Saturday morning's City Council work session on the waterfront largely centered on how to address concerns about parking, the possible creation of hotels and what could be legally built in the area under current zoning regulations.
The city argues that hotel rooms “contribute – in net tax revenue – about six times what housing does, and these are revenues that would be available to pay for the new parks and other amenities in the Plan,” according to city documents.
The Planning and Zoning Department also has agreed that any future hotel on the waterfront should be limited to 150 rooms with meeting rooms to hold no more than 50 people. Old Town Alexandria’s Lorien Hotel has 107 rooms, for comparison.
That suggestion did not bode well with Councilwoman Alicia Hughes, who said “from a business perspective, if someone were told they were going to pay $15 (million) to $20 million for a hotel and only get to have 150 rooms,” they would be told not to walk but run away from that business deal.
While the intent of pushing for smaller hotels and meeting space was to appease citizen concerns over busy activity and parking congestion a hotel can bring, Vice Mayor Kerry Donley also commented that the meeting capacity “can’t even handle a small wedding reception.”
Councilman Paul Smedberg expressed concern over parking issues, saying the current parking study showing there is actually available parking space in Old Town's waterfront is “very limited’ when the entire waterfront plan will affect space from Daingerfield Island to Jones Point. He added, “I’m not sure how many more studies we’ve got to do to drag this out.”
A waterfront plan parking study shows that most garages in Old Town do not operated at capacity. For example, the garage at N. Union St. was only at 33 percent capacity during a Friday evening.
The city's plan would cost just over $50 million and is predicted to pay for itself by 2025. However, there is a more adventurous plan that would cost up to $200 million and there are concerns that the city would have to hike its tax rate to shoulder that kind of burden.
"You’d have to float bonds," said Vice Mayor Kerry Donley, speaking of the more expensive plan, adding that it could mean an additional 7 cents "on our tax rate in order to finance this."
"No one - if dollars weren’t at all a factor - wouldn’t say this wouldn’t be a preference," said Councilman Rob Krupicka. "This is a compelling idea. Don’t shortchange it. It’s a big visionary idea, and it’s also incredibly expensive to execute."
City Council will consider whether to hold another public hearing on the issue at its June 14 meeting.