Planning Commission OKs Waterfront Rezoning
City Council will consider waterfront measures at March 16 public hearing.
The Alexandria Planning Commission approved two zoning text amendments in a meeting that ran into early Wednesday morning that will allow the city to circumvent pending litigation and begin implementing a long-debated waterfront redevelopment plan, provided City Council signs off on the measures later this month.
Opponents of the plan, who have spent more than two years expressing their concerns over new development on the Old Town waterfront, stated old worries and some new ones to the commissioners.
Andrew Macdonald, a former vice mayor who ran a failed campaign for mayor last year largely built on opposition to the city’s waterfront proposal, told the commissioners the plan is “a final nail in the coffin of this historic city."
“We’re not debating the plan. The plan has been approved,” Commissioner Eric Wagner said, addressing Macdonald directly. “We’re talking about an amendment to begin implementing the plan.”
Wager later said the waterfront was discussed at great length ahead of the November 2012 election.
"We all know the results of that election," he said.
Opponents made calls for more time for consensus building and more time for three recently appointed commissioners to dig into the issue. They called for a halt to proceedings until two pending court cases about the waterfront can be heard. They referenced Hurricane Sandy and the impact such a superstorm could have on a built-up waterfront. The opponents asked for more parks and they asked for compromise.
“We’ve heard these arguments before,” Commissioner Stewart Dunn said. “As far as compromise, as far as I can see the compromise has been all one way. … The opposition is just as opposed as before. Where is this compromise?”
Opponents protested the number of hotels one amendment allows in the plan. That number shrunk from four lodges to two small hotels not exceeding 150 rooms during discussions last year. Tuesday’s speakers expressed continued worries that the hotels would bring too much traffic to Old Town’s crowded streets.
Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg has recently led the charge to reduce the number to one boutique hotel, maintaining that two 150-room hotels are too large for the waterfront.
“In discussing what was desired on the waterfront throughout this process, people said they wanted more dining options, more activity,” said Nate Macek, who was appointed to the commission last week after serving on multiple waterfront groups. “They want to see King Street extended down to the waterfront. This is how we can do that, by encouraging some commercial development.”
The commission passed a second amendment to a section of the city’s zoning ordinance early Wednesday clarifying language to state citizens can protest zoning map changes as opposed to both text and map amendments.
City staff said the section of the zoning ordinance in question never was intended to include text amendments. Macek termed it "a clerical error."
Waterfront residents last year filed a lawsuit over the waterfront plan saying they can protest changes to both text and map amendments. The city says protests only apply to changes in zoning maps and, because the waterfront vote only dealt with a text amendment, they couldn’t protest.
Council decided last month to revote last year’s 5-2 decision on the waterfront measure and it is expected to pass 6-1, which would be a supermajority.
If it passes again with a supermajority, the vote would squelch the protestors’ argument that the city’s zoning rules require a council supermajority vote to overrule a protest by residents who live near an area designated to be rezoned.
A group of Alexandria civic associations asked to defer action on the amendment earlier this week, saying proposed changes could blunt their ability to protest unwanted development near their homes anywhere across the city.
The commission said it would review aspects of the zoning law at a later date.
Council will consider the amendments at a public hearing scheduled for March 16.