If there was ever an occasion to disband a City Commission and reappoint a new one, it occurred last Thursday, after the Planning Commission’s consideration of the Robinson Terminal South development. Regrettably, the decision to approve the plan was unanimous, with Stewart Dunn proposing the motion for approval.
For six hours, the Planning Commission, the City Staff, and EYA’s parade of experts discussed mostly non-critical issues on the development in question. It was obvious that this obfuscation was a “red herring” to divert the attention from citizen concerns expressed in the public hearing about the project’s overall mass, scale, and general inappropriateness within the Old and Historic District.
The fact that there was such citizen concern should have sent EYA back to the drawing board, but it has been evident that EYA and City Staff have determined all along that nothing was going to deter this development from being approved.
The three monolithic, glass-walled condo buildings evoke the west end of Alexandria, or even a more mundane section of Miami Beach. Moreover, these buildings “wall off” the waterfront from any view for an entire city block. The 26 town houses in this development have extremely redundant architecture, and are evocative of the Lofts developments just opposite the Wythe Street Post Office. The Lofts are suitable for a non-historic area of Old Town, but not for the waterfront. A good example of a non-historic development that is compatible with the OId and Historic District is Harborside.
At least an hour of the public hearing was taken up by the Commission and EYA discussing the social activities that can be scheduled in the development’s site to include their frequency and cost per activity. This is supposed to be a part of a neighborhood adjacent to the Harborside and Waterford housing areas. The last thing those neighbors need is an increased amount of noise and commotion.
A legion of residents spoke to the cumulative effect of anticipated developments on the already overstressed parking situation. The Waterfront Plan calls for a comprehensive Transportation Management Plan before the approval of any new development, but no such plan exists. This begs the question of the legitimacy of the approval for the Carr hotel and the validity of EYA’s request for reduced parking. During the hearing, Ms. Charlotte Hall (the Vice President of the Potomac Riverboat Company) stated that her company was not able to secure sufficient parking for her customers who were boating to the NATs ball game on opening day, which calls into question the claim that excess parking is available.
There are two groups independently working on aspects of the parking situation. The Old Town Area Parking Study Group (OTAPS) is trying to address the overall problem, while the Parking Standards for New Developments Group is independently attempting to reduce parking ratios in new developments. Moreover, EYA is trying to figure out how they can get a parking reduction in their Robinson Terminal South parking garage. Parking studies for Old Town are out of sync with the current and future parking situations and far from reality. Despite all of this, one member of the Planning Commission focused on “bike share” for the site, and even stated that people would ride bikes to the new restaurant within the development, obviating the need for cars.
One of the most contentious events of the evening occurred when the BAR staff stated that economics was not a factor in allowing a no setback design on the Union Street side of the Wolfe Street condo building. However, at a previous BAR meeting, Bob Youngentob (one of the EYA principals) stated that economics was in fact the reason for having no setbacks in this situation. Either honesty, integrity and truth in our city government officials are rapidly diminishing, or their memories are failing at an alarming rate!
Hopefully the City Council will be more understanding as to the suitability (or lack thereof) of developments in the Old and Historic District. The City Council should concentrate on the most important issues at hand, which are mass, scale and architectural style of the project. The side issues of bikes replacing cars, social activities, and EYA’s parking reduction request should only be considered by the City Council after the most serious concerns are addressed.
Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet