Editorial: On the waterfront, do the 
ends justify the means?

(File Photo) Residents soon will learn whether hard-nosed negotiating tactics will come back to haunt City Hall.

Members of the Old Dominion Boat Club, one of Alexandria’s most storied organizations, will decide later this month whether or not to accept a deal to swap its property for the city-owned Beachcomber site at the foot of Prince Street and $5 million. The group will have the opportunity to build a state-of-the-art clubhouse while City Hall will get to do what it wants with the foot of King Street on the Potomac waterfront, likely turning it into a long sought-after public plaza.

It seems like a win-win, especially given the years of stalled negotiations and bad blood between the club and City Hall. From the start of the latest — and what looks to be the final — round of talks, outside observers like Jody Manor and Christine Bernstein saw the land swap as a viable and fair settlement. In April, the Alexandria Times lauded the deal as a “good compromise.”

But that will be neither here nor there if members of the boat club reject the agreement. Given how we got to this point, it would not be surprising if many boat club members vote no in protest.

After years of failed talks with the boat club, City Hall made it clear it was prepared to use force to take the group’s waterfront property. Employing eminent domain, which officials once took great pains to describe as a tool of last resort, suddenly became an acceptable outcome.
The negotiating ploy worked. Faced with the prospect of handing their property over to City Hall — and likely a lengthy and expensive legal battle — the boat club’s leadership came back to the table. Talks resumed and now they have a satisfactory deal struck under less than ideal circumstances.

One party, after all, had a metaphorical gun to its head.

If the vote fails, it must not be seen solely as a rejection of the hard-won deal, but a repudiation of the tactics employed to try to force a bargain. It’s easy to imagine many of the boat club’s members will approach the ballot box with a bad taste in their mouths, after all, and prepared to make their feelings clear with their votes.

If it succeeds, as most believe it will, the outcome must not be taken as an affirmation of City Hall’s approach to negotiating. With their backs to the wall, boat club members will have accepted the deal knowing the most likely alternative is annexation.

While we have decried the tactics leading up to this point, we hope the boat club embraces the deal the organization’s leadership managed to strike with City Hall. It is a good compromise.

In saying that, how we came by that compromise most not be forgotten.

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