(Image/City of Alexandria)
Opposition to development projects usually follows one of two threads: It’s either based in philosophy or driven by quality-of-life concerns. This is true of Alexandria’s waterfront redevelopment plan, which has been contentious from the start and has years of lawsuits to show for the acrimony.
Perhaps the most contested commercial component has been the plan to place a hotel at the foot of Duke Street — right in the heart of Old Town’s residential southeast quadrant. This proposal, a five-story “small” hotel to be built by Carr City Centers, is poised to become reality after city councilors approved it with a 6-0 vote Saturday.
There are many members of the antidevelopment group, the most prominent being former Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald and resident Bert Ely. A few of our elected officials and city staffers seemingly have ceased attempting to hear concerns raised by these residents.
But there’s also a touch of the “boy crying wolf” once too often, given this group’s predictable opposition to seemingly every proposed project. Perhaps this faction would be more effective if it chose fewer battles.
However, when your opposition is driven by philosophical concerns — particularly the notion that large for-profit development in Alexandria should take a backseat to preserving open space, designating more parkland and adding museums — it’s difficult to sit out of any development debate. Their opposition is a legitimate and far-sighted perspective, believing that what makes this city unique must be preserved and enhanced, even if it means forsaking the short-term benefit of more tax dollars to spend.
The other group opposed to development has been dismissed by the city as the equally predictable not-in-my-backyard crowd. This group, led by “Iron Ladies” Marie Kux, Beth Gibney and April Burke, are nearby residents with valid worries about parking, traffic and quality of life in their neighborhood.
The unanimous vote Saturday means that development is going to happen. But it doesn’t absolve city council, Mayor Bill Euille and city staff — led by City Manager Rashad Young — from their responsibility to nearby residents.
Old Town is Alexandria’s golden goose. It’s the part of our city that lures tourists and their dollars. Southeast quadrant residents pay more in property taxes than those in most sections of Alexandria. Most homes within a few blocks of the proposed Carr hotel do not have off-street parking.
City officials need to do the right thing and designate streets in a several-block radius of this Duke Street hotel as resident-only parking. Such a gesture, which would be all the more magnanimous because it isn’t legally required, would go far toward mitigating quality-of-life concerns. It needs to happen.