Opinion: The waterfront that used to be yours

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Opinion: The waterfront that used to be yours
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To the editor:

It’s your waterfront, Alexandria!

It is until Saturday, anyway. That’s when the majority Democratic city council will hold a final public hearing on the waterfront plan. Democrats on council appear to have already decided to relinquish 8.5 acres of prime historic river shoreline to developers for what amounts to little more then the gilded and glitzy promise of tax revenue and a “waterfront for all.”

At the work session last week, the mayor told residents the council cannot please everyone, as if the differences of opinion between residents, elected officials and planners can never be resolved.

Then, there was this recent response to a constituent from another member of council whom I will not name: “Opponents of the city’s efforts have been clear [that] they will work to stop anything. If you see some outcome for these three sites that would be different with more time, I’d love to hear it. I think the bigger question is do we let a group of people mislead, grandstand, threaten and misrepresent facts over and over. At some point the city has to move forward.”

This is what I would politely call a yarn, spun to preserve the real status quo here and obscure the truths we all agree on. We do have warehouses that block us all from enjoying a great natural resource, stop us from retelling our nation’s history, stifle Old Town from thriving and neutralize property values.

Here are a few observations worth retelling. The city began with one central theme in mind: “boutique-ish” hotels, higher density and more flexibility for developers. Residents objected, and the response was “you are too late, your alternatives are unrealistic and our plan costs taxpayers nothing.”  Nothing?

There is no waterfront plan, really. The developers and property owners might as well have written the vague guidelines that exist in its place. History and the arts were inserted at the 11th hour and take a back seat to the rezoning goals. You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to see the city made up its mind about the purpose of this planning process long before it ever held its first public meeting in 2009. Sound familiar?

Then there is the small point the plan being voted on Saturday does not capture the vision of a large slice of the community. Additionally, issues like traffic, the environment, parking, public access, parks and great public places won’t be addressed until later, if ever. Don’t BRAC the waterfront? No cost-benefit analysis? I can just hear the laughter.

In this case, and I’m afraid in several other instances across Alexandria, the line between what should be a fair, transparent and thoughtful public policy debate has been replaced with laughter and claims opponents are misrepresenting the facts and seeking to delay the plan’s approval for political reasons.

Spot planning in a National Historic Landmark district, short-term thinking, cozy relationships with developers — Ha, ha, ha.

Well, it’s your waterfront, Alexandria, at least until Saturday.

– Andrew Macdonald
Co-founder of Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan

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