City council talks waterfront improvements as opponents protest

City council talks waterfront improvements as opponents protest

Amid protests on Alexandria’s waterfront, city officials sparred over the controversial vision for the strip of land along the Potomac River during a marathon Saturday morning work session.
The ambitious plan has drawn a range of critiques and competing visions for the redevelopment of three sites along the Potomac, the Robinson Terminals and the Cummings and Turner properties, remain flash points. Under the proposal recommended by the planning commission earlier this year they would become homes to boutique hotels, a suggestion that has drawn the ire of neighbors. 
During more than four hours of discussion, the council considered possible 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. 
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 city’s 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 $51 million and generate $3.8 million a year, Moritz said. 
Several hundred protestors gathered along Alexandrias bank of the Potomac shortly before the citys elected officials were scheduled to discuss the proposed blueprint. The rally came as opponents increasingly have grown louder, crowding public hearings and papering Old Town with protest signs.
The public outcry was enough to prompt Councilwoman Alicia Hughes to suggest backing off from the proposal. 
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, sparking applause from the audience packed into council chambers. That doesnt mean that we have failed, but is it really necessary to do this if there is no immediate need?
A proposal by Councilman Rob Krupicka to leave the three controversial sites zoned as they are currently while approving the cultural and recreational aspects of the plan drew support from Hughes and Councilwoman Del Pepper.
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 remained concerned maintaining the status quo could restrict the citys oversight in future redevelopment. 
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.
Planning department staff will prepare a report of the pros and cons of leaving the sites’ zoning untouched by the week’s end. What remains unclear is whether residents will have another chance to speak to the plan before the city council votes to adopt an incarnation of the proposal, expected sometime before the end of June.