Transformative waterfront plan poised for passage

Residents opposing the city’s proposed waterfront plan packed City Hall Tuesday in protest while the planning commission and city council held a joint work session. (Derrick Perkins)

A version of the city’s oft debated, much-maligned waterfront plan is poised for a final vote and adoption for the second time in less than a year despite another round of protests at Market Square.

As city council and planning commission members prepared to discuss recommended changes drafted by Mayor Bill Euille’s handpicked waterfront plan work group Tuesday evening, members of Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan again rallied just outside of City Hall.

Opponents cite a multitude of problems with the version of the blueprint the planning commission approved in early 2011. The rezoning and redevelopment of three key waterfront sites — potentially as hotels — remains at the disagreement’s crux.

“It really comes down to one big question, what do we get in return for the modest amount of density [proposed],” said City Councilman Paul Smedberg, who served as a nonvoting member of the work group. “It really does come down to that.”

CAAWP’s concerns regarding waterfront redevelopment, particularly their opposition to any more than one shoreline hotel, likely will be met halfway — if city council approves the work group’s suggested compromise.

Amid mounting rhetoric and internal dissent, the work group recommended going forward with the city’s plans to increase density at the Robinson Terminals and the Cummings and Turner properties. The recommendation came with the caveat city officials consider a range of preferred uses, including, but not limited to hotels, for those parcels.

Karl Moritz, deputy planning director, is working with city staff to incorporate draft language recommended by the work group into the existing waterfront plan before city council’s January 21 public hearing. Alexandria’s governing body could vote on a final version of the plan as early as then.

Some of CAAWP’s complaints will be addressed once a version of the plan is approved, according to city officials. Historic buildings will be preserved and the details of a flood mitigation system proposed for the city’s shoreline will be worked out in the design phase. City staff and the Old Town parking work group will jointly develop parking strategies while a Union Street congestion study will be undertaken.

CAAWP’s dueling proposal for the waterfront calls for the city to purchase some or all of the property and convert the buildings into museums, cultural centers and open space. City officials criticized CAAWP’s plan not long after it was publicized in the late fall, calling many of the proposals legally and fiscally indefensible.

Both plans call for increases in public space and cultural amenities.

Despite CAAWP’s continued pressure — residents wielding opposition signs packed into Tuesday’s work session — the city council seems headed toward a final vote. When the proposal first came before the council in June, members elected to delay in an attempt to reconcile the plan with resident criticism.

Euille reminded the public it is impossible to please everyone and that, if the plan is passed, residents will play a role in shaping how the river’s edge is developed.

“There are triggers and opportunities all along the way to develop a waterfront that meets the desires of, hopefully, the majority of the city’s fine citizens,” he said.



  1. I don’t know what is Transformative about this plan, except if you take transformative to mean only change. Yes, this plan will be the biggest change in Old Town since Urban Renewal. It is roughly the same amount ot Development as the Courthouse, Tavern Sqaure, Market Square, the Hotel Monaco and the block across from Market Sqaure. In thirty years I am sure the architecture will be just as stale, lacking detail and unsucesful as urban renewal has been. There is a reason that there are banks, real estate offices, and a starbucks in these buildings, instead of the Jewish Tailor, the Schumans Bakery, and the Royal Restaurant, not to mention Edgar Snowden, the owner of the Gazzette, an Opera House, and all the buildings on market sqaure were torn down. There was a recent caller to the Kojo Namdi Show on the Alexandria Waterfront he put it well. He was from Pennsylvania and remebers fondly taking Piano lessons in one of the buildings that was destroyed by urban renewal, and even though he is not familiar with the waterfront plan he can’t imagine why we have not learn that over develoopment in the name of revitalization for short term gain is never the right thing to do. The Waterfront Development plan the city has put forward is neither creative, imaginative or transfromative. In fact it is the same old thing that we have been trying for years: Develop to increase the tax revenue, and meanwhile don’t worry about preserving what we have. Just look at the city is watching the Old Town Theater, which has been in almost continuous use as a theater since 1914 become another retail establishment. transformative implies new thinking, and a new vision, not the same old thing we have tried before.

    • neither creative, imaginative or transfromative? how can anyone say this when the plans are a beautification of the present site conditions: blocks long, decades old eyesores of warehouses (on waterfront property in the 21st century ?) which blocks the public access and the continuation of the waterfront path to be enjoyed by all?
      and speaking of stale, this rambling non sense is STALE. if you dont like it, move to an area which belongs in another time of the past. and as far as the closings mentioned such as the bakery and the jewish tailor, these too are out of the cities control and are part of the financial world in which we live today. its simple economics, if you’re successful, innovative, creative, you stay in business. the theater is of course sad, but is it, has it been economically feasible ? no, and there is nothing the city can do about this either.
      we dont need naysayers in our community, we need creative thinkers, positive solution solvers that produce plans that are fiscally responsible and yes that raise income for the city to help it out of the financial shortages we have have experienced for years now.