Council defers vote on waterfront plan in light of public pressure

Council defers vote on waterfront plan in light of public pressure

Shame and the best master plan Ive ever seen bookended the range of sentiments on Alexandrias waterfront redevelopment plan during a public hearing at City Hall last Saturday.

The city council deferred voting on the plan until June 30 and directed staff to reexamine the transformative roadmap in light of public protest, particularly against the commercialization of the harbor with hotels and restaurants.

About 60 residents spoke at the hearing, most of them against the plan. 

While this was not meant to be controversial at all it certainly has been a controversial issue, Mayor Bill Euille said.

The crux of recreating the citys coastline is land use: the distribution of hotels, restaurants, park space, historical and cultural centers, and offices on the waterfront. While few concrete building plans exist, planners have allotted space for three waterfront boutique hotels no more than 150 rooms and restaurants. 

But the plan adds more public space to the harbor than commercial development a point city planners drove home repeatedly to the public. 

Still, officials spent five hours defending their vision from residents who saw hotels, in particular, as nothing more than a moneymaker for city coffers, and an affront, not a buoy, to the waterfront.

By single-mindedly focusing on just one high density, revenue based, hotel oriented alternative, the result and all supporting analysis was entirely predictable we now have a generic plan, vague assurances and one overbuilt option, said resident Bob Wood. In my opinion, what compromises weve seen are like adding curtains in a skyscraper window pretty to look at, but lost in the scale of construction.

Hotels will help pay for a new harbor, but money was never the driving force behind building them, according to a presentation from the planning department.

We really go back to this idea that residential development thrives on privacy and quiet and hotel development thrives on activity, said Karl Moritz, deputy director of the planning department. And one of the ways that thats true is that the ground floors of hotels can be restaurants, they can be retail, they can even be galleries and museums, but they are things that are designed to engage the public.

Hotels have an interest in making sure the area around them is active and engaging, Moritz added.

The current plan adds about 160,000 square feet of new development space to the approximately 650,000 desired by officials, according to the document. Much of that land is tied up in warehouses owned by the Washington Post, however, which residents worry is a generous invitation for private developers.

Most speakers against the current plan asked for more time to digest it, hoping to reshape it over the summer. Council members directed the planning department to provide alternatives to hotel density before the June 30 vote.

The council also asked staff to reexamine and flesh out three other major issues: parking congestion, flood mitigation and a stricter restaurant policy to deter noise, litter and traffic.

After more than two years in the works, the waterfront plan has pitted the needs and wants of residents, tourists and private businesses against one another, and elected officials indicated they want more compromise before completing the plan.

When we take a final vote on this we need to have as much consensus as we can, said Councilman Frank Fannon. But I know were not going to have consensus from everyone.