Opinion: An Alexandria waterfront for the wealthy, by the wealthy

Opinion: An Alexandria waterfront for the wealthy, by the wealthy
(File photo)

To the editor:

I’ve grown weary of the fight over the waterfront too, though for very different reasons than those expressed by Alexandria Chamber of Commerce co-chair-elect Andrew Palmieri and Dennis Auld, a lead spokesperson for Waterfront for All, a group composed of wealthy business people who support the city’s waterfront plan.

I’m tired of a political process that cuts off all real debate and the opportunity for thoughtful planning, whether it is along the waterfront or in the West End. And I’m tired of hearing Mayor Bill Euille say hotels, townhomes and offices will make the waterfront more accessible to everyone in Alexandria.

Andrew Macdonald

A process that involves senior city planners meeting regularly, out of public view, with property owners (and developers) to decide how the waterfront should be rezoned, is neither fair nor democratic. Yet it likely was in those former meetings the real business of deciding how to rezone the waterfront for revenue, as opposed to creating a waterfront plan that truly benefits everyone, took place. As Katy Cannady, president of the Alexandria League of Women Voters, has pointed out many times, residents had little if any opportunity to make fundamental changes to the plan. She has attended every public meeting since 2009.

In truth, the city’s waterfront plan is not really a plan at all but hundreds of pages of weak guidelines attached to a zoning text amendment (for several properties) that effectively turns over planning of the waterfront to what seem to be the city council’s real constituents: The Washington Post Co., developers and the folks they work for and invest with.

The plan’s advocates claim more high-density development will make the waterfront a more public place at no cost to taxpayers. In fact, the development will further cut the community off from the river, will increase traffic problems, pollute the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay, denigrate the historic character of Old Town, and attract fewer tourists. The city’s plan has no compelling vision. We might as well all be living in Ballston or Crystal City and that indeed is what a majority of the council seems to think will improve our quality of life in Alexandria.

Opponents of the current plan, including Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan, have offered the seeds of compromise only to be told by Councilman Rob Krupicka and others that our plan is unrealistic and takes resources away from other projects. The facts suggest quite the reverse: that the city has failed to seriously look at any other alternatives, failed to conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis of all the alternatives, has not developed a waterfront plan at all and has not engaged the community in a serious visioning process.

I strongly oppose the proposed rezoning of the waterfront. It closes the door on a waterfront that should be open to all Alexandrians. Tell the city council to vote no to rezoning and yes to alternatives January 21. Take back your waterfront! We all live along the river!

– Andrew Macdonald
Co-founder of Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan