Opinion: Giving up a lot and getting little to nothing on the waterfront

Opinion: Giving up a lot and getting little to nothing on the waterfront
(Cat VanVliet)

To the editor: 

The arguments that acting City Manager Bruce Johnson put forward for increasing density on the waterfront by 25 to 50 percent are so unreal that they leave me dumbfounded.

First, there is the statement that the City of Alexandria cannot and will not defend portions of the city’s master plan adopted in 1992. What city refuses to defend its zoning law?

Far from leading to an orderly redevelopment of underused sites, increased density could lead to chaos. The Robinson Terminal landowners, like many other landowners, came out of the 1992 master plan with fewer rights to alter density and use than they had before. Until 2008, when Robinson Terminal’s owners filed a lawsuit, no landowner had ever contested the 1992 zoning in court. City officials certainly have not cited a successful suit. Even so, city leaders want to surrender to the warehouse owners.

It is not because they have a general policy of avoiding costly lawsuits. The city is pursuing its contest with the Old Dominion Boat Club over an easement in Wales Alley all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court.

It is unclear why the city is also giving a 50 percent increase in density to the Cummings-Turner properties on Union Street. Those landowners are not suing us.

Even more important than the added density for the Robinson Terminals is that proposed new zoning would give them the right to build whatever they like on their sites.  The zoning in place until it is changed mandates “commercial, residential, mixed use.”  That is the commonly used standard for development in an urban area. The suggestion that the city can better manage change by doing away with reasonable restrictions on what can be built is Orwellian.

Finally, city officials say that we must have this major increase in density together with a lack of control on what may be built, because we are getting new amenities. What might those be? Until recently, city staff held out the promise of a big new paved plaza, almost as large as Market Square, at the end of King Street. Planning Director Farroll Hamer has told the waterfront working group that amenity will not be feasible in the foreseeable future. I would like to see a list of just what we are getting (that would not be available without this plan) and why so much has to be given away to get it.

– Katy Cannady