Waterfront FAQ and Topical Info

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and other topical information about the Waterfront Small Area Plan.

Page updated on Nov 8, 2017 at 2:51 PM

Waterfront Small Area Plan FAQs & Topical Information

What are the benefits to increased density proposed in the Alexandria Waterfront Plan?

There are a number of benefits resulting from increased density proposed in the Plan, namely related to parks, arts, history, and greater control of urban design and other elements of new development.

The proposed increase in density over what is currently allowed under zoning with approval of an SUP is approximately 160,000 square feet, with around 100,000 square feet of the total split between Robinson Terminal North and Robinson Terminal South. Major benefits to increased development allowances include the renovation of two existing piers for use as public space (over 2 acres of functional open space), contributions to off-site park and public space improvements, increased tax revenue to fund implementation, and control over urban design characteristics of new development to ensure compatibility with the historic fabric of Old Town, nearby residential neighborhoods, and the new and existing public spaces surrounding these developments.

How was the public involved in developing the Alexandria Waterfront Plan?

There have been many of opportunities for the public to get involved in the Waterfront Planning process.

Over the past two years, there have been about 100 meetings of various kinds to get input from the Alexandrians on the Waterfront Plan. The plan kicked off with an open mike – anyone who wanted to could make a suggestion – and included events like a walking tour/discussion, a boat tour, a large public planning exercise where people broke up into groups to come up with their own plans, field trips, and evenings devoted to special topics, such as art, history, restaurants, and boaters. At every meeting, there were opportunities for public input. With each major phase of the plan, staff held a large public meeting followed by a series of approximately 15 meetings with stakeholder groups, including the Waterfront Committee, the Parks and Recreation Commission, the Planning Commission, the Archaeology Commission, the Commission for the Arts, the Old Town Civic Association, and many others. Anyone could easily keep in touch with the Plan through the City's eNews, and videos of the major public meetings have been available online…as were opportunities to comment through such venues as the Waterfront Plan Facebook page.
Materials, recordings, and videos from the major public meetings are available on the website. For more information about the Waterfront Plan's community participation process:

How does the Waterfront Plan reflect what Alexandrians asked for?

Many elements of the Plan came directly from Alexandrians. In addition, the Plan has evolved over time in response to public suggestions.

Many of the plan recommendations – large and small – were first suggested by Alexandrians who participated in the planning process. These include: the piers extending into the Potomac River, more activities for families and children (especially in the Strand area and in Oronoco Bay Park), the art walk, the importance of keeping Founders Park "as is", the design of Oronoco and Rivergate Parks, more waterfront dining options, hotels on one or both Robinson terminal sites, renovation and reuse of the Beachcomber restaurant, museums, and new uses for the Food Court, of which the most popular idea was also its original purpose: as a food market hall like Eastern Market.

Many of these ideas have not changed because they are universally accepted. Among the changes in the plan due to public input: a large new public space was added at the foot of King Street ("Fitzgerald Square"), the main public pier was moved from King Street and centered on Fitzgerald Square instead; the harbor area significantly changed with pleasure boat slips moved several blocks south; the elements of a detailed history plan were incorporated into the plan's recommendations for virtually every site; greater emphasis was placed on activities for families and children and facilities for park maintenance; the proposed Waterfront Park building was eliminated; a restaurant and hotel policy was created to establish guidelines to preserve the ambiance of Old Town; hotels were limited to 150 rooms and a 50-person meeting room ("boutique" hotel); the and parking issues and flood mitigation were given greater attention and a higher priority.

For more information about ideas suggested by Alexandrians, please see the community meeting materials on the Waterfront website, especially for:

  • April 23, 2009 Public Forum
  • Community Planning Charrette - Saturday, June 27, 2009
  • Community Meeting at the Torpedo Factory, September 29, 2009
  • Art Night, Monday, March 8, 2010
  • Marina Night, Thursday, January 28, 2010
  • History Night, Thursday, January 14, 2010

What has been the response to the Plan from Alexandria's appointed boards and commissions?

The Waterfront Plan has been endorsed by many of the City's appointed boards and commissions.

The City's appointed boards and commissions are composed of Alexandrians representing varied interests across the entire city. The draft Waterfront Plan has been endorsed by the Parks and Recreation Commission, the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association, the Alexandria Commission on the Arts, and the Alexandria Waterfront Committee. The history elements have been endorsed by the Historic Alexandria Resources Commission and the Alexandria Archaeology Commission. In many cases, the endorsements come with suggestions for improving the Plan or suggestions for implementing the Plan once it is adopted. A number of these suggestions have been addressed in the Plan approved by the Planning Commission and now before the City Council.

How does the Plan address museums and other cultural institutions?

The plan addresses museums and other cultural venues in detail.

The Waterfront Plan places a great deal of importance on museums and other cultural venues. The Plan proposes a civic/cultural building to house a museum, performing arts space, or other cultural activities, possibly up to 10,000 square feet and costing $3.6 million. The Plan also notes that these funds can be used to support history and culture on the Waterfront in ways other than a new building, if desired.

The plan recommends exploring the establishment of a history center in the Waterfront area as recommended by the Alexandria Waterfront History Plan and notes that this center "may include a maritime museum, elements from Alexandria's existing history museums (and be a starting point for further exploration of Alexandria's history) and a museum shop. The History Center could also include a relocated or expanded Archaeology Museum, if an assessment determines that relocation is the best option for the Archaeology Museum."

The Plan also identifies historic structures as possible museums, history center, or cultural space. A plan for restoration of the historic buildings, including a plan for how the buildings will be used, must be prepared before development is approved for the Cummings/Turner block.

Museums and performing arts spaces are a permitted use for all of the redevelopment sites in the plan.

Both Oronoco Bay and Waterfront Park are recommended for changes that would make them better suited to host performances.

There are numerous specific recommendations throughout the Plan for art elements as well as for historic interpretation – both physical elements and programming.

For more information about how the Waterfront Plan addresses museums and cultural venues:

How does the Waterfront Plan address flooding?

The Plan emphasizes solving the most frequent flooding in the earliest phases of the Plan.

The City conducted a comprehensive flood mitigation study last year and selected two strategies to address the most frequent nuisance flooding in the most cost-effective way. The first strategy elevates the area that floods most frequently – the foot of King Street and its intersection with The Strand and with Union Street. This strategy would reduce the most frequent flooding by 90% (from approximately 150 times a year to approximately 10 to 15 times a year) and could be completed quickly in the earliest phases of plan implementation.

The second strategy would provide even more protection for the area from the Chart House area to Robinson Terminal South. It involves a series of low walls integrated into a park landscape so as to be almost unnoticeable but protecting against the average 10 year flood. The proposed mitigation program would protect 43 commercial structures and 23 residential structures.

These strategies were developed through a detailed flood mitigation study, prepared for the City of Alexandria by URS in 2010.

For more information about flooding and the Waterfront Plan:

How does the Plan for Alexandria's waterfront compare to National Harbor?

The plan is nothing like National Harbor.

National Harbor is a very large, brand-new mixed-use development project of a completely different character and scale from the Alexandria waterfront plan. While the Alexandria Waterfront Plan emphasizes small scale development in keeping with the scale and character of Old Town Alexandria, National Harbor is attempting to create a whole new community from scratch, centered around a large convention hotel. Some comparable statistics:

  National Harbor  Waterfront Plan 
Development acreage (acres) 300 8.4
Total development (sf) 7,000,000 806,485
Retail, dining, entertainment (sf) 1,000,000 about 50,000
Hotel rooms 4,000 about 450
Housing units 2,500 about 300
Office space (sf) 500,000 about 10,000
Longest pier (ft) 700 300 or less
Building heights 7-18 stories up to 5 stories*

* 50 foot height limit except west side of Robinson Terminal North: 66 feet

    How does the Waterfront Plan preserve historic buildings?

    The plan preserves all of the historic buildings in the waterfront area.

    Two of the goal statements in the Plan (page 20) are: "Protecting identified historic resources, archaeological resources, and cultural resources, including buildings and sites" and "Adaptively reuse identified historic buildings."

    The Plan recommends, on page 27, "Restoring all of the historic buildings on the waterfront and opening them to the public."

    The Plan identifies specific historic buildings in the Plan area, such as the 19th Century warehouses in the Cummings/Turner block (between the 200 block of South Union Street and The Strand) and contains specific guidance for their preservation, restoration, and adaptive reuse. A plan for restoration of the historic buildings, including a plan for how the buildings will be used, must be prepared before development is approved for the Cummings/Turner block.

    The Plan also calls for older structures that are not technically "historic" to be retained, and these include the Old Dominion Boat Club building and the Beachcomber.

    The Plan also improves and increases the number of historic elements and supports increased historic interpretation and programming all along the waterfront, including places such as the Tide Lock, West's Point, Point Lumley, occupation during the Civil War, early industries, and the role of African Americans in the City's development.

    For more information about how the Waterfront Plan addresses historic preservation:

    The Plan increases public space along the Waterfront…by how much?

    The plan increases the amount of Waterfront public space by about 5 acres.

    In many ways Alexandria's waterfront is a linear park – larger parks connected to each other by narrower stretches of public space next to the water. The Plan completes the Alexandria waterfront linear park by adding both new large parks as well as waterside connections between large parks that serve as public spaces in and of themselves.

    Major new public spaces include a new plaza at the foot of King Street, dubbed "Fitzgerald Square," that would be a new gateway connecting King Street to the river. It would also provide a new gathering spot along the Waterfront – with fountains, tables and chairs, perhaps a farmer's market from time to time.

    The Plan also adds a new public park in the 200 block of the Strand – across the street from Chadwick's. This park would be many times the size of the current Point Lumley Park and would focus on the theme of shipbuilding, since this area (once called Point Lumley) was for many years where shipbuilding took place.

    Overall, the Plan adds new public or open space totaling almost 5 acres – land that is now parking lot, street ends, and land now covered by buildings.

    For more information about open space in the Waterfront Plan:

    How much new development would the Plan allow?

    In terms of added development, this is a modest Plan.

    The Waterfront Plan identifies just three redevelopment sites. These sites are allowed, by current zoning, to build up to 650,000 square feet of new development. The Plan would increase that amount by about 160,000 square feet to about 810,000 square feet.

    In general, this would allow slightly more volume to some of the planned buildings. This can be accomplished within the existing height limits set by the City's height districts, which is 50 feet in Old Town. New buildings could be no taller than neighboring buildings, which in some cases, are townhouses.

    The increase in development potential as a result of the Plan is about 2% of the existing development in the Waterfront Plan area.

    For more information about the amount of development in the Waterfront Plan:

    What types of development (housing, retail, hotels) are proposed?

    The plan improves the balance of land uses on the waterfront.

    The three redevelopment sites are an opportunity to create a better balance of land uses along the Waterfront, and the Plan recommends adding some uses that are currently under-represented.

    Today, the Waterfront area is about 47% residential, 40% office and institutional, 8% restaurant and retail, 3% hotel, and 2% industrial/warehouse (GenOn energy plant not included).

    The Plan would allow a mix of uses, including residential, office, retail, restaurant and museum (all currently permitted uses) as well as hotel, which is not a currently permitted land use.

    For the new development, the Plan does not specify exact amount of each types of land use, but a likely scenario based upon Plan recommendations would be about 40-45% residential and 40-45% hotel, with the remaining 15% restaurant, retail or office.

    This scenario would increase the percentage of hotel in the Waterfront area from 3% to 6% and the percentage of retail/restaurant from 8% to 9%.

    For more information about the balance of land uses in the Waterfront Plan:

    How quickly can parking problems be addressed?

    The City is already implementing parking solutions – ahead of the Plan's adoption.

    Parking has been a front burner issue in Old Town for many years. The Plan addresses parking comprehensively, aided by the City's renewed focus on Old Town parking with detailed analysis, renewed enforcement, and investments in improved meters and signage.

    The table below reflects the existing off street parking capacity and potential capacity. For the waterfront, the most important finding of the recent Old Town Parking Study is that during periods of peak demand, there are about 700 unused parking spaces within 3-4 blocks of the intersection of King Street and Union Street. So the challenge is not that there are not enough spaces – the challenge is directing visitors (especially those planning to park for more than 2 hours) to the parking garages. Moreover, through the use of valet parking and by opening private garages to the public, there is potential for parking as many as 1,400 additional vehicles in that "core" area of the waterfront. Waterfront Parking Area Map image

      Current Conditions
      Spaces Friday Evening
    Waterfront Core Parking Area   (7-8 PM) (Self - Park) (Valet)
    The Strand Parking Lot 85 118% 0 0
    Atlman's Lot* 87 11% 77 121
    Solo Garage 25 84% 4 17
    115 S. Union Garage 68 51% 33 67
    Torpedo Plant Condo Garage 361 64% 130 310
    Thompson's Alley Garage 43 58% 18 40
    N. Union Street Garage 174 33% 117 204
    Market Square Garage 196 79% 41 139
    Tavern Square Garage 164 17% 136 218
    Altman's Garage* 62 24% 47 78
    Total: 1265 52% 604 1194

    Waterfront Plan implementation includes initiatives to fully use and to increase parking garage capacity with wayfinding, pricing and technology. Parking implementation will involve regular monitoring of parking and set "triggers" for actions – for example, when public garages approach capacity, the City would increase capacity through valets and private garages.

    The Plan also balances parking supply and demand by encouraging land uses that minimize parking demand (such as hotels) and by encouraging visitors to arrive by means other than the automobile: trolley, bike, or boat.

    Residential areas will be protected by increased enforcement (which has already begun), regular monitoring, and potentially a resident-only parking program.

    The Waterfront Plan calls for immediate and sustained attention and action on these and other parking strategies, which are outlined in the plan and linked to "triggers" such as proposals for new development.

    For more information about how parking is addressed in the Waterfront Plan and in Old Town Alexandria:

    Why does the Plan suggest hotels as a redevelopment option?

    Hotels are terrific use for the waterfront: they are low impact, welcome the public, and they help pay for the park improvements Alexandrians asked for.

    Hotels are not currently among the land uses permitted on the three redevelopment sites. The Plan recommends that hotels be a permitted land use. Excluding hotels from the mix of uses at the waterfront is no longer in the best interest of the City because hotels are actually one of the lowest impact land uses in terms of traffic and parking, need for services, and noise.

    Among the main reasons that City planners propose hotels for waterfront sites is that, unlike residential development, hotels welcome the public and are compatible with the levels of activity Alexandrians asked for. Residents asked for more waterfront dining options, for example – an amenity that is likely to be included in a hotel but much less likely to be included in residential development projects.

    If built, Waterfront hotels would not be concentrated at the foot of King; it is more likely that about 1/3 of the hotel rooms could be at the Robinson Terminal North property, about 6 blocks away from the next nearest hotel.

    The plan recommends boutique hotels and limits hotels to no more than 150 rooms in size. The plan also strictly limits meeting room sizes to further minimize potential neighborhood impacts.

    It may be helpful to compare the Plan's potential for 450 hotel rooms over 6-7 blocks at the waterfront with a similar location. There are more than 600 rooms at the "other" end of King Street in Old Town, near the King Street metro. These 600 hotel rooms are concentrated in a much smaller geography, and the neighborhood is supportive of them. They provide a high level of maintenance and security along the street. Those hotels do not contribute to the overall levels of congestion in the area, despite a complicated and constrained roadway network. Hotels generate less traffic than residential uses and need fewer parking spaces.

    Hotel rooms contribute – in net tax revenue – about 6 times what housing does, and these are revenues that would be available to pay for the new parks and other amenities in the Plan.

    A hotel market analysis was prepared especially for the Waterfront Plan, and it shows that there is more than sufficient market demand for the potential hotel rooms in the Plan.

    The Planning Commission has proposed that the Plan cap the size of new hotels to 150 rooms (and limit meeting space) to reduce potential neighborhood impacts, and has proposed that the Plan include detailed guidelines (a "hotel/restaurant policy") for reviewing hotels during the Special Use Permit process.

    For more information about hotels and the Waterfront Plan:

    The Waterfront Plan shows piers that extend further into the Potomac than existing piers. What is the process for these to be approved?

    The Plan is realistic about the regulatory approvals needed for new piers.

    The Plan calls for new piers extending into the Potomac River farther than they do now, in order to give residents the opportunity to get out over the water and to have better views of their city. The piers would also improve capacity for water taxis and charter boats. When these piers were first proposed, there was some skepticism that the District of Columbia would allow these longer piers. In the last two months, the City received an official letter from the District Columbia stating that they believe Alexandria has the right to extend the piers into the river as proposed.

    The City has also reviewed the pier and marina plans with all relevant permitting and regulatory agencies – the National Park Service, the army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, and DC and Virginia environmental agencies. The City asked these agencies if there were obvious flaws or issues that would clearly prevent approval and there were none. These agencies cannot provide official approval of the piers until after the Plan is adopted and construction drawings are submitted for review.

    For more information about permitting requirements:

    Fact Sheets, Reports, & Other Topical Information