By Bob Wood, Alexandria
To the editor:
The issue of eminent domain is set to rip asunder fragile community goodwill behind the waterfront plan for reasons that are deeply flawed and deceptively described.
We are at a critical stage of community progress. A planning framework without a design soul is set to benefit from world-class assistance. A willingness of new developers to engage the community portends constructive communication. A flood-mitigation plan is moving toward practical engineering specifics.
Most importantly, Old Dominion Boat Club — the legally affirmed, hometown landowner at the foot of King Street — has put substantial concessions on the bargaining table.
But a stalled process, one that shows signs of moving forward after years of legal uncertainty, is being threatened by the petty overreach of city bureaucrats left unchecked by impatient city politicians. We are too close to ruin or remedy to act in reckless haste.
We hear that the waterfront redevelopment plan requires this and that. It does no such thing. This planning framework was sold to the public as a concept — not an edict.
If it were an edict, the footprint of every building depicted in the plan would be cast in stone as apparently immutable as the proposed ice-skating rink. Every property, including Carr Hospitality’s massive, overbuilt design for South Union Street, would conform to the orientation, sightlines and setbacks we repeatedly saw in the model.
Fitzgerald Square does not exist in the plan in anything other than a conceptual suggestion. In fact, the waterfront plan work group’s report, adopted in whole by the city council, specifically and unanimously deleted this recommendation and called instead for simply “a significant public space on King Street between Union Street and the river that acts as the gateway to the city.”
Check your geography; the parking lot is neither on King Street nor between Union and the park.
The solution is obvious here: Make the foot of King Street, from Union Street to the water, one contiguous public space without motor traffic. Park the trolleys at Market Square where the terminus belongs. Build the arch and celebrate our unity here.
A final caution to this city council: To cite the public good as reason to seize private property and accomplish mere concepts is an extremely weak rationale. The waterfront plan work group report, in its very first summary recommendation stated: “The [group] strongly discourages the use of eminent domain to accomplish the recommendations of the waterfront small area plan. Nothing in the [group’s] report should offer rationale for eminent domain action.” This public review body repeated this unanimous conclusion later, specifically as it related to city actions at the foot of King Street.
Former City Councilor David Speck cited the obvious compromise at a meeting earlier this month. Split the difference regarding the parking lot proposals, he suggested.
I would go further. Accept the boat club’s concession of a public walkway along the river; globally settle all issues; be done with this wrestling that benefits only lawyers and not the taxpayers; and move on in partnership.