Specifics lacking in city’s massive waterfront plan

Specifics lacking in city’s massive waterfront plan

The devil is in the details and city council members want more specifics before they sign off on a multimillion-dollar plan to overhaul the waterfront.

In its current form, the draft plan calls for redeveloping the Robinson Terminal warehouses and encouraging public access along the waterfront. That includes reaching agreements with the Old Dominion Boat Club to turn their existing parking lot into a public square, and with District officials on extending piers into the Potomac.

The projected cost is somewhere between $31 and $42 million, though staff predicts the makeover will generate $45 million in tax revenue in the next 15 years.  

The city council got a brief overview of the proposal before their regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday night. Though they remained largely on board with the plan, they did voice concerns, from parking issues to the emphasis on lining the waterfront with hotels. 

Vice Mayor Kerry Donley questioned the cost of putting piers into District waters without knowing how much it will cost and whether the city can reach an agreement with Washington and the ODBC.

Youre asking us to approve a significant concept based upon a lack of information about those critical points, Donley said. Theyre critical in my eyes. I will have trouble supporting the plan in terms of the marina here and the piers there unless we get more information about what were talking about.

Planning and zoning staff will need to do a better job of selling those aspects of the plan if they want council support, given the controversy the project has stirred up, Donley said. 

Councilwoman Alicia Hughes expressed concern with the plans reliance on new hotels springing up along the Potomac. Staff emphasized the need for lodging to keep the area open and accessible to the public.

Hotels, rather than private residences, will give the waterfront a public atmosphere, said Karl Moritz, deputy director of planning and zoning. Currently, the plan calls for allowing hotels at both Robinson Terminals and the Cummings and Turner block. 

Still, hotels are cyclical in their popularity, Hughes said.

It seems as though hotels can have a livability somewhere between seven and 10 years until theyre not the same place anymore, she said. Given youve got a plan thats going to take 15 years to build out, I would look for more options than just a hotel.

Mayor Bill Euille brushed away those fears, pointing to the redevelopment of the Southeast waterfront and National Harbor across the river. Tourists and businessmen traveling to Washington and Maryland will need hotels, he said.

Lets not kid ourselves, theres probably no space to build more hotels at National Harbor, its done, he said. As it continues to grow and expand in conferences and conventions, people will need to look elsewhere.

But Councilman Frank Fannon preached flexibility. The city needs to stay open to developers with good ideas outside of the hotel model, he said. Euille agreed, but said residential developments are off the table.

The city council will take a final look at a tweaked plan in April, after residents and the planning commission weigh in on the changes. They expect to see more specifics, according to Councilman Paul Smedberg.

I think we really need to flush this out a little bit more and I think we need a feasibility study, but about finances … what potentially we could expect from the development community and just include that in some sort of concise document, he said.