Mayor: City council will vote on waterfront plan again, pass it with supermajority

Editor’s note, this article was updated at 2:58 p.m. Friday

By Derrick Perkins

Alexandria City Council will take up the waterfront redevelopment plan again — and approve it with a supermajority vote sought by the blueprint’s opponents.

Mayor Bill Euille made the announcement during a Friday morning press conference in City Hall. The move is intended to short circuit a pending, resident-led lawsuit holding up zoning and density changes along the Potomac shoreline.

“This … provides an opportunity to move forward, beyond litigation,” Euille said.

Though the controversial redevelopment plan has served as a flashpoint for years, the legal challenge — now before the circuit court — stems from city council’s January 2012 vote the approve the plan. Opponents believe a protest petition filed shortly before that meeting required a supermajority vote for approval. The plan passed 5-2, just shy of that mark.

Euille said the decision to revisit the plan was made during an executive session on February 12. Officials began discussing the idea during the run up to the November election, he said. The plan’s two lone opponents on city council, Republicans Frank Fannon and Alicia Hughes, lost their re-election bids.

“There obviously appeared to be a consensus that that decision [on the waterfront plan] was appropriate,” Euille said. “Knowing what we knew when the new city council came in, the discussion became what do we need to do to move this plan forward.”

The prospect of years of litigation before the zoning issue was settled also factored in the decision, officials said. While City Attorney Jim Banks believes revisiting the waterfront plan won’t run into any legal problems, he did not rule out the possibility of future lawsuits.

With other pressing matters facing city officials, it is time to move on from the waterfront debate, Euille said. He cited the dozens of public meetings in the years before the plan’s approval as well as the council’s 2011 decision to form a waterfront plan work group to bridge the divide between supporters and critics.

“There will always be folks that don’t’ want anything done on the waterfront,” he said.

Andrew Macdonald, who launched an unsuccessful Independent mayoral bid last year, took a dim view of the city’s efforts to reach consensus on the waterfront plan. An early critic of the plan, Macdonald co-founded the opposition group now known as the Friends of the Alexandria Waterfront.

“We heard from the mayor … that we had hundreds of [public] meetings, but they had a pre-ordained plan in place,” Macdonald said. “The 40 years we’ve wasted on this issue doesn’t compare to the enormous waste of the [past few years].”

Though the plan allows for waterfront hotels and other commercial activity, Euille and City Manager Rashad Young denied Friday’s announcement came at the behest of developers interested in waterfront property or stemmed from the Washington Post Co.’s recent decision to put the Robinson Terminal warehouses up for sale. The two properties — located at either end of the city’s shoreline — are identified in the plan as possible locations of future waterfront hotels.

Washington-based Carr Hospitality, best known for revitalizing the Willard Hotel, already has eyed property in the Cummings and Turner block on South Union Street as a potential site for a boutique hotel. Officials have long argued that the public amenities called for in the plan – arts venues and parks, among others — depend on developer contributions.

Young also plans to rework the city ordinance dealing with rezoning. Though often described as a single entity, the waterfront plan is comprised of two separate documents. The zoning and density changes are contained in a text amendment, which officials maintained could not be challenged by a petition of residents hoping to force a supermajority city council vote.

Opponents disagreed, leading to the lawsuit now pending in circuit court. Bert Ely, a vocal critic of the plan who helped encourage the legal battle, said opponents would not comment on the ordinance changes until they see the new language.

“It’s interesting … that they did not actually distribute the changes in the city ordinance,” he said. “We’re not in a [position] to make a comment until we see the language … We’re obviously very interested to see what’s proposed.”

As for the zoning and density changes, the planning commission will take them up in early March. City council is expected to cast another vote on March 16. If it passes with a supermajority vote, Banks is hopeful the circuit court will toss out the lawsuit.

By Derrick Perkins

Alexandria City Council will take up the waterfront redevelopment plan again — and approve it with a super majority vote sought by the blueprint’s opponents.

Mayor Bill Euille made the announcement during a Friday morning press conference in City Hall. The move is intended to short circuit a pending, resident-led lawsuit holding up density changes along the Potomac shoreline.

“This … provides an opportunity to move forward, beyond litigation,” Euille said.

Though the controversial redevelopment plan has served as a flashpoint for years, the legal challenge — now before the circuit court — stems from city council’s January 2012 vote the approve the plan. Opponents believe a protest petition filed shortly before that meeting required a supermajority vote. The plan passed 5-2, just shy of that mark.

The council is expected to take up the plan for a second time on March 16.

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