Alexandria taxpayers have a lot invested in the Old Dominion Boat Club’s plans for building a dock for boat slips in front of their new clubhouse. Those new slips are crucial to the success of the 2012 Waterfront Small Area Plan. This is the development plan Mayor Justin Wilson has been so ably implementing and is making our waterfront a uniquely beautiful place for families and visitors and strong support for local businesses. What the Boat Club does can help make the waterfront plan a success and benefit all Alexandrians or frustrate it and cost Alexandria taxpayers a ton of money.
Last Thursday, the Planning Commission approved the Boat Club’s revised request for a Special Use Permit (SUP) to replace the rotting dock in front of the new clubhouse with a safe, floating wharf for kayaks and small boats. Under the able guidance of Alexandria attorney Duncan Blair, the revised request increases public access to the Potomac River – one of Alexandria’s most valuable assets. Special Use Permit requests are for narrowly described actions. If a Special Use Permit complies with laws and regulations and does not obstruct a city’s long-term plan, it should be approved. The Commission considered compliance and did the right thing. In this Special Use Permit, however, there are deeper taxpayer issues that the City Council must weigh when it considers the SUP at its next meeting.
Taxpayer concerns arise from the 2014 Agreement that settled a long-standing dispute between the City and the Boat Club. The City wanted to develop the land and marina area the Boat Club occupied at the bottom of King Street. The Boat Club wanted to keep the boat docks in the City Marina and the location next to them. To settle the matter and get on with making the waterfront what the 2012 plan envisioned, the City paid the Boat Club $5 million and gave it land at the foot of Prince Street for a new clubhouse and a generous parking lot and riparian rights to build new boat slips in front of the clubhouse. Moreover, until the new slips are built, the City allowed Boat Club members to continue to use docks in the City Marina at least until 2025. The Agreement opened the way for the City to move forward with waterfront development, and gave the Boat Club ten years to build a modern boat dock for its members – which in the Agreement the Club says repeatedly it is eager to do.
Here is the problem for taxpayers. The Agreement contains a small “Trigger Event” section that says if the Boat Club does not build a dock before 2025, the City must give to the Club the riparian rights and docks the club members are using in the City Marina. These docks and riparian rights are worth millions of dollars. When this happens, the City will be unable to move forward with waterfront development. Taxpayers will lose two ways. The City will lose a very valuable asset, and to move forward with waterfront development, taxpayers will have to put up the money to buy the rights and docks from the Boat Club – again. The way the agreement is written there is simply no incentive for the Boat Club to build new docks before 2025. The Club can simply wait, obtain the docks in the City Marina, and if it chooses, build new docks after 2025. Result – the Club will own City Marina riparian rights and slips and the rights and slips in front of its clubhouse.
In the Planning Commission hearing, Chair Nathan Macek, commented on witness concerns that the wharf described in the Boat Club’s Special Use Permit is where everyone expected the Boat Club would build new docks for its members, and the Special Use Permit makes no mention of boat docks. Macek noted that the City staff report points out, “Currently, ODBC plans to maintain its existing slips to the north near Waterfront Park, and no requests have been submitted for any other piers or docks that include permanent boat slips for ODBC members.” He also noted witness suggestions that if the City does not intend to abandon the City Marina portion of the City’s Waterfront Small Area Plan and wants to approve the Boat Club’s Special Use Permit, it should do so with requirements that the Boat Club commit to (1) build slips for its members by 2025, and (2) vacate City marina slips by 2025 as implied by the Agreement.
When the City Council considers the Boat Club SUP, it needs to decide on whether it wants to allow the Boat Club to dictate City development plans and taxpayer costs. Every Council member needs to read the key portions of the 67-page 2014 Boat Club and the City “Property Acquisition and Exchange Agreement.” A vote on the Boat Club’s Special Use Permit without a thorough and serious consideration of taxpayer and local business priorities and the City’s long-term development plan would be a mistake. If there are council members who have not read the Agreement, a decision on the Boat Club’s Special Use Permit should be delayed until they have.
Brian Buzzell, Alexandria
Robert Dugger, Alexandria