To the editor:
The key to resolving the current impasse over the waterfront plan is to further reduce the proposed amount of commercial development and use public financing to make up for the lost revenue and pay for some of the public amenities.
The top priorities of the plan should be the art walk and history proposals and new public parks and open space. These are the elements that would make our waterfront a distinctive place. But the current plan does not guarantee funding for the art and history proposals, and the planning staff has not calculated even a rough estimate of what these proposals would cost. This must now be done.
If the waterfront is to become a distinctive place, the art and history elements, as well as the parks, will need to be imaginatively conceived and designed and the designs exquisitely executed. This surely will cost a lot of money. The current plan would pay for public amenities with new commercial development on the three private development sites. Hotels remain the best option because they provide a large amount of revenue.
However, a considerable number of people in Old Town have a genuine and understandable concern that significantly more commercial uses will tip the balance in the area into a ruinous over-commercialization. We need to deal with this concern by reducing or mitigating the impact of the proposed commercial development.
How to do this? Perhaps some or all of the commercial development proposed for Robinson Terminal South could be relocated to Robinson Terminal North, and thus away from busy King and Union Streets. Or perhaps the city could purchase the Robinson Terminal South property east of Union Street, and eliminate commercial development there. These are just examples of the possible options.
Some people want the city to buy the three development sites and build all of the new public parks and amenities. But this would cost tens of millions of dollars and appears to have no support on the City Council.
But a case can be made for some level of public financing. The requirement that the plan pay for itself with new revenue has helped create the controversy we have now. The stipulation that various infrastructure improvements be included in the planfor example, flood mitigation and repairs at Windmill Hill Park has compelled the planning staff to propose more commercial development than would otherwise be needed.
The city should remove these infrastructure repairs from the plan and put them in the regular capital budget. They are, after all, not fundamentally different from public works projects in other parts of the city. For example, Old Town is not the only section of the city that has or has had flooding issues.
In addition, because the waterfront is considered a special place to be used and enjoyed by all the residents of Alexandria, all taxpayers should be expected to pay for at least some of the cost of the new public amenities.
In sum, the waterfront plan should be paid for with a mix of modest commercial development and public financing. This money should pay for the cost of fully implementing the art walk and history proposals and building public parks.