Opinion: Does personal financial gain trump citizens’ interest?


From the moment I first drove down King Street, I have always loved Old Town — its historic streets and architecture, the waterfront along the Potomac and the dog-friendly community.

Recently, however, I have sadly become disenchanted with how this town is run. The waterfront controversy made me realize how unpleasant our local political system really is. The fact that some of our council members have full-time employment that might conflict with city decisions is appalling. Even more worrisome, it is increasingly apparent business interests appear to be driving the decisions of the city. Developer interests appear to supersede those of taxpayers and voting residents.

Let’s look at what has driven and supported the city’s proposed waterfront plan, which involves re-zoning to allow increased density and hotels on our waterfront where neither is legally allowed. How did this happen?

First, the owners of the Robinson Terminal warehouses sued our city to force us to change the zoning. It seems they felt increased construction density and the approval of hotel development would allow them to earn a better return when they sold their warehouses. Yet the Robinson Terminal Warehouse Co. expert determined, in a letter to the Alexandria Planning Commission on April 5, hotels were not viable on the waterfront. Despite this finding, the proposed plan includes more density and allowance for hotels on Alexandria’s waterfront. The result? Business interests over those of residents.

Second, a spurious and small group, known as Waterfront For All (probably better named as Waterfront For Business), began to make noise in July, after hundreds of residents rallied against the city’s proposed zoning changes. Which group claims to have the best interests of “all Alexandrians” at heart? The founders and supporters of Waterfront For All are people who own or are employed by businesses standing to benefit from waterfront over-development: home builders, real estate developers, real estate agents, the Potomac Riverboat Co., local restaurants and current and past local Chamber of Commerce executives. The group certainly has the right to support city plans that will help its members financially. But something is wrong when it misrepresents its mission as one of residents’ interests as opposed to its financial interests.

Finally, let’s look at the composition of the waterfront plan work group, as appointed by the mayor. It was clear early on consensus would not be reached: Four of the seven members chosen by the mayor actually work for, or own, the following types of firms: consultants in urban and landscape planning/design, transportation consulting for municipalities, real estate development, and real estate agents. The other three members, local residents who opposed rezoning, are not affiliated with any business that could benefit from the proposed waterfront redevelopment.

Are business interests overriding those of our tax-paying and voting residents? We have a city council election coming up. Alexandrians, take note.



  1. I am a “tax-paying and voting resident” of old town Alexandria. And I support the city’s waterfront plan. I think the supporters of the alternate plan forget that old town is its own micro city within the city of Alexandria. Old town is not a glorified residential area. One of the reasons I live in old town is for the easy access to restaurants, shops and work. This is city living. Historically speaking, the residents, businesses, and visitors (tourist by today’s terms) created the “historic streets and architecture” we love. This city’s plan will continue to support the city’s goal of being a vibrant water front town….and not an empty residential area.

  2. I am a advocate of public access to public lands. I rejected exclusive and selective privledges of any kind in both public and private sectors/venues. Old Town venues should never be gated nor just for a select bandwidth of people.

    I support a consensus driven waterfront plan!

  3. Sorry Stephen,
    More density in “Old Town” isn’t the solution and the last I checked all of the neighborhood in Alexandria are special in their own way and we all pay the same tax rates. Get off your preverbal high horse

    • I agree Mark. Each neighborhood is unique in its own way, and we all pay the same tax rates. Question is should all Alexandrians pay what will be an exhorbatent amount for more parks on the waterfront. 40% of the waterfront is already parks. There are 950 acres of parks in Alexandria, 150+ of this along the waterfront. There is need for parks throughout Alexandria, especially in the West End. Do you want to dry up the open space fund for more waterfront parks at the expense of everywhere else?Exhaust the Capital Plan geared for schools, firehouses, road improvementss for waterfront parks? As for density, this is an issue across all of Alexandria, not just the waterfront.