Community News __Featured Slider — 25 March 2014
Old Dominion Boat Club accepts city’s offer to relocate

Updated 10 a.m. March 27

By Erich Wagner (File Photo)

After a decades-long fight to hold onto its waterfront property, the Old Dominion Boat Club has accepted a deal to sell its land, paving the way for a public plaza described as the crown jewel of a revitalized Potomac shoreline.

Members of the organization voted overwhelmingly this past weekend to transfer the club’s land at the foot of King Street to City Hall in exchange for the nearby Beachcomber property and $5 million. Sixty-six percent of the 400 members who cast ballots over a three-day period favored the offer, which includes an option to build a new parking lot, boat ramp and piers.

A second offer, which would let the club trade its waterfront parking lot for $2.5 million and nearby parking spaces, garnered 24 percent of the vote. The option of rejecting both of City Hall’s overtures — likely setting the stage for a land grab and messy legal fight — received support from just 12 percent of participating members.

But boat club member and former City Councilor Frank Fannon said many members didn’t like either of the proposals floated by the city last week. The two offers emerged from an intense, 90-day period of negotiations after officials threatened to take the land through eminent domain in the fall.

“Don’t be misled by the high percentage of that, because it was the only realistic option out there of the three,” Fannon said. “The majority didn’t want to vote for any options and only did this because we’re under threat from city council.”

Mayor Bill Euille characterized the deal as a positive step toward revitalizing the shoreline. Under the controversial waterfront redevelopment plan, the boat club’s property becomes a public area known as Fitzgerald Square.

“I’m pleased that both sides, the boat club and the city, were able to craft [a deal] and continue to meet the March 18 deadline set by council,” he said. “We were able to offer some compromises that were positive [for both sides].”

Euille said he understood the acrimony felt by boat club members but what’s most important is that a deal finally has been reached.

“If I were on their side of the ledger, I would probably feel the same way, but you’ve got to understand, we spent the last 10 plus years working to get where we ended up,” Euille said. “I think it’s a positive outcome simply because more than a majority of the members voting decided this was the right thing to do.”

And Jody Manor, a city waterfront commissioner and business owner, was elated at the turn of events. Manor and former colleague Christine Bernstein campaigned heavily for swapping the boat club’s land for the Beachcomber building.

Though the idea had surfaced before, the duo saw it as a way to avoid eminent domain as well as years of litigation and hard feelings.

“I think it’s a very forward-thinking solution and I really, truly applaud the leadership on both sides of the issue to craft something in such a short period of time,” Manor said. “That speaks very, very well for the future of our city and all of the exciting changes coming to our waterfront.”

Fannon, though, warned against writing off the agreement as a done deal. The boat club and City Hall must work out a final contract for the land swap. And, according to club bylaws, two-thirds of members must approve a real estate deal.

“Like many things, the devil is in the details,” Fannon said. “We still need to approve the contract, so that was really more of a straw poll of the membership and agreeing to a term sheet.”

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(4) Readers Comments

  1. It appears that Mr. Fannon is drawing an unrealistic conclusion from the ODBC member vote. Approximately 90% of voting club members chose one of the options that were successfully negotiated by the ODBC and the city, as opposed to 10% who did not want either option. Mr. Fannon calling the vote “misleading” begs the obvious that any member that did not like the options would have voted against them. Members looked carefully at all scenarios, and voted what they felt was the best option, a new building for the ODBC, ending 40 years of litigation. It is refreshing that the members said, in essence, we are looking to the future, not the past. It is unfortunate that a small group of members, including Mr. Fannon, seem to want to live in the past. Fortunately a majority of the members studied the options, and got excited about the future.

  2. The city council says we will take your property unless you do a deal. Who would be excited about working under that threat? The members were forced to vote to either give off half their real estate and relocate or stay and lose their parking lot.

    Fannon simply lays out the reality that 2/3 of members need to approve a contract that currently has unknown costs and details

  3. Dennis,

    Could you be less informed? The 10% option was to turn up their nose to the city and risk eminent domain. A very lengthy and expensive process that would have ended up with the city getting the property and the boatclub getting “fair market” value. With this option the city would get what they want and the ODBC membership would have nothing but cash in pocket. This issue is/was a non-starter and a fools errand. What the boatclub membership did was vote on the lesser of two evils with the threat of eminent domain being held to their heads. It is a shame that the city uses tactics like this under the guise of public use. There is already plenty of public space available on the Alexandria waterfront and it is under utilized the majority of the year. The negotiation tactic that was utilized by the Council is shameful and as an Alexandrian I am embarrassed.

    Dennis…will you be singing the same tune when the Mayor’s office comes for half of your front yard for a bike lane?

    • Howard, I appreciate your position, and your passion regarding this issue. The potential sale of the Club, and a possible land swap goes back 40 years. That the Club’s property has been in the eye of the City is certainly not new, a fact that the Club should have incorporated into their negotiating strategy for a long time. You noted, there is already plenty of public space available on the Alexandria waterfront. The City’s issue is the land at the foot of King, the most important location in the City. You note the waterfront is underutilized which is exactly what the City has said and why the City says it needs the property at the foot of King to complete the Waterfront Plan. With the sale of the Robinson properties, and the passage of the City’s Alexandria Waterfront Small Area Plan, a longtime issue has reached a level demanding settlement. Many years ago the ODBC and the City reached an agreement to move the club to the foot of Montgomery but at that time the US Government prevented the move. Now, eminent domain would certainly be on the table if negotiations failed.
      Let me explain my position. Eminent domain has been around since the colonies. If citizens didn’t like it, it would have ceased being a tool of governments long ago. I don’t think you are advocating its demise. I understand you think that using ED in this case is not warranted. That is arguable. Rather than go there, I choose to look at the potential outcomes. There are arguments both ways: “the City would prevail/ the Club would prevail”. I choose not to take the risk and spend my Club dues for litigation over the next 20 years. I would rather use the $5 million in the settlement towards a new building in a great location only a short distance from the club. And if the Club would like to upgrade, there is now room in the dues for potential extras. What really moves me into an easy decision is what the City is offering the Club. The Beachcomber and the lots attached to it, plus the $5M. That looks to me like a “no-brainer.” Think for a moment if the Club fought ED and lost. By then there would be no Alexandria waterfront property available. The Club would cease to exist in the Alexandria waterfront. Recall that the Club, just last October, presented a plan to the City reducing the size of its current parking lot to accommodate pedestrian traffic around it. With the new property, the Club can have its building, surface parking, and a boat ramp, not to mention a significant upgrade in boat slips. You might be willing to trade this for an unknown litigation outcome, but not me.
      As for my house, I have an infinitesimally small concern about it being taken. After all, I do not live at the foot of King Street.

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