Opinion: Andrew Macdonald is wrong; Mick Jagger is right

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(File photo)

To the editor:

In response to Andrew Macdonald’s January 26 letter, “Waterfront plan approved long before city council voted”: Kudos to him for his fantastic work of fiction, contradiction and omission. I too was at the 10-hour city council meeting on the Alexandria waterfront plan. But I saw and heard the proceedings much differently than Mr. Macdonald purports in his letter, so please allow me to correct the record.

I witnessed patience, not disregard, by city council members who listened to more than 100 residents speak for and against the waterfront plan. Residents, pro and con, spoke eloquently, thoughtfully and respectfully. Too many spoke against the plan, however, disrespectfully and rudely to the mayor and council. To use Mr. Macdonald’s word, that was shameful.

Former City Councilman Dave Speck did speak in favor of the plan and he did speak beyond his allotted time — because council members had questions for him based on his previous experience. In particular they asked him to relate the debate to anything similar in Alexandria’s past, which he did, speaking about the Carlyle area where I live. In contrast and omitted in Mr. Macdonald’s letter is that without questions, prompting or permission, more than half of those speaking against the plan went over their allotted three minutes. But who’s counting?

Regarding contradictory information, I find the term “development-hungry Democrats” if not a contradiction then perhaps a misquote. If we’ve learned anything from the exhausting stream of Republican presidential candidate debates, isn’t it the Republicans who are pro-business and, therefore, pro-development?

Judy Noritake, park and recreation committee chair, was kept at the podium as well — to field questions from the council. I recall her saying nothing about the waterfront having “too much green space.” Instead, she praised the plan for apportioning more green space than found in other comparable city waterfront areas. As indicated in the January 26 letter, open space is good but only to a certain point, after which it becomes wasted space better used for commercial or residential purposes. The green space we have requires improvement, and a woefully and embarrassingly underdeveloped waterfront needs to become the proud attraction from which we’ll all benefit.

Implicit in Mr. Macdonald’s letter is that residents who spoke against the plan were somehow more entitled than the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce and Waterfront for All residents who spoke in favor of the plan. When business visionaries such as Chef Cathal Armstrong speak about improving the city for all residents and visitors, the council needs to listen. When residents speak about improving the city for all residents, as well as for visitors and tourists whose money spent in Alexandria helps support Alexandria, the council should listen. These arguments present the interests of the common good, benefits for all Alexandrians, and not just the special interests of the relative few living near the Potomac, wishing to preserve that space for themselves.

True, many against the plan wanted more time to study issues. But as explained by the mayor, those studies are forthcoming as part of the detailed development of the approved general plan. And how much time equals “more time” after almost three years have been spent listening to and accounting for the concerns of all residents?

Contrary to Mr. Macdonald’s claim, the council did listen to all residents who spoke January 21 as evidenced by a change made to the plan by the council at the meeting, lowering the potential number of hotels and hotel rooms allowed by the plan. I personally disagreed with this change, but it represented the type of compromise necessary to promote progress and thus I support it. To paraphrase Mick Jagger, we don’t always get what we want, but if we try, sometimes we get what we need.

On January 21, I witnessed the political and democratic process in action; I listened as passionate residents spoke for and against the plan, I winced at the rude and disrespectful treatment levied by some speakers at the mayor and council members; and I applauded when the council displayed leadership, vision and commitment to Alexandria’s long-term progress and enduring regional relevance by approving the plan.

– James Pelkofski
Alexandria