City council approves controversial waterfront plan

City council approves controversial waterfront plan

The Alexandria City Council approved the controversial waterfront plan in a 5-2 vote Saturday night following nearly 10 hours of debate, more than two years after work began.

The vote, split down party lines with Republicans Frank Fannon and Alicia Hughes dissenting, followed a day of discussion in city council chambers. Residents packed City Hall to voice their support and critiques of the proposal, which calls for leveraging developer dollars for public amenities.

Though many early plan elements remain, city council members threw in some last minute changes. For one, the approved plan now calls for a maximum of two hotels along the waterfront, or a total of 300 rooms along the 3-mile stretch of Potomac shoreline.

Hotels dominated the debate leading up to Saturday’s vote. Under previous versions of the plans, hotels would be permissible at three sites slated for redevelopment along the waterfront: the Robinson Terminals and the Cummings/Turner properties.

Other tweaks include requiring a special use permit for any proposed cultural project, specifying height limits and undertaking renewed parking studies.

One potential roadblock to the plan’s passage was cleared up earlier in the day. City Planning Director Farol Hamer ruled an 11th hour protest petition filed by members of Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan void on a technicality.

CAAWP supporters pledged to have board of zoning appeals take a second look at the decision. If the BZA sides with city officials, opponents could pursue the issue in circuit court.

Nearly every party involved in the longstanding debate weighed in during Saturday’s public hearing: resident groups, business leaders, former politicians and city staff. More than 100 people spoke during the public hearing leading up to the final vote.

Still, the crux of the discussion remained where it has been these past months, fixated on what to do with the three sites ripe for redevelopment.

“I would also say that both sides have a lot more in common than disagreement. Everyone wants a beautiful waterfront,” said City Councilman Rob Krupicka. “We all, as a city, cherish the waterfront… If people didn’t want this waterfront, we wouldn’t be having the debate we’re having here today.”

Mayor Bill Euille reminded residents that any projects going forward along the waterfront would require an SUP and would return through the planning process. The waterfront plan might be approved, but the debate is far from over, he said.

“Whatever the action we take tonight does not mean this is never to be looked at again,” Euille said.

But Hughes preached caution, raising the specter of the Pentagon annex at Mark Center.

“My greater concern tonight is over things that can and do go wrong,” Hughes said. “I’m concerned right now that we’re making a decision that could have an adverse impact.”

Miss the meeting? Want more coverage? Peek through our rolling blog, continuously updated throughout the day’s debate here.