It is no surprise dueling parties have reached a stalemate over the best approach to recreating the waterfront. The oft-fiery conversation has been extinguished until September, but should not go on much longer than that before implementation begins.
This plan has been in the works for more than two years. The first public meetings were held in April of 2009, yet the plans contents namely its commercial elements have angered a vocal group of residents over the past several months, causing the plans shelving. It was the right decision. The city council cannot ignore the voice of its electorate and indeed must tweak the plan, in some fashion, to include those voices. The rhetoric of the debate became so heated that the delay became necessary in order to reset and rethink the plan in a calmer environment.
Plans are useless without the will to realize them. Action needs to be taken come September. City Hall has the summer to rework the plan, which has to be finished if Alexandria is ever going to build this much-needed enhancement to its coastline.
It is important to remember: the city included public input in the current plan, and though a vocal group disagrees with aspects of it, other residents favor amenities like hotels (in addition to more park space and other public uses). Their voices, embodied in parts of the waterfront plan, cannot be drowned out.
Commercial development must remain a part of the plan. Just as some stakeholders fear increased congestion, others believe foregoing commercial development (which, it is important to remember, is already possible under current zoning laws) is a lost opportunity for a vibrant, economically sustainable waterfront. These viewpoints must be reconciled with a compromise. Perhaps three hotels is not the answer, but certainly all parties can agree on one. This waterfront belongs to West Enders as much as it does Old Towners, and everyones voice is important.
City Hall should revisit the public meetings held before the waterfront became so contentious and mesh those findings with the opinions of groups calling for an entirely new roadmap. It is important that every voice is heard not just those fresher and louder in our memory.
Without this necessary delay in the waterfronts development, the process would become vulnerable to one-off development choices to please special interests, rather than a holistic approach. This sojourn should be used to protect against a piecemeal approach and build compromise, lest no group gets its way on the waterfront.