While reviewing the public domain aspects of Alexandria’s $50 million waterfront makeover on Wednesday, members of the mayor-appointed Waterfront Work Group were posed with a question of how the park and public art aspects of the plan will be completed in a way that is uniquely Alexandrian.
“I think a lot of people’s problems with the plan was the thought we’d lose what is uniquely Alexandrian [about the waterfront],” work group member Bert Ely said, adding that defining the city’s distinctive character would be an important part in moving forward.
While answering such an abstract question poses its own difficulties, more problematic questions were raised when members of the group brought up the Old Dominion Boat Club and future of the GenOn coal plant site in relation to the waterfront plan.
The group was briefed by Karl Moritz, deputy director for long range and strategic planning for the city, on the different aspects of the concept plan—from kayak launches, boat slips and boxcar stages to pedestrian throughways, park designs and the themes of public art projects.
Moritz said an impetus was placed on making the terminus of King Street a more inviting space where citizens can gather for activities and tourists can step off water taxis and make their way to Old Town’s shops and restaurants. In the plan, the area would be called Fitzgerald Square.
Moritz said there are also hopes of docking a historic ship at a new pier at the end of King Street, making the location stand out as boaters approach from the Potomac River.
The creation of Fitzgerald Square, however, is dependent on the city acquiring land owned by the ODBC at the end of King Street and along The Strand. In July, ODBC rejected a $150,000 offer from the city to buy parts of The Strand and Wales Alley.
Farroll Hamer, the city’s director of Planning and Zoning, said negotiations for the land between the city and ODBC are ongoing.
Members of the work group said such hanging issues are a problem.
“This plan does not show parking or launching for the Boat Club,” said Ely, who is also an ODBC member. “It’s an unresolved issue at the bottom of King Street. What is Plan B not just in terms of what happens at the foot of King Street, but with the commercial boats like The Dandy?”
Group member Lt. Gen Bob Wood (ret.) agreed with Ely and then brought the GenOn tract into the discussion. The power company reached an agreement last month to close its Potomac River Generating Station along the waterfront in North Old Town as early as October 2012.
“If it isn’t resolved, it is a problem,” Wood said. “GenOn isn’t resolved and it’s a problem. This is so central to the core of what we’re doing we have to address it. I don’t think we can bypass it. And it’s not talking about the Boat Club. It’s about Fitzgerald Square.”
Later in the meeting, group member Mindy Lyle said GenOn was a “pie in the sky idea” and may not be ready for development in the next 20 years.
Wood fired back, saying that the group was charged with looking at the plan from a “15- to 20-year horizon.”
The commercial aspects of the waterfront marina were also brought into question Wednesday. Wood spoke of a need to make the marina profitable and to improve the facilities and amenities for boaters.
Developing a specific office within city government with a sole purpose of overseeing the waterfront was also floated.
The work group ran out of time Wednesday to vote on policy statements concerning the public realm, including those related to the parks, piers and marina. The group will do so at its Sept. 28 meeting, scheduled for 8 a.m. at City Hall.
The Sept. 28 meeting was initially canceled because it fell on Rosh Hashanah, but City Councilman Paul Smedberg, who is serving as convener of the group, suggested rescheduling because of a gap between meetings.
An Oct. 12 meeting will be held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Cameron Station, with an Oct. 19 meeting to follow at City Hall at 8 a.m.
“We’re so far behind it’s getting ridiculous,” Lyle said. “I know there are people in this city who want to get this extended to the next election and that’s happening.”