Transformative waterfront plan poised for passage

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A version of the city’s oft debated, much-maligned waterfront plan is poised for a final vote and adoption for the second time in less than a year despite another round of protests at Market Square.

As city council and planning commission members prepared to discuss recommended changes drafted by Mayor Bill Euille’s handpicked waterfront plan work group Tuesday evening, members of Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan again rallied just outside of City Hall.

Opponents cite a multitude of problems with the version of the blueprint the planning commission approved in early 2011. The rezoning and redevelopment of three key waterfront sites — potentially as hotels — remains at the disagreement’s crux.

“It really comes down to one big question, what do we get in return for the modest amount of density [proposed],” said City Councilman Paul Smedberg, who served as a nonvoting member of the work group. “It really does come down to that.”

CAAWP’s concerns regarding waterfront redevelopment, particularly their opposition to any more than one shoreline hotel, likely will be met halfway — if city council approves the work group’s suggested compromise.

Amid mounting rhetoric and internal dissent, the work group recommended going forward with the city’s plans to increase density at the Robinson Terminals and the Cummings and Turner properties. The recommendation came with the caveat city officials consider a range of preferred uses, including, but not limited to hotels, for those parcels.

Karl Moritz, deputy planning director, is working with city staff to incorporate draft language recommended by the work group into the existing waterfront plan before city council’s January 21 public hearing. Alexandria’s governing body could vote on a final version of the plan as early as then.

Some of CAAWP’s complaints will be addressed once a version of the plan is approved, according to city officials. Historic buildings will be preserved and the details of a flood mitigation system proposed for the city’s shoreline will be worked out in the design phase. City staff and the Old Town parking work group will jointly develop parking strategies while a Union Street congestion study will be undertaken.

CAAWP’s dueling proposal for the waterfront calls for the city to purchase some or all of the property and convert the buildings into museums, cultural centers and open space. City officials criticized CAAWP’s plan not long after it was publicized in the late fall, calling many of the proposals legally and fiscally indefensible.

Both plans call for increases in public space and cultural amenities.

Despite CAAWP’s continued pressure — residents wielding opposition signs packed into Tuesday’s work session — the city council seems headed toward a final vote. When the proposal first came before the council in June, members elected to delay in an attempt to reconcile the plan with resident criticism.

Euille reminded the public it is impossible to please everyone and that, if the plan is passed, residents will play a role in shaping how the river’s edge is developed.

“There are triggers and opportunities all along the way to develop a waterfront that meets the desires of, hopefully, the majority of the city’s fine citizens,” he said.