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Community Split Over GenOn Closure and Waterfront Development

Community split over whether to include more study of the closure of the GenOn plant in city's current waterfront plan.

Suddenly last summer, the owners of GenOn after 62 years, potentially freeing up acres of Alexandria’s waterfront as the city was in the throes of wrapping up plans for riverside redevelopment.

For some in the community, the GenOn announcement is a waterfront game changer that should be studied and included in the city’s current plan to revitalize the waterfront, but for others it’s good news that will be addressed all in good time.

The Old Town Civic Association's board is urging the city to take more time to evaluate the property that currently houses the GenOn power plant, according to its January newsletter.

The “OTCA Board now strongly advocates that if the city truly believes in comprehensive waterfront planning, then it should take the extra time to evaluate the full potential of the 25 acre GenOn property,” states the newsletter. “This property, which could be decommissioned as early as this year, could afford opportunities to provide more tax generating land uses, added capacity for traffic/transit access to the waterfront and sites better suited for some of the proposed water-based plan elements such as the pleasure boat marina.”

The majority of OTCA members live east of Washington Street with about 9% living outside the Old Town Historic District, according to a recent member survey.

OTCA plans to ask City Council at an upcoming public hearing to take extra time to wait to fold a new, not-yet-developed Old Town North Small Area Plan into one integrated waterfront plan, according to association President John Gosling, who noted that the North Old Town plan would overlap almost half of the area of the proposed Waterfront Small Area Plan.

Gosling said he believes the city's timetable of allocating a year to prepare the North Old Town plan, including use of the GenOn site, "is probably achievable...if there is a smooth community outreach process and early community buy-in to the plan proposals."

He believes the North Old Town plan could move quickly by benefiting from the large volume of available background material generated from the current waterfront planning study and proposing Potomac River Green on the GenOn property.

Vice Mayor Kerry Donley and Councilmember Paul Smedberg agree that the city should take a deeper look at GenOn, but disagree that the analysis should happen right now. Council is gearing up to vote on the city’s draft Small Area Waterfront Plan later this month.

Donley told Patch that City Council must get to work finishing plans addressing the Beauregard Corridor and West Eisenhower Avenue areas before it turns its attention to GenOn in North Old Town.

The GenOn parcel “should have a separate planning process,” he said. “It’s recently been used as a public utility and hasn’t been considered a public use space like a park or residence,” he said, adding that citizens in North Old Town should be able to offer their input on the process.

Additionally, “there are likely many environmental issues that must be addressed in the GenOn planning process,” he said, noting that the plant is not officially decommissioned until October. Donley said Council should move forward and vote on the current draft waterfront plan.

Urban planner Elliot Rhodeside, who is also a member of the mayor-appointed Waterfront Plan Work Group, told Patch that the GenOn issue should not hold up City Council's vote on the Waterfront Plan.

“The GenOn site and development issues are complex and will require years of study,” he said. “Individuals and groups opposed to the city's Waterfront Plan are using GenOn to delay the decision making process. I believe strongly that the city and its constituents can objectively and professionally study and develop a visionary plan for the GenOn site after the Waterfront Plan is approved by Council.”

The GenOn issue surfaced several times during the work group's deliberations during the past six months.

“If it isn’t resolved, it is a problem,” said Bob Wood at . “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.”

Later during that same meeting, group member Mindy Lyle said addressing GenOn now was a “pie in the sky idea” and may not be ready for development in the next 20 years.

Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan, a to much of the city’s current plan “believes that GenOn should be included in any waterfront plan and that the plan we approve should do more then give property owners and developers more flexibility to overdevelop the waterfront,” CAAWP co-founder Andrew Macdonald said last week. “The current plan must be defeated."

Bob Laver January 10, 2012 at 09:07 PM
Of course CAAWP wants to include the GenOn site. It plays right into their strategy of delaying action. Again, I'm not completely sold on any one plan; although I believe the CAAWP Plan will have a larger tax bill. However, until the coal plant shuts down operations and EPA approves a clean-up plan, no one can provide options for that land. I doubt that land will be available for another 20 years.
Dennis Auld January 11, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Agree with Donley and Rhodeside. GenOn will take years to sort out. It is physically distant enough to establish its own (to be planned) relationship to the waterfront. Additionally, postponing the Small Area Plan will encur the possiblity of current property owners to move ahead with development with no City influence. We will get condos and townhomes at Robinson Norty, South and Cummings Turner. Nobody wants that.

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