To the editor:
On Saturday, the 27th of June, I attended the community-wide charrette for Alexandrias Waterfront Plan held at T.C. Williams High School. Believe me when I say that we have seen this show many times before.
For the first two-and-a-half hours the citizens were treated to a variety of speakers who for the umpteenth time gave us statistics about our Old Town population, a lesson on historic preservation, a recap on how the businesses are doing during this economic turndown and a few words on how we might raise enough dollars to finance a waterfront makeover.
In addition, we were told that we have to solve the current parking and tour bus problems in Old Town. Of course, both of those items have been the subject of city-appointed task forces, that I might add have failed miserably in resolving those issues.
It was when the speaker covering economic issues claimed that we needed to develop between 12 and 25 new businesses on the waterfront that my attention antenna perked up. I asked myself just where and when is the city going to do all this? It sure cant be on Alexandrias waterfront. We have trouble supporting our current crop of businesses despite some very old data from a 2003-2005 study that claims that $120 million is spent annually on the waterfront. It was then that the hammer really fell. We can raise money to fund most of this plan through donations and from user fee revenues. The user fees that were referenced sounded like the city plans to turn our historic waterfront into a Coney Island clone hot dog stands and the like.
After lunch, it didnt get any better as the participating citizens were provided a map of the waterfront on which they were to delineate any changes to the waterfront they thought appropriate. Of course, everyone in attendance had his or her own views on just how the waterfront ought to be changed. Essentially, no ideas surfaced that havent been hashed and/or rehashed over the past 30 years.
Some of those in attendance wanted to redo several of our nine passive waterfront parks. These parks are what Alexandrians from all over the city come to visit. They need to remain the way they are, passive with active components included in some.
Many attendees thought this was open season on suggesting the city acquire properties that were privately owned. First of all, the city has no funds to do this, especially in this economic environment. They just floated $80 million dollars in bonds to build the new police headquarters facility.
The one example that repeatedly surfaced was the taking of the Old Dominion Boat Clubs parking lot. Some even wanted to take the clubs building. I reminded my group that the ODBC owned the property and it wasnt for the taking unless a deal was negotiated between the city and the club. This issue was supposed to have been taken off the table for discussion before the meeting, but the planning staff, as usual, didnt get the word.
This is not an exercise in rocket science. The entire plan for the waterfront really revolves about three pieces of property: Robinson Terminal North, Robinson Terminal South and one block of the Strand between Prince and Duke Streets. Everything else on the waterfront includes our nine parks and structures that cannot be demolished.
It is also interesting to note that the city does not own either of the Robinson terminals. However, the North Robinson Terminal is for sale and the owner, The Washington Post Company, has put together a plan that might interest a developer to buy the property and hence develop it. The South Terminal is not for sale at this time, yet preliminarily Robinson has floated a plan that might interest a developer to build condos on that space sometime in the future.
The one block of the Strand is a greater challenge. The city already bought the gun shop that was initially the Hulfish family restaurant. This building is a great candidate for adaptive reuse. In other words, there are, as I speak, individuals who would invest in renovating that property. The parking lot had three owners. The city bought one of them out when they purchased the gun shop. The other two-thirds of the parking lot are owned by citizens who to date have not indicated any intention to sell their properties. The old tin structure known as the Crenshaw Building was bought by the city and could be ripped down and replaced with lawn, giving increased vision to the water real open space!
Both Chadwicks restaurant and the two Dandy boats will still need parking lots to continue doing their business. Unless the city can replace those 60 parking spaces within 400 feet of the lot, then my advice to them is to leave it alone. Otherwise, the citizens living around that area will be bombarded with tourists looking for parking spaces in the housing areas.
We are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars (maybe millions) to hire consultants to come up with a waterfront plan in this down economy. These consultants, just like the planning directorate, do not have the foggiest notion on how to credibly plan the waterfront. Why not terminate the consultants, keep our plan relatively simple and refill some of the critical jobs we cut during this years budget process? For all that money, we would get a simple waterfront plan and parks and streets that look pristine again.
Townsend A. Van Fleet