Fighting for the river’s edge

Fighting for the river’s edge
(File photo)

Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan, a group diametrically opposed to the city’s proposed shoreline blueprint, released its vision for the banks of the Potomac earlier this week.

The 216-page document calls for more park space, museums, arts venues, retail space and a single 60-room hotel at one of three sites along the Potomac targeted for redevelopment in the city’s plan. More than 78 pages are dedicated to critiquing the city’s waterfront plan.

The alternative proposal, released more than five months after the planning commission approved the city’s version, puts to paper ideas and criticisms espoused by CAAWP members since the city began moving forward with its plan in earnest last year.

As outlined in four alternative scenarios, CAAWP would have the city buy one or more of the three waterfront sites planned for future hotels.

Financed through a mix of municipal bonds, foundations, trusts and local, state and federal tax dollars, the CAAWP proposal estimates the plan will cost, at most, $107 million. That’s in comparison to a $220 million price tag city staff put on a similar scenario emphasizing public parks and cultural centers.

The question going forward is if officials and critics can find a compromise between their dueling proposals, said Boyd Walker, one of CAAWP’s founding members and a vocal opponent of the city’s plan.

“I think the main difference is in how we would like these three sites developed,” Walker said. “It comes down to the [properties not owned by the city]. There are lots of things we’d like to see that are similar: vibrancy, activity and promoting our history. They’re not against those things — the difference is in terms of emphasis.”

CAAWP’s proposal comes as Mayor Bill Euille’s handpicked eight-person resident work group continues to wade through the plan, looking for ways to bridge divides in what has become a heated debate over the riverfront’s future.

Originally expected to give their recommendations to city council in early November, the group increasingly appears bogged down. Still, they are expected to finish their work in time for city council to hold a work session on the plan in January.

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, acting City Manager Bruce Johnson said staff would analyze CAAWP’s plan, in particular the financial and legal ramifications of the group’s proposals. The city could move to buy out existing property owners, Johnson said, but it likely would come at the cost of new taxes or delaying other capital projects around Alexandria.

“It’s a tradeoff,” he said. “[The money] doesn’t just spring up out thin air.”

There have been no talks with the Washington Post Co., which owns the Robinson Terminals, about the buying the land, officials said.

City Attorney James Banks and Johnson also flatly denied allegations made in the report that city officials worked out an agreement with Washington Post Co. to trade development-limiting zoning restrictions in exchange for the construction of hotels on their properties.

“It simply did not happen,” Banks said.

Officials took issue with another charge in the plan: that they did not listen to resident concerns. The roughly two-year process has included dozens of forums, work sessions and public hearings.

“Listen doesn’t mean agree,” Johnson said. “We listened to a lot of things, but because we did not agree with the positions advocated by this group in the end … it doesn’t mean we didn’t listen.”

Staff will review the proposal in the coming weeks, according to Johnson, and their analysis will be made public as soon as it is finished.