By Dennis Auld, Alexandria (File photo)
To the editor:
I am a member of the waterfront commission, a resident group tasked with advising city council and staff on the implementation of the city’s waterfront plan. I was also a member of the Waterfront4All citizens group that supported the plan. I disclose these facts because their stance against the waterfront plan alone is enough for me to not vote for city council candidates Bob Wood and Townsend “Van” Van Fleet. But it goes deeper than that.
During 2011, the waterfront plan was generating quite a bit of discussion in Alexandria. Both opponents and proponents of the plan were in high gear. Since then, the plan has evolved through many iterations, meetings, votes, lawsuits and is currently in the process of actually being implemented. However, the opponents of the plan are still very active.
In relation to Wood and Van Fleet’s position on the waterfront plan, two issues stand out. Both are on record as critical of the city’s debt load. They claim that the city has been irresponsible by borrowing too much. In their opposition to the waterfront plan, both Wood and Van Fleet supported Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan, which was the opposition’s alternative plan and presented in November 2011.
Their plan called for the city to purchase the properties then owned by The Washington Post and Cummings Turner, which was designated for sale and development. The CAAWP plan called for the city to make them into parks. Their estimate was a cost to taxpayers of about $100 million. The city’s response to their plan said the figure was closer to $200 million.
Either way, the city’s debt would have increased by a significant amount to satisfy their wishes. Given the cost, the availability of extensive parks already in the area and the principal beneficiaries of this expenditure, this addition to the city’s debt was not in the interests of Alexandria’s citizens and taxpayers.
A second issue is also related to the waterfront plan. While I support the ability and rights of neighborhoods to react and protest any development that specifically affects them, there is a line where constructive criticism morphs into obstructionism. This was the case when the Friends of the Alexandria Waterfront appealed the decision of the Board of Architectural Review to demolish 226 The Strand.
Review of the analysis of the building by the city’s architect and staff showed “that, while historic, the building has severe structural issues, lacks historical significance, and detracts from the waterfront’s aesthetics.” The sum of the analysis clearly showed that there was little to no reason to save the building, in whole or in part. An appeal petition presented by Friends of the Alexandria Waterfront included signatures of approximately 80 residents. It included
the signatures of Wood and Van Fleet.
It is clear that the Friends of the Alexandria Waterfront try to “throw a monkey wrench” into the implementation of the waterfront plan wherever they can. This is not constructive criticism, but obstructionism. It costs taxpayers time and money as well as causing city staff to spend significant time addressing these wasteful actions. These actions by Wood and Van Fleet call into question how they would operate on council.
In sum, it appears to me that both candidates are, essentially, Old Town-centric. It is also important to note that not all Old Town residents are opposed to the waterfront plan, and should not be painted with the same brush as these obstructionists. Wood and Van Fleet do not appear to be very concerned about the city as a whole, but place their desires for the development of Alexandria’s waterfront into their parochial view, dominating their perspectives. This does not speak well for their abilities to govern all of Alexandria, and therefore I cannot support their candidacies.