Ive walked the Old Town waterfront with my two dogs every day, usually twice a day, for nearly 10 years. My dogs love it because they often find big puddles from the flooding Potomac River to splash in. Theres also plenty of debris to sniff and possibly some nice dead fish to roll in (cleaning them up can be a chore). On these strolls, I see many of the same people and we have friendly conversations about the condition of the waterfront and the need for change. Some want more activity, some dont.
We all want to do the right thing for Alexandrias waterfront. Unfortunately, we dont all agree on what the right thing is. The Alexandria City Council hearing on the waterfront redevelopment plan May 14 was an example of what makes our city both a great place and a challenging one. Elected officials heard from 44 people, some of whom supported the plan and others who opposed it for various reasons. As representatives of the business community (as well as the residents who own those businesses), we think the plan has endured enough analysis, debate and critique. Its time to implement it and allow the citys coastline to flourish as a place for recreation, relaxation, cultural fulfillment and economic prosperity.
This plan has been in the works for years and has endured a very long, very public process. It is the result of more than 100 meetings by city staff, consultants, volunteers and citizens. The plan has been researched, vetted and analyzed for financial viability, and has cost taxpayer money.
The plan has vibrant mixed uses as recommended by the mayors Economic Sustainability Workgroup in its 2007 report. It gives us flood mitigation, more parks, more open space, an art walk and it pays homage to our history. It also recognizes that these public benefits cost money and it implements a level of modest development that will fund the improvements while enhancing the citys tax base. The fact is, 8 million square feet of the waterfront could legally be developed right now. The plan, however, adds a mere 160,000 square feet of development space.
The plan adds hotels to the buildings allowed on the waterfront. But as we see with our existing Old Town hotels, such as the Kimpton Group and Hilton, hotels are generally good neighbors; they have a vested interest in keeping their environments clean, safe and hospitable. They also have a low impact on parking while still generating patrons for other businesses such as retailers and restaurants.
Its been suggested that a museum be built on one of the Robinson Terminal sites. Thats a lovely idea. Id like to see an organization formed to raise and invest money in the research and development of a viable business plan. A public-private partnership is possible, but it would require an enormous amount of money from both sides, especially for a Smithsonian-level museum, which would be the kind needed to generate the amount of money required to fund the plans public benefits.
Is the waterfront plan perfect? No. We think it doesnt go far enough for commercial uses. But another group says that it goes too far with commercial uses. This makes me think the plan might actually be right in the middle a balance between our polar opinions. It also confirms that the plan is a fair representation of what interested parties working on it concluded was in the collective best interest of the city.
As the planning commission determined, the original plan presented in February is the optimal one. It is the closest we can get to world-class design with the option of creating a lively Fitzgerald Square at the foot of King Street. However, we must recognize and support the Old Dominion Boat Clubs property rights. We believe the city and ODBC can create a better solution than the options they recently suggested and we encourage them to work to that end soon.
Its time to approve the plan and move forward. This is our opportunity to finish the waterfront in a manner that provides accessibility and activities for people of all interests. Check out the plan for yourself at www.alexandriava.gov/Waterfront.