Your Views: Make history and culture a priority on the waterfront


The Alexandria Archaeological Commission (AAC) has discussed the Waterfront Small Area Plan (SAP) and recommends that the following four changes be made prior to its adoption. We believe these changes will strengthen the plan and make the waterfront the vibrant, dynamic and historic place envisioned. In addition, as AAC testified before both the planning commission and city council, the commission recommends incorporating these changes into a fresh version of the existing draft before any vote is taken. 

City staff submitted two major sets of revisions in April and May, fundamentally changing the plan beyond mere editorial fixes. While planning staff tried hard to reconcile the changes and draft, no specific language has been provided to show what a final draft would look like. AAC finds that the myriad of changes proposed in two 20-plus page addendums collectively change the nature of the plan. For these reasons, AAC believes a corrected and clear draft is essential for all to understand what city council is considering before a vote is taken.

The four changes are:

1. Endorse the waterfront history plan. Planning and zoning staff have stated that the history plan was to be endorsed. Absent a formal endorsement and incorporation into the SAP, the history plan is relegated to the status of an informational appendix.

2. Revise the SAP to emphasize Alexandrias culture and the preservation of its history before discussing future development. The waterfront history plan was drafted by the AAC to fit development within the context of Alexandrias history and identity. Its format was drafted to complement the SAP so that future design and development can complement Alexandrias heritage. As drafted, the SAP envisions history and cultural aspects, including the arts, fitting into development rather than the reverse. 

3. Include guidance for the implementation of cultural and preservation aspects of the plan. The SAP, as drafted, is focused on possible or proposed development and includes a plan for specific types of development, a budget and an implementation strategy. These are missing from the SAP in relation to the history and culture options except as a potential condition for development. This leaves the impression that history and culture are not important components of the waterfront. This is strengthened by the repeated references to the history and cultural aspects as suggestions or aspects requiring further determination. The history plan provided a phased, incremental implementation strategy and should be included in the SAP.

4. Include historical and cultural elements in the SAP on their own merits, independent of development. The history plan sets forth various funding approaches and provides city council with knowledge of what can be done to implement the history interpretation and preservation aspects of the SAP. Absent a specific budget strategy, planning and implementation of historical aspects will be ad hoc and dependent upon the willingness and schedules of developers. Having a separate history budget strategy will turn many aspects of the SAP into something immediate and achievable rather than something distant and reliant solely upon development.

We urge city council to include the above suggestions prior to adopting the SAP, and that it directs staff to provide a fresh version of the existing draft incorporating all changes as well. These changes will provide greater guidance for future planning and development while ensuring that the historic preservation and the cultural aspects of the SAP are as integral to the plan as they are to Alexandrias residents and visitors as well as its identity.