Vacant and valuable: what will develop on Alexandria’s waterfront when GenOn leaves?

Vacant and valuable: what will develop on Alexandria’s waterfront when GenOn leaves?

Opponents of the GenOn coal-fired power plant may have succeeded running their unwanted industrial neighbor out of town, but its departure prompts a new question and potential headache: what to do with the valuable waterfront land overlooking the Potomac.

Planning a new waterfront has been a balancing act of the citys wants and needs for more than two years; restaurants and hotels have been pitted against parks, museums and cultural sites, stalling the plans momentum as various civic groups and individuals fight for equilibrium on Alexandrias banks.

Perhaps solar-powered office buildings and a wind energy center will replace the coal plant. So says the American Clean Skies Foundations rosy vision for Potomac River Green, a sustainable business and residential district that would put Alexandria at the center of the new energy economy. But Chris Spera of the city attorneys office said those redevelopment plans had no bearing on GenOns decision to leave.

Whatever the Pepco-owned site becomes, its reincarnation is too far away to include in the current riverfront redesign, officials said.

City planners will develop the land separate from the current waterfront blueprint, according to Planning Director Farrol Hamer. Though it seems counterintuitive to the citys stated, holistic approach to a comprehensive waterfront, planners can develop the parcel separately but effectively, she said, as long as visitors can get there easily from anywhere in the city.

Its true that the waterfront plan was intended to be comprehensive, but when you read it carefully, the reiterated tenets are continuous access [to the waterfront], Hamer said. When the developer makes a decision [on the land] one way or the other, it will require continuous access from all over the city.

The current draft of the waterfront plan briefly mentions the GenOn site. It stresses continuing Alexandrias street grid for organizing and connecting the site to the rest of the City in a compatible way, but elaborates little. The likelihood that the power plant would close was minimal when planners assembled the blueprint. 

Mounds of coal have saturated the site since the 1930s, necessitating soil tests and other measures to prime the land for safe redevelopment a task that could take several years, Hamer said.

Mayor Bill Euille sees no reason to abort the current plan in favor of including the GenOn site, either. The parcels fate is too uncertain, he told reporters on a conference call Tuesday. 

But a propertys fate hasnt stopped city planners from including the privately owned Old Dominion Boat Club and the Robinson terminals, owned by the Washington Post both key properties in the waterfront plan.

The difference is those properties have actively participated in discussions since plans nascent stages, Euille said.

I think our position at this point is that its best to keep them separate, Euille said. There are a lot of business decisions that have yet to be made.

Local activist Boyd Walker of the Greater Alexandria Preservation Alliance believes GonOns exit strategy is an opportunity for the city to set aside the proposed plan and create a new one with the northern parcel in mind. 

I believe it is reasonable that all further consideration of the proposed waterfront plan be suspended, and that a new plan be developed with the cooperation of citizens to consider the new site as part of the waterfront, Walker said in a statement.

Whatever develops, Hamer was succinct when asked if the vacant land is a boon for the citys future, despite the long process ahead of her department.

Absolutely, she said.