Opinion: No one waterfront plan will ever please all

(File photo)

To the editor:

I write this having read many articles and opinion pieces about the waterfront proposals. The Alexandria City Council, Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan and the waterfront plan work group all have offered their ideas for the shoreline. When this issue comes to a close, I expect a great many people on the discussion’s various sides will be unhappy with the final decision.

There is no way to please everyone in a plan this expansive.

History and quaint neighborhoods serve as Alexandria’s main attractions. The key is maximizing the potential of these assets while also protecting them. Not every aspect of the waterfront needs redeveloping.

Mid-size hotels and retail development in North Old Town may make more sense than near Robinson Terminal South. Encouraging commerce in that Old Town neighborhood would provide additional, pedestrian friendly dining and shopping options for nearby employees and guests staying at existing hotels.

Old Town has undergone significant renovation in recent years. I was sad to see so much open space disappear when the public housing developments — probably Old Town’s largest area of open space — were replaced with town home and condo communities featuring rooftop decks rather than greenery. I hope city council members are mindful of what we already have lost in previous redevelopment projects.

The plans thus far debated have varying levels of merit. Choosing a final one encompassing the best of each plan will prove a difficult task. I hope our officials and residents will remain respectful as this issue comes to a vote.

– Kim Moore



  1. But I digress. It is now 2017, and as I sit on my balcony and gaze out over the lovely Potomac River, I can only think back several years when the Alexandria City Council made that wonderful decision to go partially with the CAAWP proposal, and defer decisions on most of the City staffs’ Waterfront Plan. The parks we gained, and the angry property owners realizing that Council would never make a decision, made it possible for me to have this beautiful (expensive) townhome on the waterfront, and more parks to shield me from the rest of Alexandria, VA. Now that the waterfront has become Oldtownizstan (a gated community), and our portion of Alexandria has become a new addition to DC, one can only thank the political indecision of Council making all of this possible for me, and my fellow Oldtowniztan’s.

    All those hours Messrs Walker and Macdonald spent in that dark corner at Virtue planning their “coup” paid off. Although not materializing as they planned (which is the usual result when these two get together), failing to gain a seat on Council, or the mayoral ship, turned into something much better. As the Earl and Viscount of Oldtownizstan, they wield much more power than they could ever have imagined (again, as is their wont). Gating the waterfront, and petitioning the District of Columbia for annexation, Messrs Walker and Macdonald achieved strategic accomplishments no one thought possible, especially the citizens of Alexandria, VA. The brilliance of their unplanned maneuvers became apparent quickly after the Council made its decision (or non decision, appropriately). Because the District’s Southwest Waterfront development began to look more and more like National Harbor, the District was more than happy to accept the proposition that if they funded the new parks, while allowing the Washington Post to build townhouses (again, expensive ones) they would gain history, arts, furniture and cultural amenities that they squandered and lost in their waterfront. As a bonus, they also improved their public image tainted by the corruption and ethics lapses of the early Gray administration, although I must admit, not by much. In addition, taking advantage of the hapless Council, Oldtownizstan was provided a proclamation that required Alexandria VA city staff (including the Mayor and Council) to pay homage every January 21 to the seat of Oldtownizstan’s government, located on the wharf of what used to be Robinson Terminal North before it became the portal known as West Pointe. I should clarify here; there is no building, just the portal. However, every January 21 the Alexandria, VA city staff (including the Mayor and Council) sing songs to Messers Walker and Macdonald, dressed in their ceremonial fur robes, hats, and booties. Then Oldtownizstan’s walk along the waterfront singing historical ditties and having a wonderful time (weather permitting). Meanwhile, citizens of Alexandria, VA could only look on this merriment (thru the iron fence) and wonder why this couldn’t have included them.

    But again, I digress. I am leaving out quite a bit of history here that is directly related to my now wonderful life (and view) that I am enjoying immensely. History is a subject that I know something about, since I have seen quite a bit of it. Having the good fortune to be located on the east coast of America where one could experience much life for a long time (which, essentially really is history, or that portion of life that is chosen to become history), think how lucky we are. We could have been on the west coast, where history starts by recognizing the memorable architecture of the 1950’s. So, when we refer to history, or say that this historical town requires a waterfront that recognizes and promotes history, how could it have turned out better, at least for some of us.

    You might be wondering how all of this was put together. Let me reminisce. You recall that our Mayor-in-perpetuity appointed a citizens committee to bridge the gap between the City’s Plan and the CAAWP proposal. Of course the committee never achieved this undertaking, even with the able leadership of the Mayor- in-perpetuity’s chosen glutton-for-punishment Councilman Smedberg, and after unsuccessfully challenging the delivery date, produced a document that didn’t aid the Council one bit. Even committee member Ely’s attempt to make things right by issuing a proclamation failed to resolve the schism within the committee or aid the Council one whit. No matter, Alexandrians are used to this. It merely reflected the divisions of Alexandria citizens about what to do with the waterfront. Having nowhere else to turn for cover, tired of being yelled at, did not want to exponentially complicate the matter by including that mountain of coal dust, located a few miles north of City Hall, Council voted partially for the CAAWP plan, and “kicked the can down the road” on the rest. A bond was issued to turn Robinson Terminal North into a park and a portal, and the rest was left for development.

    Did I mention the war? No, how silly of me. You are probably asking how “did the environmental issues work out”. Well, when General Woods effort to enlist the largesse of China failed (due to Councilman Fannon’s beach house being already booked when the Chinese wanted it), he joined Messers Walker and Macdonald in that dark corner at Virtue and asked “What do we do now”? After a few pitchers of draft beer, this brilliant trio concocted a plan worthy of Machiavelli. Declare war on our bitter rival Georgetown, lose, and then capitalize on the gloating peacock’s euphoria and inform them of the need to clean up the new waterfront parks. Almost worked, but that is a story for another day.

    Your humble servant,

    Patience Dogood

  2. Ms. Moore makes some very good points, but I don’t think our goal should ever be to please everyone.

    We should however do our best to create a waterfront plan that is based on a solid community-centered vision.

    The City’s planning process started as it were “60 feet above the floodplain in a hotel room overlooking the Nation’s River.” It should have started in the 1700s when tall ships docked at the foot of Cameron Street and worked its way forward to include venues that will encourage tourism, public enjoyment of the river, protect the River and Bay, encourage foot traffic and discourage car and bus traffic, and sustain our special heritage.

    I hope our elected officials will listen to the citizens that elect them, instead of the businesses that “feed” them.


  3. The waterfront plan boils down to two options.

    1) Do you want to let the property owners themselves sell the land they own to the highest bidder who can in turn develop the property under a specific set of guidelines (boutique hotels, help pay for flood mitigation, etc). This is a plan that’s essentially pays for itself.

    2) Do you want to have the City buy the property in question and spend in the neighborhood of $50 – $200 MILLION tax dollars (considering the City is almost $500 million in debt where will they get the money from??) to build parks and museums?

    Think your taxes are high now?

  4. I really wanted to think the Alternative plan would add additional value to a well vetted city plan that is impressive in its scope and economic assumptions. It did not. And in these times an economic plan to accompany a development plan is needed that does not burden, even further, the property taxes we pay in Old Town. These additional revenues will be from high income guests who stay/pay and leave, create little traffic issues, and help to provide a continuous and supportable waterfront environment. We can’t wish for the good (and not so good) old days of tall masts, slave markets, tobacco warehouses, and Ford plants. Times change and we need to change too. These are tough votes but our officials have done their job in providing a plan that Alexandrians in all zones can be proud of. I hope the CAAWP folks use their enthusiasm to help improve and implement the plan rather than just try to scuttle it.