Council approves new waterfront features

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Tall Ship Providence, as currently docked at the G/H Pier. (Photo/Luke Anderson)
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By Luke Anderson | [email protected]

At its March public hearing, council approved several plans geared toward enhancing the vibrancy of Old Town’s waterfront.

The area has changed significantly since 2012, when city council approved the waterfront small area plan, which incorporates walkways, parks and other public spaces where residents and visitors can enjoy views of the Potomac River. At the March 14 public hearing, city council approved special use permits for a new pier for Tall Ship Providence and outdoor music at Riverside Taco.

Waterfront Park. (Photo/Luke Anderson)

Since coming to Alexandria in July 2019, Tall Ship Providence has been docked at the G/H Pier, adjacent to Founders Park. The new pier, to be built on the water at Waterfront Park just south of King Street, will provide a long-term docking spot for Tall Ship Providence and feature two 24-by-32-foot cottages that will serve as a visitor center where visitors can purchase tickets and learn about the ship and the city’s maritime history.

The Tall Ship Maritime Center will be constructed as a floating dock that rises and falls with water levels, similar to the Seaport Foundation’s McIlhenny Seaport Center. Unlike the two-story McIlhenny Center building, the Tall Ship Providence cottages will only be one story and measure 20.5 feet tall.

During a meeting earlier this month, city planning commissioners debated the height of the cottages, ultimately deciding to increase the pitch of the cottage roofs from 9/12 to 12/12, which was the pitch requested originally.

Mike Budinski, a resident of South Pitt Street, told the planning commission he supported the development of the waterfront but did not favor the inclusion of the cottages in the plan. The cottages will block southern views of the river, he said.

“We have worked with staff to minimize the impacts on view,” Cathy Puskar, the attorney representing the Tall Ship Providence Foundation, said. “But we really believe this is an important component of the waterfront plan that was contemplated and sought out by the city [and] endorsed by city council.”

Commissioner David Brown agreed, pointing out that the cottages would be out on the water and in front of a park, not directly beside any residences or businesses. Therefore, he didn’t feel that the cottages would significantly impede views.

Planning Commission Chair Nathan Macek referenced images of historic Alexandria in support of the cottages.

“We note the historic precedent of the piers with the buildings on them that are out on the waterfront,” Macek said, pointing to the aerial image of Alexandria circa 1863 that adorns the wall behind the dais in city hall. “So they’re not quite the same architectural style of what the inspiration for … these cottages are here. These are more of a shed design that’s out on the water. But there is historical precedent for having buildings on the piers in Alexandria and photographic evidence is above us.”

A specific completion date for the Tall Ship Maritime Center has not been set; however, the Visit Alexandria website states that the visitor center will open in 2021.

Riverside Taco Company is located adjacent to the Torpedo Factory. (Photo/Luke Anderson)

At the city marina, Riverside Taco is now permitted to play music at their 1,746-square-foot outdoor area situated along the northeast corner of the Torpedo Factory. The area has 90 seasonal seats that are open to the public.

Riverside Taco is required to comply with all existing sound ordinances and take care not to disrupt the artists inside the Torpedo Factory. Outdoor speakers can be used but not affixed to the Torpedo Factory exterior. Un-amplified live bands and music can operate from 6 to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, when the artists’ studios are closed.

At the planning commission meeting, Torpedo Factory director Brett Johnson spoke on behalf of the center’s artists and expressed support for the music but also for a three-month trial period.

At the public hearing, city council voted unanimously to approve the music without a trial. Councilor Del Pepper said that although there will not be a trial period, the city should monitor the music volume so as not to disrupt artists or freelance performers that frequent the area.

Pepper made it clear that she was voting in favor of the music, which she hopes will facilitate a “festive spirit” for those getting off boats and water taxis at the waterfront, and not Riverside Taco itself. Her dislike for the taco joint seemed largely due to its operating out of an Airstream trailer, which she said was unappealing.

City council did move to strike a condition recommended by the planning commission permitting Riverside Taco to install temporary string lights, since the installation of string lights is not currently prohibited.

“I couldn’t possibly vote against a string of lights,” Pepper said.

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