Your View: Robinson Terminal South hearings ignored critical issues

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By Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet

To the editor:

If there was ever an occasion to disband a city commission and reappoint new members, it occurred last month, after the city planning commission’s consideration of the Robinson Terminal South development. Regrettably, the decision to approve the plan was unanimous, with Stewart Dunn proposing the motion for approval.

For six hours, commissioners, city staff, and developer EYA’s parade of experts discussed mostly noncritical issues on the project. It was obvious that this obfuscation was a red herring to divert the attention from citizens’ concerns expressed in the public hearing about the project’s overall mass, scale and general inappropriateness within the Old and Historic District.

The fact that there was such citizen concern should have sent EYA back to the drawing board, but it has been evident that EYA and city staff have determined all along that nothing was going to deter this development from being approved.

The three monolithic, glass-walled condo buildings evoke the West End of Alexandria, or even a more mundane section of Miami Beach. Moreover, these buildings wall off the waterfront from any view for an entire city block. The 26 townhouses in this development have extremely redundant architecture, and are evocative of the Lofts developments just opposite the Wythe Street post office. The Lofts are suitable for a non-historic area of Old Town, but not for the waterfront. A good example of a non-historic development that is compatible with the Old and Historic District is Harborside.

At least an hour of the public hearing was taken up by the commission and EYA discussing social activities that can be scheduled on the site, including their frequency and cost per activity. This is supposed to be a part of a neighborhood adjacent to the Harborside and Waterford housing areas. The last thing those neighbors need is an increased amount of noise and commotion.

A legion of residents spoke to the cumulative effect of anticipated developments on the already overstressed parking situation. The waterfront plan calls for a comprehensive transportation management plan before the approval of any new development, but no such plan exists. This begs the question of the legitimacy of the approval of the Carr hotel and the validity of EYA’s request for reduced parking. During the hearing, Charlotte Hall, vice president of the Potomac Riverboat Company, said her company was not able to secure sufficient parking for customers who were boating to the Washington Nationals game on Opening Day, which calls into question the claim that excess parking is available.

There are two groups independently working on aspects of the parking situation. The Old Town Area Parking Study Group is trying to address the overall problem, while the Parking Standards for New Developments Group is independently attempting to reduce parking ratios in new developments. Moreover, EYA is trying to figure out how they can secure a parking reduction in their Robinson Terminal South parking garage. Parking studies for Old Town are out of sync with the current and future parking situations and far from reality. Despite all of this, one member of the planning commission focused on the availability of Capital Bikeshare for the site, and even stated that people would ride bikes to the new restaurant within the development, obviating the need for cars.

One of the most contentious events of the evening occurred when the board of architectural review staff said economics was not a factor in allowing a no-setback design on the Union Street side of the Wolfe Street condo building. But at a previous BAR meeting, EYA’s Bob Youngentob said economics was in fact the reason for having no setbacks in this situation. Either honesty, integrity and truth in our city government officials are rapidly diminishing, or their memories are failing at an alarming rate.

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