On the waterfront: clearing up misconceptions about the citys new coastline


When the city first embarked on the Waterfront Small Area Plan two years ago, the clear and universal goal was to create a waterfront for everyone. The vision emerging from the public process was to not only maintain whats left of Alexandrias authentic and unique history on the Potomac but to greatly enhance it; to create continuous access to the waters edge; to create new parks and public spaces, museums or other cultural activities; and add things for families to do.  
The primary themes would be history, art, boating and enjoyment. And, importantly, the plan would have to be economically sustainable for a small city with major budget demands for fire stations, schools and transit.

Right now, on a beautiful spring day, you can find lots of people milling about at the foot of King Street looking for something to do, but almost no one in the large, green Waterfront Park, just a half block away. Continuous access to the water is interrupted in key places by warehouses and parking lots.  The shoreline floods, especially at the foot of King Street. The community has created a vision of something better, and the Alexandria City Council has a responsibility to implement it in a way that is economically sustainable.  

My purpose is to correct the many misconceptions concerning what is actually proposed.

    The plan is primarily a park and public space plan. It adds new public space totaling almost 5 acres land that is now parking lots, street ends, buildings and private industrial piers. Included in that public space will be a skating rink, museum, areas for spectators, play areas, fountains, kayak rentals, outdoor movies, a market and other family-oriented, low impact activities.

New development is proposed for three sites with existing non-historic warehouses that can redevelop now. The sites are allowed, by current zoning, to hold up to 650,000 square feet of new development. The plan would increase that amount by about 160,000 square feet, which amounts to about 2 percent more than existing development at the waterfront, and is an amount that has been found acceptable by the National Park Service. 

Hotels are a good use for the waterfront, because they welcome the public and pay for the park improvements people have asked for. They are low-impact in terms of traffic and parking, need for services and noise. Most of the recent development on the waterfront has been private residential communities, and these can be very attractive, but people who have purchased residences on waterfronts tend to oppose public uses and activity in their front yards. Further, hotels contribute about six times in tax revenue what residential properties do, and none would be at the foot of King Street.

Only one new restaurant is specifically proposed in the plan the Beachcomber. Many of the Alexandrians participating in the planning effort specifically requested additional waterfront and outdoor dining opportunities. The plan includes a rigorous public review process for new hotels and restaurants, to make sure the individual and cumulative impacts of each new business are fully addressed.

Solving most of the frequent flooding is a key element in the plan, and is in the first phase of implementation.  

Waterfront redevelopment will not be connected to the combined sanitary/storm sewer system. The redevelopment sites are served by a 42-foot sewer interceptor that runs through the east edge of Old Town and directly to the sewage treatment plant. None of the sewage will go into the combined system that occasionally overflows.

The plan emphasizes the creation of a southern cultural anchor to balance the Torpedo Factorys function as an arts anchor, and calls for $3.6 million of funding that could be used for a variety of activities a new cultural or history building, a maritime museum, history center, relocated or expanded archaeology museum, permanently moored ship of character, the Seaport Foundation, and uses in the restored historic warehouses at the Strand. 

Alexandria does not want to be like anywhere else. We all agree that its critical for the waterfront plan to improve whats there now without compromising our identity as a historic city. We must find a balance of contentious elements a balance combining the right amount of both active and passive open space, economic development, vibrancy and great architecture into a mix that is compatible with existing neighborhoods and businesses. 

This plan has received a tremendous amount of public input over the past two years. Its time to make a decision that will complete the transformation, begun 40 years ago, from an obsolete industrial area to a world-class waterfront for the entire community.

The writer is mayor of the City of Alexandria.