By Derrick Perkins
Hoping to short-circuit a potential lengthy legal battle for the future of the Potomac shoreline, city council reapproved zoning and density changes along the waterfront Saturday afternoon.
More than a year after passing the controversial waterfront redevelopment plan – then by a 5-2 vote – city council reauthorized the land use alterations with a supermajority of members backing the proposal. The 6-1 vote came after yet another lengthy, and occasionally contentious, public hearing on the redevelopment roadmap’s merits.
“Before me, generations before me, this was a working waterfront,” said City Councilor John Chapman, who voted in favor of the changes. “We are moving away from that, that working waterfront. We are moving toward a destination waterfront.”
Though the plan met with approval nearly a year ago, residents outraged by the specter of increased density along the shoreline have engaged the city in a protracted legal fight. The most successful challenge to the plan contends a last minute protest petition required a supermajority vote.
With both sides forced to wait for a circuit court judge to potentially settle the issue, Mayor Bill Euille announced last month his intent to revote on the portion of the plan pertaining to the zoning and density changes. On Saturday, he urged speakers and fellow council members to focus on those alterations, not the plan as a whole – to little avail.
Residents, the vast majority speaking against the plan, which calls for at least two waterfront hotels, reiterated the arguments they have made throughout the multiyear lead up to the vote: increased density would mar the waterfront, create traffic problems and lower property values.
Additionally, opponents worried about the impact of a storm on the scale of Hurricane Sandy and called on city councilors to shelve the proposal until after the courts weighed in on the issue. Others, like former vice mayor and failed mayoral candidate Andrew Macdonald, argued the plan was crafted without public input, despite years of meetings.
As expected, Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg – who campaigned against the waterfront plan – floated capping waterfront hotels at just one as a potential compromise. The motion died for lack of support.
Council is expected to remove the language in the zoning ordinance that led to the protest petition – and subsequent litigation – later in the day.