not viable on the waterfront. Despite this finding, the proposed plan includes more density and allowance for hotels on Alexandria’s waterfront. The result? Business interests over those of residents.

Second, a spurious and small group, known as Waterfront For All (probably better named as Waterfront For Business), began to make noise in July, after hundreds of residents rallied against the city’s proposed zoning changes. Which group claims to have the best interests of “all Alexandrians” at heart? The founders and supporters of Waterfront For All are people who own or are employed by businesses standing to benefit from waterfront over-development: home builders, real estate developers, real estate agents, the Potomac Riverboat Co., local restaurants and current and past local Chamber of Commerce executives. The group certainly has the right to support city plans that will help its members financially. But something is wrong when it misrepresents its mission as one of residents’ interests as opposed to its financial interests.

Finally, let’s look at the composition of the waterfront plan work group, as appointed by the mayor. It was clear early on consensus would not be reached: Four of the seven members chosen by the mayor actually work for, or own, the following types of firms: consultants in urban and landscape planning/design, transportation consulting for municipalities, real estate development, and real estate agents. The other three members, local residents who opposed rezoning, are not affiliated with any business that could benefit from the proposed waterfront redevelopment.

Are business interests overriding those of our tax-paying and voting residents? We have a city council election coming up. Alexandrians, take note.