Avoiding eminent domain means finding a suitable compromise

Avoiding eminent domain means finding a suitable compromise

By Jim Larocco, Alexandria
(File Photo)

To the editor:

I find the entire debate over the future of the Old Dominion Boat Club’s parking lot entertaining — and bordering on the absurd — but still fundamental to the future of the Port City.

Let me explain: To begin with, I had to smile when I read Del Ray resident Kim Moore’s letter (“Eminent domain has no place in the City of Alexandria,” November 21) mention the unimportance of aesthetics in determining the future of the waterfront. As an Old Town resident, this provides a teaching moment for our Del Ray neighbors.

I can’t touch the outside of my home without the permission of two review boards: the old and historic district review board and my townhouse association’s architectural review board. The regulations are such that we can only paint our back porches a specific shade of gray; 50 shades of gray are simply forbidden in our neighborhood.

Quite frankly, I support this. Old Town’s appeal is not simply its our rich history, but also the architecture and aesthetics that bring this history to life.

So what does this have to do with the parking lot?

First, as we all know, it prevents the connection of the two parks. Both parties understand this, and I believe a compromise eventually will be reached.

Second, the parking lot is an abomination to the eye of residents and visitors. The chain-link fence, decorated with dead vines on the park sides and barbed wire at the entrance, should have all the boat club members who support Old Town ashamed and embarrassed.

I truly believe that a compromise lies in leasing a suitably wide path of the waterfront area to the city to connect the parks. This would require the boat club’s commitment to building either a red brick wall around their parking lot or — if that’s prohibitively expensive — building a high privacy wooden fence. Of course, that fence must receive the aesthetic approval of the old and historic district board.

Looking beyond this issue: As I see National Harbor drawing more and more shoppers, diners and visitors, I believe Old Town needs to find its proper niche to keep it attractive to visitors from near and far. We cannot, and should not, try to compete with National Harbor. We would lose our identity if we tried and probably fail in any case.

Instead, we should enhance our historic appeal and charm, while providing more attractive accommodations. And of key importance, we should find a more affordable way of transporting visitors to and from our two centers of attraction. We should unite as tourist attractions, not compete.

The steep $16 fee for the short roundtrip boat ride will not appeal to tourists, much less shoppers and diners. Just like our trolley, there should be a way to drop the cost through subsidization, if necessary. In this case, cooperation between Alexandria and National Harbor could reduce the cost to a nominal fee.

We can do all this without exercising eminent domain. All we need is common sense and commitment to our city’s future.