Driving a hard bargain

Driving a hard bargain

By Derrick Perkins (File photo)

City officials preemptively revealed their nine-point plan for ending the longstanding negotiations for Old Dominion Boat Club waterfront property after a Freedom of Information Act request threatened to make it public.

The roadmap, which would settle nearly eight years of dickering and put an end to the prospect of eminent domain if accepted, would see the city buy a portion of the club’s waterfront parking lot at market value for conversion into a public plaza. The remainder of the lot would be reconfigured, and boats normally stored on the property would move offsite.

The proposal also calls for the club to turn over its parking spaces on The Strand, paving the way for long-planned flood mitigation efforts. The area is notorious for nuisance flooding, with waters from the Potomac routinely flowing up King Street and across The Strand during large storms.

Officials sent the framework, which was modeled on an apparent near-compromise in 2011, to club representatives in June. With the waterfront redevelopment plan heading into implementation phase, it’s time to strike a deal, said Mayor Bill Euille.

“[From] the city’s standpoint, we’re always willing to continue to meet and discuss issues like these, however this has been eight years in the making,” he said. “It’s at the point now that each and every time we think we’re there, other alternatives or new suggestions or considerations are laid on the table or they back off.”

The waterfront plan, approved last year, shows a public plaza — known as Fitzgerald Square — replacing the parking lot. Though the document acknowledges creating the plaza, which would be comparable in size to Market Square, hinges on a deal with the boat club, it also touts the concept as adding to the city’s stock of open space. The plan lists food carts, chairs and tables, a fountain, and potentially an ice-skating rink in the winter as possible amenities for the site.

Though more than two months have passed since City Hall sent its latest proposal to club leadership, they have remained largely silent, said Euille. Chairman Eric Desoto has assured officials that they are reviewing the document, according to the mayor.

Attempts to reach Desoto for comment before the Times’ deadline were unsuccessful.

The negotiating points address another longstanding waterfront dispute: control over Wales Alley. While the boat club wants the issue included in negotiations regarding the parking lot, Alexandria officials flatly reject it, refusing to budge from their stance that the alley is city property.

That fight most recently flared up about three years ago when city officials let the adjacent restaurant — Virtue Feed and Grain — install a deck in the alley. The boat club, which claimed an easement on the narrow roadway, launched a legal campaign to block the project and cement its rights to the alley.

Though a circuit court ruled in the city’s favor last year, the club has appealed to the state Supreme Court — which declined to settle the issue once before. The state’s top judges will hear the case later this month.

The city’s latest offer for the boat club’s property comes as redevelopment efforts along the waterfront gain steam. Washington-based Carr Hospitality is moving ahead with plans for a 120-room hotel on the 200 block of S. Union St. despite notable opposition from residents.

Though no plans have been revealed for the Robinson Terminals, the soon-to-be-renamed Washington Post Co. kept the properties during the blockbuster sale of its flagship newspaper to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, fueling speculation in the community that redevelopment of the warehouses may be forthcoming. Both terminals are targeted for revitalization in the city’s waterfront plan.

“I kept saying all along we’ll approve the waterfront plan with or without the [boat club property]; we don’t want that site being a stumbling point. But now the plan has been approved, and we’re definitely going to be moving forward,” Euille said. “We never lost sight or focus on the parking lot or the boat club with hopes that we could resolve it.”

City Hall released the roadmap August 29, citing the Freedom of Information Act request and the proposal’s significance as the reasons behind the unexpected move. Now that it’s public, Euille hopes the proposal will trigger a community discussion.

“I think now what probably needs to happen is to have a more open process with the community and [more] public engagement so that everybody will know precisely what it is the city is seeking and what are the benefits,” he said.