Friday, May 27, 2011

Old Town, New Plan: Extending Alexandria's Waterfront

The City of Alexandria wants to capitalize on King Street's appeal and foot traffic and is reaching finality on a plan to connect Old Town's thoroughfare with the adjacent but less accessible waterfront and to extend foot traffic along the Potomac. Since 2009, city planners have had visions of art installations and historical/cultural markers amongst expanded parks and public spaces within a three-mile stretch (see map, above) from Daingerfield Island Park to Jones Point Park, with three possibilities for moderate future redevelopment at Robinson Terminal North, Robinson Terminal South (both owned by a Washington Post subsidiary) and the Cummings/Turner properties (surnames of the private owners).

A Waterfront Small Area Plan - released by the City's Dept. of Planning and Zoning in February of this year - is currently under review by Alexandria's City Council, which aims to address the most recent community concerns stemming from a May 14 public hearing. According to Faroll Hamer, Director of Planning and Zoning, the plan is getting closer to approval by the City Council, which will meet again June 11 for a Work Session, where they will "meticulously" go over the current plan, said Hamer, who “hopes to have a resolution in place before the end of June,” when the Council breaks for recess.

Right now Alexandria’s Potomac waterfront remains what has been called a “disjointed collection of various land uses,” by the Alexandria Gazette.

The possibilities for future redevelopment at the Robinson Terminals and the Cummings/Turner properties (at the 200 block of South Union Street) include restaurant, retail, office and residential construction - uses for which these areas were rezoned for in 1992. Alexandria is considering a re-zoning option to include hotels and additional density to capitalize on the fact that “on average a square foot of hotel space generates six times the tax revenue of a square foot of housing.”

The potential of added density and hotels has proved to be a sensitive spot with the community, and the topic has been re-addressed at several of the 18 public meetings held throughout the past two years. This led the Planning commission recently to stress the fact that hotels are not “required” in the plan, and that the plan would only incorporate “boutique” hotels, which for this purpose are defined as 150 rooms or less, sans ballroom.

An early estimate for the costs that the city will incur from the plan was pegged as just over $50 million - however the City's Deputy Director of Planning and Zoning, Karl Moritz, is currently crunching numbers to yield a more accurate estimate.

The City released one suggested timeline for phasing of redevelopment: within 3 years, redevelopment of the Beachcomber, the Cummings warehouse at 220 South Union Street, and adaptive reuse of the historic buildings in that block; in 4 to 6 years, redevelopment of Robinson Terminal North, and the balance of the redevelopment of the Cummings/Turner block; and in the next 7 to 15 years, redevelopment of Robinson Terminal South.

As of now all development would be in the private sector, as the City has no immediate plans to purchase any of the private property at the Post-owned terminals or Cummings/Turner land, according to Deputy Director Moritz.

The City asserts that the Plan aims to balance costs and revenues, and to implement a plan that will not rely heavily on (largely unavailable) city revenues.

The core purpose of the plan, says Moritz, is to increase park area, public space and waterfront access, and also to prevent the water from coming to meet them, in the form of recurrent flooding. Alexandrians are familiar with high water at the foot of King and Union streets, and visitors come across driftwood-strewn streets from time to time. Flooding, according to the Mayor of Alexandria, William D. Euille, has required thousands of dollars of cleanup on both public and private land in Old Town.

In a May 6 op-ed column in the Washington Post, Mayor Euille says that the Waterfront Plan would not only create "5 acres of new park" and “world-class public spaces” but would actually mitigate flooding through the Plan’s incorporation of raised pedestrian walkways, street paving and low retaining walls.

But physical and legal obstacles persist - particularly surrounding two parking lots. The current design incorporates half of a privately owned parking lot just south of Waterfront Park, and another (more hotly disputed one) that is owned by the Old Dominion Boat Club (ODBC), located at the terminus of King Street, since 1880.

The ODBC first stood in the way of an early concept involving a public pavilion with 200-ft pier extension reaching out from the end of King Street. This idea would have required the club to relocate its parking lot to an area off site, which the club would not consider, and the idea was scrapped. ODBC doesn't seem to be budging on a lesser request from the planning commission either, which is to rotate the club's parking lot 90 degrees (to hug the building more).

Hamer, of Planning and Zoning, said that negotiations over both parking lots are currently “ongoing,” however an unofficial spokesperson who answered the phone at the ODBC said they are “fighting tooth and nail to keep it [as it is].”

Even without the lot, it seems there may be several gains by the City of Alexandria, and the community, through waterfront improvements.

Alexandria, Virginia real estate news


Jay on May 27, 2011, 4:19:00 PM said...

Nice write-up, on an ever-evolving situation that has several options and many thorny issues.

The City has some excellent plans to commemorate the history at spots like West's Point, where it all got started for Alexandria in 1749. Point Lumley too.

Those Robinson Terminals are a long time eye sore and waterfront blockers. The North spot will be primo viewing.

There's also hope for a maritime/seaport museum.

Anonymous said...

Use eminent domain, pay them a fair market price and just take the land. This is not hard.

Anonymous said...

Its about time this waterfront was redeveloped.

Anonymous said...

Redeveloping the Robinson Terminals and the area south of the boat club would be much more desireable than the current buildings and lack of public use. Connecting the various parcels only encourages people to spend more time (and money) in an already popular tourist area. I wonder how much the regular flooding costs the lower King St businesses, let alone what it does to vacancy rates. A flood wall would hopefully help this situation out.

Elena on Jun 1, 2011, 12:35:00 AM said...

Very nice blog about the old town
home builders

Boyd on Oct 31, 2011, 8:40:00 AM said...

Citizens for an Alternative Waterfront Plan unveiled an alternative plan last night, Oct. 30, after 6 months of work. Our plan is available on line, as well as more information on our organization:

BOyd Walker, co-chair


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