EDITORIAL: Waterfront lot is boat club’s domain

(File Photo)

Frustrated by years of futile negotiations with the Old Dominion Boat Club regarding its waterfront parking lot, Mayor Bill Euille on Tuesday said the city was prepared to use eminent domain.

This would be wrong, for many reasons.

Philosophically, the idea of government taking property from an unwilling private individual or entity is unjustified unless doing so meets a vital public need. Justifiable examples of eminent domain include building a much-needed highway or a fire station in a neighborhood without one.

Now, a waterfront plaza undoubtedly would look nicer than the club’s parking lot, but it’s certainly not an essential public need.

The ability to own private property and freedom of speech are the two pillars of democracy. The security of all of our other rights rest on them. These rights are eroded each time eminent domain is utilized — at the city, state or federal level — to take property for anything other than an essential need.

It might be tempting for residents to favor seizing the parking lot. But remember: If one person’s property is not protected, then no one’s property is ultimately safe.

But this isn’t just a philosophical argument; it’s also a matter of fairness. The club legally owns this lot. Because most members do not live within walking distance, the lot is a critical component of the group’s ability to continue functioning.

Also, the last thing the city needs is another drawn-out, expensive legal fight. Surely no one at City Hall is under the illusion that the boat club is going to roll over without a protest if officials invoke eminent domain, right? This move would embroil the city in yet another protracted legal battle, with fees likely costing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

There’s a final reason why eminent domain is the wrong move: the smell factor. Many in Alexandria already accuse our elected officials of being too cozy with developers and engaging in backroom deals. Taking the club lot and building a plaza will directly benefit four entities far more than anyone else: Carr Hospitality, JBG, EYA and CityInterests — the companies that own and want to develop land along the waterfront.

Taking land from one private entity that directly and financially benefits another private entity was at the heart of the Supreme Court case of Kelo v. City of New London in 2005. In her dissent (the court ruled 5-4 in favor of eminent domain), then-Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote: “Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms.”

O’Connor’s words apply here. The city should not use eminent domain against the Old Dominion Boat Club. It’s not fair, it’s not smart and it would disproportionately benefit out-of-town developers at the expense of an Alexandria institution. It is the wrong move.

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(12) Readers Comments

  1. The Boat Club should willingly sell that lot if they cared at all about the city of Alexandria and what was best. It’s an eyesore that has no place being there. It doesn’t fit in and that land needs to be better utilized. The fact is that cities have main areas and just because the boat club has been there forever doesn’t mean that they should be ignoring the current needs of the city. I just can’t understand why the Boat Club won’t cooperate here, but since they won’t the city needs to do what they need to do.

    • Aside from the prospects of corruption involved, someone will have to explain to me how we are going to teach our children not to be bullies when we are bullies ourselves. Let’s face it, pure and simple, that is exactly what is involved here. The mayor wants to push the boat club around just because it can. The city has the power and muscle to abuse, so that is what it intends to do. Even the threats are abusive.
      I may not like the boat club, but then I don’t like the Masonic Temple either. That doesn’t give me the moral right to take what isn’t mine. Like the examples above, i.e., a highway or firehouse, there may be justification under certain very very very rare circumstances. This is clearly NOT one of them.

      BTW, if Kevin has a private residence, lets see if he wants to have it forcibly taken from him just because somebody thinks the neighborhood would be improved with his eradication.

    • Who do you work for Kevin?

    • As a proud member of the Old Dominion Boat Club it amazes me that the City Council is still trying to land grab our parking lot AND Boat launch. There is a reason boat launch ramps are NOT pedestrian walk ways! Backing a boat onto a narrow ramp is hard enough without worrying about running over people! The Club also allows the City of Alexandria to use their boat ramp to launch the City’s rescue and fire boats free of charge. The fence may be ugly but is required for lot security. Think about it.. Would you leave your Alexandria home unlocked all day? All night? Of course not. I am all for flood mitigation efforts and the Club has agreed many times to work with the city to that end! But this is not so people can just walk along the waterway… This is a land grab and IF the city owns the land, they can then develop it anyway they want to.

      If I didn’t value my truck and boat so much, I would let the city council members attempt to negotiate the strand alley, get through the gate and back the boat into the water. NOT an easy task, but do-able in the current parking lot configuration. The way the city would cut into the parking lot and open the ramp to people would make for a very dangerous situation. And if someone is run over, do you think they would sue the City? Or the Boat Club???

      I wish the City managers would concentrate their efforts into other problematic areas of the city and stop trying to steal the ODBC parking lot!

      My Two Cents!
      Mr. Bill

  2. The Boat Club is private property. Their members are being forced to spend an enormous amount of money fighting the city for the last ten years, that money could of been spent on making their parking lot look nice and working with the city on the flooding problems. Also, couldn’t the city use the money they are spending on trying to take private land on things that would benefit all the residents of Alexandria & not just those businesses that are on the waterfront?

  3. I think I heard that it was the city that put up that ugly fence a long time ago (without the permission of the Boat Club). I think that the Boat Club drew up plans some time ago to redo the lanscaping and fence to make it a much more attractive area and they were going to do it at their own expense but the city blocked the action.

  4. Doesn’t the city have a waterfront parking lot just on the southside of of Prince Street ? Its leased to a private party but is making money for the city. Shouldn’t the city clean up its act before it criticizes others.

  5. The author’s article is spot on. Allowing the use of eminent domain would set a dangerous precedent. The city would be better served seeking ways to partner with the boat club to improve the look and function of the club and parking lot (and Whale’s Alley while we’re at it) without threatening to take them away. From what I know of the club, members are more than willing to work with the city to upgrade the lot including more attractive fencing materials and landscaping which would dramatically improve the aesthetics. That may not go as far as some would like, but would be a win – even if a small one – for everyone involved. In my opinion, that’s where the discussion should lie. Let’s stop with the legal tactics. Like it or not, the club has a right to be there and clear ownership of this property. Let’s figure out how to work together to make the best of what exists.

  6. I applaud the Alexandria Times for standing up for private property rights, but also for pointing out the strong-arm tacktics the City of Alexandria has been using to give away our waterfront to influential developers.

    It is a shame the the City of Alexandria is misleading people to believe that the Old Dominion Boat Club has not been willing to work out a reasonable solution. In fact, the Boat Club has been trying to do so since the 1980′s. The real truth is that the CIty of Alexandria has not been willing to negotiate in good faith. They are happy to spend taxpayer’s money on lenghty, drawn out legal battles in hopes of wearing down the club. If the publc only knew what has been offered in the past and how the end of King Street could have been more open and accessable to the public 30 years ago. The City of Alexandrtia has been unfair, dishonest, and has misled everyone involved.

    Citizen’s who believe the rhetoric being fed to us by the our politicians and administrators need to open their eyes and learn a bit more about the true history of the waterfront. Comments like the one posted by Kevin are indicitive of people who only know one side of the story and believe everything they hear.

  7. Hello Kevin.
    All I can say to your comment is that if you don’t understand now I hope you never understand. Because for you to understand the situation, you would need to have some bully of an entity try to take away what is legally yours. Drag you through long and expensive legal battles to protect yourself from what rightfully belongs to you. I don’t know you, but I don’t wish that kind of stress and burden on you or anyone.
    Best regards,
    Les Thomas

  8. What is a boat club, it is a place that people who love the water and can afford to have boats will have the ability to launch or dry dock their craft. This is never mentioned in the press and that is reason as important as parking. A successful club can not operate without water access. Now, as perhaps the oldest member, in club association, I remember the days When the City gave no help or recognition to the first three blocks of King Street. They were inhabited by drunks and bag ladies. All of the property was filled, as storage space, for building materials owned by a wealthy local builder. The Boat Club did its best to keep that part of Alexandria spruced up and worked closely with the city in many public affairs efforts like parades, parties for children, supporting the rowing classes and a many other endeavors.

    å thought just occurred to me, why not in the investigation of flood activities consider building an underground garage for the Club leaving a narrow drive way and space at the waters edge for dry storage and launching capabilities. If done attractively it would accent Alexandria’s boating history
    Norm Hatch

    • Well said Norm! What the Alexandria Patch and Washington Newspaper articles fail to mention is that there are over 800 Club members. Even if only 10% of the club members show up for an event the existing parking lot is jammed. If they cut down those spots 40% where do they think current members are going to park? Should we be forced into pay parking because the city wants a land grab? The city wants to force off site storage of boats and trailers, but not giving the club any land for that purpose? Would they provide lot security for that lot? Would they be liable for damage to Club property for opening up the lot? Hardly anyone uses the park and it’s not because of the parking lot. It’s because the Park is unlit at night and has a Rat problem! Allowing people to walk onto an active boat ramp is NEVER a good idea!

      For the life of me, I can’t figure out what the City is doing! The best solution would be to give the ODBC MORE land from the park side so the Alley lines up with the lot entrance. Yet, all they want to do is take, take take. I can’t imagine the City agreeing to do that! That would be the most logical thing, but I haven’t heard that from the City! The whole thing smells and the City surly has other issues that one would think would be more important that messing with an institution as good as the ODBC.

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