To the editor:
The debate over Alexandria’s waterfront plan is fundamentally about whether the waterfront will become a much more public place, with increased public uses and activities, or a more private one.
Despite public access along much of the Potomac River, the waterfront is now largely a private enclave. In the process of gaining the public access, the city allowed mostly office buildings and pricey townhouses, with limited public activities. There are also no hotels and only one restaurant on the water.
Although parts of the waterfront can be enjoyable to walk along, there are few other reasons to actually visit. With a few exceptions, such as the boat dock area, the word vibrant does not describe the existing waterfront.
Yet the waterfront could finally become a truly vibrant place, if the waterfront plan proposed by the city staff is approved and then implemented in the years ahead.
The proposed plan is very much a public, not a private, development plan. It includes a wide range of public uses, including new and expanded public parks, piers, and promenades and a variety of civic, cultural, and recreational activities.
The plan requires that development on the limited private development sites respond to and be compatible with public activities: for example, hotels and restaurants instead of primarily more town houses for the well-to-do.
The plan is a reversal of how development usually proceeds in Alexandria, in which public amenities and benefits are typically discussed at the end of the planning process. In this case, public use truly trumps private.
And there’s the rub. More public activities and public-oriented uses such as hotels and restaurants would bring more people. Some people who live on or near the waterfront appear not to be pleased.
Opponents of the plan now appear to be trying to torpedo it entirely or significantly scale back the public-oriented uses, especially the hotels and restaurants. If they succeed, more townhouses and/or office buildings are inevitable. And the evolution of Alexandria’s waterfront into mostly a private preserve, with public access to the water but limited public activities, will be largely complete.