By Derrick Perkins (File Photo)
The verdict came after nearly four hours of public testimony Tuesday evening: Negotiations for the Old Dominion Boat Club’s waterfront parking lot will continue — for at least another 90 days.
That was the 6-1 decision of city council following a lengthy, and unusual, hearing dedicated to the perennial dispute between City Hall and the local group. The point, Mayor Bill Euille said, is letting residents in on what formerly were backroom talks.
“The council has had discussions privately and in executive sessions in terms of next steps, but it has gotten to the point where it’s best to be public about it,” he said. “I don’t think I heard anything new tonight — me, personally — in terms of ideas and suggestions that haven’t already been on the table. ... [But] now that they’re out there, hopefully we’ll have a more, frankly, honest discussion and we can reach a compromise.”
The mayor’s tone was more conciliatory than last month, when he announced city officials would again consider using eminent domain to seize the club’s parking lot and another portion of its shoreline property. Though officials always acknowledged eminent domain as an option, they characterized it as a tool of last resort in recent years.
The community meeting, which boat club members packed, was arranged to gather resident input before city council moved ahead with eminent domain. The response — as expected by many — was overwhelmingly against taking the club’s land.
Speakers raised concerns about the cost of using eminent domain — the boat club would receive reimbursement for any seized property — as well as the price of expected litigation. More than one resident pointed to the constitutional amendment that voters backed last year, which narrows uses for eminent domain and makes the action more expensive, as proof of the tool’s unpopularity.
Others took a dim view of City Hall’s strategy of using the threat of eminent domain as a bargaining chip. Talks for the property — now more than a decade old — had bogged down until June, when Euille sent the boat club his nine-point plan for reaching a settlement.
After waiting months without a response, Euille announced the city’s renewed interest in using eminent domain. Only then did the boat club release its compromise, which fell far short of handing City Hall the disputed property.
Instead, boat club leaders offered the city an easement for a pedestrian walkway along the outer edge of the group’s parking lot. And they agreed to lease nearby parking spots along The Strand for flood-mitigation efforts.
A great majority of Tuesday night’s speakers, like resident Dino Drudi, urged city council to either accept the club’s offer or find another middle ground.
“The boat club has stepped forward, as have the Alexandria Times and others, to urge you to pursue a path of compromise and continue negotiating,” he said. “Compromise means ... that you don’t get everything you want and they don’t get everything they want. And that’s a compromise. And that’s not a bad thing.”
Boat club leaders also reiterated their willingness to continue discussions. Board chairman Eric DeSoto told city council that they were willing to lock themselves in a room for hours at a time to hammer out a deal.
And Miles Holtzman, president of the boat club, said members were tired of bickering.
“We’re looking for a nice, commonsense solution,” he said. “We don’t want to keep fighting. We don’t want to keep spending money.”
Though city councilors agreed to extend talks with the club — and consider bringing in a mediator — they also directed staff to begin the eminent domain process. If the deadline passes without a settlement, City Hall will be prepared to seize the land, Euille said.