After quelling rhetoric, stakeholders wade into waterfront planning process

After quelling rhetoric, stakeholders wade into waterfront planning process

A group of residents hand-picked by Mayor Bill Euille has begun deliberating the citys controversial waterfront plan in hopes they can strike a balance between competing visions for the rivers edge. 

Amid growing protest, the city council delayed any final decision on the waterfront blueprint until the fall. The move came after roughly two years of work and a nearly unanimous stamp of approval by the citys planning commission. 
Vice Mayor Kerry Donley and Councilman Paul Smedberg called on residents, whether angry opponents or supporters of the plan, to reign in their rhetoric. Smedberg now serves as the Alexandrias waterfront plan work groups nonvoting council representative. 
He hopes the group will find a middle ground, particularly when it comes to concerns that rezoning waterfront parcels for new boutique hotels will negatively affect the neighborhood. The group will go before the city council with nonbinding recommendations later in the year. 
Were all adults and there are a lot of people in the community that have different opinions on all spectrums of the scale, Smedberg said. I think we have to respect everyones opinion. The waterfront is the citys it belongs to everyone. We have to be respectful of all of that.
Smedberg is joined by seven stakeholders from various backgrounds: Christopher Ballard of McWilliams Ballard; Bert Ely of Ely and Company; Mindy Lyle of Haley and Aldrich; Elliot Rhodeside of Rhodeside and Harwell; Nate Macek of the waterfront committee; David Olinger of the Old Town Civic Association; and ret. Lt. Gen. Bob Wood.  
Though the mayor had the final say in crafting the list, he drew from a pool of candidates drawn up by city council members. They meet Wednesday morning and will continue convening throughout the summer months, while city council is in recess.
Boyd Walker, a leading opponent of the version of the plan approved by the planning commission and member of the Greater Alexandria Preservation Alliance, hopes the group will consider alternatives to the proposal under discussion. Revenue, specifically from the development of three hotels at the Robinson Terminals and Turner and Cummings properties, needs to take a backseat in their discussions, he said.
Thats one of the key things that Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria waterfront plan have tried to discredit, that development has to be right here on the waterfront on three parcels to pay for any improvements, he said. The waterfront needs to be a public investment.
Walker concedes the group cant fully separate costs from their recommendations, but maintains they should be open to how much revenue might be drawn from building parks and museums instead of hotels. 
But Euille believes the ability to finance the citys vision of a future waterfront cant be ignored. He doesnt foresee receiving a proposal that calls on the city to pour money into the project while ignoring the taxpayer cost. 
Well give weight to the recommendations with equitableness and fairness, he said. The ability to finance it would be the most important aspect of it all.
There is no hard and fast deadline for the group. Smedberg expects theyll give city council their recommendations sometime in the fall. Euille hopes to have the plan finalized by December at the latest. 
The city cant afford to remain deadlocked, Smedberg said.
I also think its important for people to realize and there is some misinformation out in the community even if a plan isnt passed, something is still going to be built there, Smedberg said. Regardless of what happens, I would really hate to see a situation where development starts moving down there and its something no one wants or necessarily likes.