And now, for something local…


The Old Dominion Boat Club is 130 years old.  That is its burgee.  The club resides at the foot of King Street in Alexandria, Virginia.  It has a nice if unpretentious clubhouse with a mediocre kitchen.  The members have a lot of boats floating outside.  The members are mostly small business people.  I am not a member.

The city of Alexandria is a prize much fought over by developers and citizen activists.  The city is 22% African-American but the mayor, the city manager, the city attorney and the chief of police are African American.  This percentage of population has been in decline for many years as real estate values rise steadily here and Black people sell and move away, mainly to Maryland.  Nevertheless, except for the mayor who grew up in public housing here, all of these officials are from elsewhere.  They were imported after "talent searches" conducted under the mayor's benevolent regime.  They are all firmly in favor of commercial re-development all over the city and appear to be sturdy allies of the developers.  There have been a number of public planning meetings at which they have declared themselve to be in favor of maximum re-development of the city so that it can be something like the Maryland suburbs of Washington ten miles away.  The city government is altogether Democratic Party in its orientation and is supported in office by a political coalition of Liberal people recently come from elsewhere, minorities, yellow dog Democrats and the developer/chamber of commerce crowd.

Few of the rest of us really care about the boat club but its resistance to the attempts of the city government to seize private property in pursuit of its "vision" of the city's future has made it a symbol of citizen efforts to force the city government to stop trying to take our property.

Litigation and negotiations between the boat club and the city have been ongoing for fifteen years.  The boat club recently won against the city before the Virginia Supreme Court over its property rights in a nearby alley.  Undeterred, Mayor Euille intends to press on towards a massive confrontation in the commonwealth's courts.

So be it.  I should have joined the ODBC decades ago.  pl

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12 Responses to And now, for something local…

  1. dan bradburd says:

    The geographer David Harvey has coined a wonderful term for this kind of economic activity: accumulation by dispossession. It is, alas, very common.

  2. JohnH says:

    The courts eventually shot down New London, CT’s plan to confiscate private land and turn it over to private developers. It’s hard to make the case that development of another mall is a public purpose.
    Of course,if the city wants the land for its own uses, then it’s an entirely different case.

  3. turcopolier says:

    You miss the point. This is part of a pattern of city/developer efforts to screw owners out of their property. the FBI should be looking at this potential conspiracy. pl

  4. The Twisted Genius says:

    In every case I can recall, the use of eminent domain is abusive and overbearing. I’m sure there are cases that it could work in the PUBLIC interest, but unless it’s used in cases of abandoned tire piles or long derelict tenements, it still tramples on somebody’s property rights.
    In this case, I’d definitely stand by the ODBC. They have been more than reasonable in addressing the city’s demands. They’ll allow public access through the area, work with the city on flood abatement and do something about that ratty looking chain link fence. They shouldn’t have to anything beyond that.
    IMHO, the last thing the area needs is more tourists. I worked in that area for several years and loved it. I saw the public housing being replaced by upscale town homes. I remember the Army surplus/gun shop near the ODBC. I got my SKS there. I bet that’s gone. If the city wants to develop an area, it should look at the the old coal fired power plant. Isn’t that shut down?

  5. steve says:

    “The city wants to acquire the parking lot under eminent domain — acquiring private property and flipping it for public use. The proposed plans allow the public more access to the desired views of the Potomac River.”
    This isn’t the sort of public use that, at least in my gut, would rise to the level of eminent domain. I can also see here the camel’s nose in the tent-how long after the acquisition before would we see–surprise–a restaurant or a bar on the site to cater to the “public’s view”?
    A little ironic that one would then need the price of a meal or a drink to partake of the public view.
    When I lived in New Orleans, I saw this sort of scam all the time–eminent domain and crooked land deals which only degraded the real city in favor of a tourist’s sanitized and mindless idea of the city.

  6. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    In the part of Puget Sound where I live, land use is regarded as a blood sport.
    In my experience, local electeds and municipal employees tend to view project developers (including Wal-Mart, subdivision developers, and strip mall builders) as ‘job creators’. As a result, the local officials generally defer to developer requests.
    To make matters even more appalling, since we now live in a society that tends to be driven by ‘business school logic’, the municipal employees have been told that the developers are their ‘customers’. The very concept of citizenship evaporates in the face of the pressures that public employees are under to provide ‘excellent customer service’ to the ‘stakeholers’ (i.e., development community).
    This is only one of the bad effects that too many MBAs and Business School programs have had on American life. Meanwhile, our Schools of Public Policy have been the poor stepchildren of universities. The upshot is that developer interests are privileged, while public infrastructure, public spaces, and sense of community are denigrated.
    The political players tend to delude themselves that the developers will increase the local tax base; this can happen, but in my observation only the smartest, most capable developers actually succeed. Instead, I’ve seen too many developers function somewhat like chop shops: grab-and-strip short term profits, then move on. And the bankers are generally their silent partners. (In my experience, bankers like to stay in the background.)
    From what I’ve seen, most local governments do a deplorable job of costing out the real, long term costs of new development on public infrastructure. Unfortunately, electeds are often in over their heads, and easily bamboozeled. (And developers are often large campaign contributors.) The upshot: building permits are approved, with no long-term funding in place to support the infrastructure for what is built.
    In addition, from what I’ve observed, local officials have very little sense of local history, which leaves them vulnerable to the inducements of developer promises about how an area will be ‘improved’. If you don’t value your local history, then land just becomes one more commodity.
    With respect to political parties, from my own experience, both parties are deplorable failures in assessing the long term financial implications of their land use decisions.
    A good planning staff should be able to provide a good assessment of long term costs of development to the local government (in terms of new infrastructure requirements and services over time). Unfortunately, even the best work done by excellent staff is often ignored – or overruled – by the electeds (and appointees).
    Best of luck to you, Col.
    I assume that you are up against a formidable opponent(s).
    On more than one occasion when I heard a developer whining about land prices, and/or ‘onerous regulations’, I tartly offered the suggestion that their development costs would be quite low in Afghanistan, Somalia, or any other place with no legal methods of recording property, nor a legal system to defend it. They dismissed me as a NIMBY. But it only reinforces how stupid they are in biting the hand that feeds them: without property recording (as an assessor’s office performs), and a system of laws and courts, you don’t have property. You don’t have ‘rights’. Yet they wail about the very things that create and protect the property they claim as wealth. Very short-sighted, to say the least.
    Conveying a sense of history, knowing your local city codes and ordinances, and keeping track of local campaign contributions are all necessary for any land use conflict. Best of luck to you.

  7. confusedponderer says:

    In the development project you describe I can’t see the public purpose. The way it reads, it’s just a conspiracy to screw some folks and benefit the politically well connected developers, who leverage their political influence into projects at other people’s expense.
    Where I live we don’t have that per se.
    That said, what we have is little better though, and that is dispossession (against compensation) for open cast coal mining, and resettlement of entire villages. The developer there is half state owned, but then, it provides electrical power for large swaths of the state. A public purpose can be read in that, even though, I am appalled at our stoking away our Heimat.
    If I lived in the Appalachians I probably would be in open revolt against mountain top removal and the destruction of what would then be my country.
    IMO conservation is a conservative reflex.
    I wonder, if they discovered Gold, Koltan or Helium 3 under the Gettysburg battlefield or Monticello, would they dig up the place to develop it?

  8. turcopolier says:

    Yes, that store is long gone, pushed out of business by the same crew in city hall. There used to be several gun stores in Old Town. There are none there nor in any other part of Alexandria. pl

  9. Cold War Zoomie says:

    “There have been a number of public planning meetings at which they have declared themselves to be in favor of maximum re-development of the city so that it can be something like the Maryland suburbs of Washington ten miles away.”
    Uh oh!
    The Montgomery County Council never met a developer they didn’t love, and Rockville Pike has turned into a hellish nightmare from north of Georgetown Prep all the way to Clarksburg. Bethesda is horrible too, and downtown Silver Spring is getting worse.
    You better start fighting harder!

  10. Cold War Zoomie says:

    Col Lang,
    Downtown Silver Spring still has a gun store and a tattoo parlor, so we’re still hanging in there!

  11. turcopolier says:

    The ODBC has a five year waiting list for membership. The public meeting was overwhelmingly against the city council, but I think they will proceed with ED anyway. SWMBO disagrees and she is the local civic leader, not I. I anticipate a long drawn out legal battle against ED which will end in the Virginia Supreme Court. pl

  12. Fred says:

    There is a middle school in downtown Naples,Fl. The property developers have tried for decades to get it sold to them for ‘redevelopment’. So far they’ve failed. I lost count of how many school board members lost reelection efforts for floating that idea. Good luck with your fight.

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