Editorial: Sprinting toward an arbitrary finish line on the waterfront


It appears the end is in sight for the waterfront development plan. The question is, should it be?

After two years, countless city meetings, scores of letters to the editor, an alternative waterfront group boasting its own plan, a second group whose mission is to reconcile competing plans, more than $1.1 million — and counting — spent and a lot of ill will all around, could Alexandria really be nearing this marathon planning effort’s finish line?

The waterfront work group is expected to release its report later this month. Until that happens, and the public gets to see the proposed compromise, it would be hasty to draw a final conclusion. Some things, however, are clear right now:

• City officials view the proposal from the Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan as wildly unrealistic, as it would require millions of dollars to buy the privately owned Robinson terminals and includes no real revenue generators.

• CAAWP appears unlikely to support any plan with significant commercial development along the waterfront.

• Mayor Bill Euille and city council members seem in a big rush to vote on this issue in January, when there is no clear reason to rush to judgment.

While council members understandably are tired of arguing about the waterfront, that is no reason to make a final decision by an arbitrary January deadline. Again, why the haste? Who benefits from a quick decision? Would a delay jeopardize silent deals with developers?

No one wants to debate this issue forever. However, this will be the most important development decision made in Alexandria for years to come. It will determine the next generation of building along the jewel of Alexandria — its swath of Potomac shoreline. Given what happened with the BRAC debacle, the baby that the city signed off on but no one wants to claim, city leaders need to make sure they hit a home run with this plan. This is no time for arrogance or intractability.

What ultimately emerges needs to be economically sustainable, but not at the cost of residents’ quality of life. That virtually all those who oppose the plan live in Old Town while the city’s planning director hails from Maryland is unsurprising.

A compromise — and willingness to compromise — is needed. The city needs to downsize the scope of commercial development in its plan. Likewise, resident groups like CAAWP must get over their pie-in-the-sky wish for economically unsustainable parks and museums. Both sides need to seek consensus.

The revelation that the planning process has cost $1.1 million to date — not including staff overtime — is not surprising. Mounting costs, however, are not a justification to rush to judgment; only about $17,000 has been spent since the public outcry against the city’s plan.

If the right decision is reached — one that all sides, even if grudgingly, can support — it will have been worth the cost. And the wait.



  1. Thank you Times for ‘telling it like it is.

    I recently read (and re-read) the zoning ‘law’ and proposed changes which are at the heart of the City’s so called waterfront plan. The existing ‘zoning law section’ I am referring to is only 5 or so pages, and it reads in a logical and methodical manner which a commoner like myself can understand. It states with complete clarity what is allowed by law (which type of use, building heights etc), and what is not allowed… Then you come to the proposed changes which are the core of the City’s plan.

    These changes within this existing legal document refer to “the general guidelines set forth in the waterfront plan” – in stark contrast to the original document which is crystal clear as to what is allowed and what is not. In the section about building heights – the City’s rewrite ‘refers to a chart within the guidelines.’ Wow, so how flexible are those guidelines and what protections will be in place for nearby land owners if Council adopts this on Jan 21?

    Correct me if i am wrong but guidelines are just that. They are NON-ENFORCEABLE and likely subject to debate and interpretation. Is it acceptable industry practice for zoning law (enforecable) to refer to loosey goose ‘guidelines’? I expect not. What precedent would this set for the rest of the City? Isn’t the whole purpose of zoning to protect nearby landowners?

    I would encourage citizens to not get mired in the smoke and mirrors of the City’s plan and the rhetoric of their yes men. Instead, read the proposed zoning changes for yourself as they are at the heart of what Council is about to vote on. Everything else is noise. Since the City’s proposed zoning changes depend on un-enforecable “guidelines,” what kind of risk and uncertainty does that then create? Is it worth the risk?

    Members of the Euille appointed Waterfront Workgroup Group who favor the City’s plan did not articulate their rationale for supporting the upzoning/rezoning during this morning’s meeting. Why not? This Plan favors the desires of parcel owners and developers over the will of the people. There is no logical or compelling reason for rezoning the front yard of our national treasure.

  2. A very rational and timely editorial by the Times! There are strong arguments for taking a bit more time and getting it right. The rush to decision is a function of greed, essentially. The economic interests are pushing hard to rush to judgement and not in the best interests of Alexandria – not just Old Town.