Opinion: The cost of expediency: a deficient waterfront plan

Opinion: The cost of expediency: a deficient waterfront plan
(File photo)

To the editor:

As a final city council vote on the waterfront plan draws near, I wish to make several points to clarify issues and dispel myths about the city government’s small area blueprint.

Current zoning law has sufficient safeguards against unbridled by-right development. Special permits are required for major development. Height restrictions apply to all projects within the waterfront area and all proposals within the Historic Landmark District are subject to review by the Board of Architectural Review. The plan does not increase oversight in any meaningful way but does allow significant density increases.

I have heard it stated the plan is simply a framework and a vision and that all the real restrictions will be developed during implementation. However, there are concrete statutory changes that, once approved, are not subject to any change. These include density increases at the three development sites, the addition of hotel use and the text amendments that document these changes.  The plan does include serious statutory changes that, once passed, are law.

Some have stated the city is divided on the plan. But I observe hundreds of “Don’t Rezone the Waterfront” signs in Old Town windows and very few “Waterfront For All” posters. Even businesses and members of the Chamber of Commerce in Old Town display more “Don’t Rezone” signs. Outside of Old Town I believe most Alexandrians are ambivalent about the waterfront, but they are disenchanted with city actions on BRAC, reported conflicts of interest and a general disregard for the will of residents.

I do not believe there is significant support for the city’s plan anywhere in Alexandria. A recent Alexandria Times poll showed two-thirds of respondents across the city were opposed to the city’s plan, and many favored the Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan proposal even with its shortcomings.

Others have said we have spent enough time discussing the waterfront and the city should pass the plan and move on. In business, government and our personal lives, we don’t move forward with decisions that are inherently flawed. There is always time to make things right, to improve things and to avoid costly mistakes. The residents of Alexandria place our trust in those who serve to do the right thing, not to make unwise decisions for the sake of expediency.  After two years and more than $1 million, it may be difficult to admit the current plan is deficient, but it is, and the residents of Alexandria deserve a better plan and better action from the elected officials and staff who serve at their pleasure.

Alexandria is asking city council to do the right thing: Delay action on the current plan until its shortcomings are fully vetted and publicly supported modifications are made.

– Joe Demshar