Your Views: Planning commission ignores neighbors’ concerns

Your Views: Planning commission ignores neighbors’ concerns
Tourists walk along Alexandria's waterfront (Photo Credit: K. Summerer for Visit Alexandria)

To the editor:

Our Alexandria Planning Commission professes to be engaged in a competition with the D.C. and National Harbor waterfronts. The Old Town waterfront is unique, since it sits on the doorstep of one of the oldest and best preserved residential communities in the nation. We should market these strengths, and not try to compete for visitors to ride a Ferris wheel or stay out drinking until 2 a.m.

Though the Waterfront Plan Policy for Restaurants clearly sets criteria for assessing parking, traffic, the predominance of alcohol over food and numerous other factors, the commissioners who professed to have worked so long and hard to create the plan have now lost touch with the plan and our community.

In the recent meeting approving new restaurants at Robinson Landing, the commission, led by Mindy Lyle and Nate Macek, disregarded neighbors’ concerns about the late hours of operation requested by the restaurant operator by approving even later hours which neighbors justifiably see as an indicator of the type of operation that will open in our public park.

To add insult to injury, Commissioner Lyle proposed a policy to grant all restaurants citywide expanded hours of operation to midnight on weeknights and 2 a.m. on weekends, a policy which fundamentally abdicates the planning commission’s role in restricting hours of operation to protect our neighborhoods.

And rather than leading a conversation about whether the hours of operation and seating arrangements were consistent with a food-focused restaurant, and the impacts to the neighborhood, Macek engaged in a bureaucratic shuffle. He professed that, because Virginia law regulates both bars and restaurants under the same framework, the planning commission had no authority over the restaurant’s operation. He not only missed the point of neighbors’ concerns, but failed to engage in any meaningful review of the relevant section of the Waterfront Plan Policy for Restaurants (Factor 3: “The extent to which alcohol consumption will predominate over food consumption and situated so as to potentially disturb residential areas and negatively impact waterfront public spaces.”)

Most concerning, Lyle’s apparent disdain for the public’s heartfelt concerns over the impacts of traffic and parking on our neighborhoods was quite obvious when she suggested that if we wanted to own cars, we should buy five acres and move to the country. Apparently, she cannot fathom why families who need their cars for work, kids or groceries did not give up on Alexandria and move out of their homes when the Waterfront Plan was born.

The Old Town community struggles to remain an affordable and livable neighborhood, qualities which are not furthered by a planning commission which is tone deaf to residents’ valid concerns and abdicates its duties to deliver on our Waterfront Plan.

-Timothy G. Morgan, Alexandria