‘Stalemate’ on the waterfront

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As opponents of the citys vision for a new waterfront grew louder, Alexandrias top elected officials put off a decision on the sweeping proposal until after their summer recess. 

The city council delayed talk of holding a second public hearing and a final vote on the controversial waterfront plan until September during their Tuesday meeting, just days after they sparred during a marathon Saturday morning work session preceded by a protest on the riverfront.

We have obviously talked about this quite a bit, Councilman Paul Smedberg said. [I recommend] that we take time, take a deep breath. I think we need to do that as a community. 

The ambitious plan has drawn a range of critiques. Competing visions for the redevelopment of three sites along the Potomac, the Robinson Terminals and the Cummings and Turner properties, remain flash points. In the draft recommended by the planning commission earlier this year they would become boutique hotels, a suggestion raising the ire of residents. 

The council considered variants on the original plan, including a proposal emphasizing museums and parks, another using the existing zoning and a third based on hypothetically granting potential developers special use permits, over the weekend. 

While all are viable, only the original concept hotels and all will generate enough tax revenue to offset public dollars spent on a raft of amenities, including museums, art centers and expanded parks, said Karl Moritz, the citys deputy director for long range and strategic planning.  

The proposal closest resembling what opponents have called for, which envisions the city buying the three controversial properties and converting them into museums and open space, likely would cost $220 million and raise $164,000 in taxes annually, said Moritz. By contrast, the original plan is expected to cost about $51 million and generate $3.8 million a year, Moritz said. 

Several hundred protestors gathered along Alexandrias waterfront shortly before city council members met Saturday. The rally came as opponents increasingly have become more vocal, crowding public hearings and papering Old Town with signs of protest.

The public outcry was enough to prompt Councilwoman Alicia Hughes to suggest backing off from the proposal altogether during the bodys weekend meeting. 

The fight that were having and the enrage were having is over adding 140,000 square feet is it worth it? The quick answer I have is absolutely no, Hughes said. That doesnt mean that we have failed, but is it really necessary to do this if there is no immediate need?

A compromise suggested by Councilman Rob Krupicka, which would leave the three controversial sites zoned as they are while approving the cultural and recreational aspects of the plan, drew support from Hughes and Councilwoman Del Pepper, who described the impasse between officials and residents as a stalemate Tuesday night. 

Any substantial redevelopment, like building hotels, would require developers go through the simultaneous process of asking for rezoning and filing for a special use permit, both open to public debate, Krupicka said. 

Still, Councilman Paul Smedberg maintained that keeping with the status quo could restrict the citys hand in future redevelopment. Its a point he and Councilman Frank Fannon repeated before tabling the unfinished plan Tuesday.  

Something is coming [to the waterfront] soon regardless of what we end up doing here, he said. I think we have to keep that all in mind. I would much rather be dictating to developers and laying on serious oversight to make sure we get what we want and not what the developers want on that particular site that may not have any value or meaning to us at all.

Residents will have another chance to speak to the plan in September with a final council vote expected to follow soon after. Officials will create a workgroup charged with improving the plan and negotiating with stakeholders in the meantime.

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