The unveiling of the city’s concept plan for the Potomac waterfront on Monday night was in many ways like the opening of any art collection.
Residents getting their first glimpse of the newest rendition of a redeveloped river’s edge moved from one sketch to another at the Lyceum making comments that were at times curious, snarky, exasperated and pleased.
The conceptual drafts, the result of a process that began more than a year ago, depicted Alexandria’s roughly three miles of riverfront property with noticeably more open space docks, piers and parks restaurants and mixed-use development.
It was a reorientation toward the Potomac that rubbed some the wrong way. Old Town resident Beal Lowen said he was “very disappointed” with what he saw in the concept plan.
“What I heard here today was the plan for a theme park,” said Lowen, one of the first to respond to the Department of Planning and Zoning’s presentation. “There’s nothing in this plan that is going to enhance my experience as a resident of this town.”
Others felt quite differently.
“I think you’ve done a very good job,” said one longtime resident who opted not to identify himself. “I think it’s restrained. I went to almost all of the meetings and I was really quite concerned … that this was going to become a total mish-mash with too much in a very small area.”
Resident Christa Watters echoed the sentiment, saying, “This is a very positive and a good plan.”
Watters cited the negativity she’s found over the years from a long line of nay-sayers on city-planning issues, adding, “I find it almost offensive for someone to call it a theme park … to try to shoot it down and mock it is really the wrong thing to do.”
Regardless of artistic interpretation, several pieces of the concept plan stood out as elements of stark change.
Sketches showed a city marina with more than 100 new berths and pier-extensions of King Street and Cameron Street that would require the approval of the District of Columbia for entering its water.
Bracketing the heart of the waterfront at the marina, the Robinson north and south terminals would be redeveloped on the future waterfront. The industrial locations, which interrupt the pedestrian-friendly portions of the shore, could turn into mixed-use properties and add to the open space along the river.
The long-enduring Old Dominion Boat Club, which holds the prime real estate at the foot of King Street, would remain in its current location but its parking lot all that stands between Old Town’s main east-west route and the water would be reoriented away from the water along The Strand. Karl Moritz, the city’s deputy director of neighborhood planning, said in the presentation that ongoing talks with the boat club were a cooperative effort.
“They have said to us that they want to be a good neighbor,” Moritz said.
The presentation was limited to the vision for the waterfront. It did not incorporate any cost-benefit figures and did not address parking issues, though a number of residents had questions about the latter.
Although the overarching goal for the plan is to increase activity and access at the waterfront, some property owners could end up dealing with collateral damage.
One resident in attendance, Don Fisher, recently purchased a building on The Strand because of its Potomac River views, but would not have done so if he knew the concept plan included development that would eliminate the vista.
“We bought it because of the view,” Fisher said. “I would not have purchased it if I knew this was in the plan … we would have let it sit there vacant.”
Nothing will happen with bricks and mortar or official legislative votes for some time.
Moritz said the concept plan will continue to circulate throughout the spring in order to produce a more complete plan by mid-summer. A draft of the master plan could reach City Council sometime this fall.