Business-friendly faction joins waterfront debate

Business-friendly faction joins waterfront debate

Months after the city council delayed adopting the waterfront plan instead leaving it in the hands of an ad hoc committee for more study the controversial blueprint has spawned factions intent on their own vision.

Though few aspects of the citys design for the waterfront have avoided scrutiny, much of the current debate has revolved around a proposal to rezone the Robinson terminals and Cummings and Turner properties for possible use as boutique hotels. 

The question of hotels is just one of a several controversial features members of the council-created waterfront workgroup hope to smooth over before city council takes up the proposal later in the year. 

At the same time a rival group of opponents is drawing up a competing vision for the Potomacs banks. Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan, led by vocal critics Andrew Macdonald and Boyd Walker, have sent residents on fact-finding missions across the country. They hope to have their concept, which centers around parks, museums and the arts, finalized by October.

Meanwhile, residents in favor of the original proposal, hotels and all, have banded together, forming a rival group known as Waterfront for All. Theyre focused on supporting the plan and dispelling the myths surrounding the citys proposal, said spokeswoman Lynn Hampton. 

Were not out to counter any opposition group, were out to get the facts known, she said. Were just trying to say, here are the misconceptions and here is the truth.

Walker contends the WFA is a front for businesspeople, including founding member Charlotte Hall, more interested in making money off of the citys riverfront than anything else.  

This is a group very much driven by commercial interests, he said. That should not be the basis of creating a great public space.

Not true, Hampton said. Historians, mothers and Old Dominion Boat Club members have joined their ranks, as well as business owners, she said.
CAAWP is pushing the citys workgroup to examine a variant of the plan, which emphasizes museums, parks and the arts, projected to cost taxpayers about $220 million. Walker doesnt believe the proposal will end up costing city coffers as much as advertised. 

They were clearly trying to scare people away from that model, but I think thats the one we need to work toward, he said. Thats the alternative they need to explore. In my mind, they need to eliminate the hotels option, the rezoning option, and fully explore the parks and arts and the benefits that they have. [City staff] threw together that option to appease us, but we actually like it. Why does it have to cost $220 million?

Walker envisions private and public donors collaborating to pay for construction and maintenance. Rather than a net drain on city coffers, he believes cultural offerings and green space will draw more visitors and their wallets to Alexandria.

The sparring over the waterfronts future comes as divisions emerge in the workgroup, with disagreements over its scope and timetable airing during their second meeting last week.

Members expect to return to city council with their nonbinding recommendations by November 1. The mayor originally expressed optimism the group would wrap up by the early fall, though the city council ultimately gave them until the years end to finish.