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Compromise Or Fight? Alexandria Boat Club Takes Vote

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Alexandria has threatened to seize these parking spots with eminent domain for flood mitigation.
Michael Pope/WAMU
Alexandria has threatened to seize these parking spots with eminent domain for flood mitigation.

Members of the Old Dominion Boat Club in Alexandria, Va., are on the verge of fighting the city government over eminent domain.

Today is the final day of voting for members of the boat club, which has been at the center of a bitter debate with city officials about a parking lot at the foot of King Street. City officials want to transform the parking lot into a public plaza, but members use the parking lot to get their boats into the river. Now members are casting a ballot for one of three options negotiated with the city.

"The specter of eminent domain was hanging over the negotiations," says Richard Banchoff, president of the Boat Club. "We didn't want to be in a position where the negotiations broke down, and then the city would feel entitled to go to eminent domain without our members having any alternatives."

One alternative would be for the city to take the Boat Club's parking lot and boat launch. In return, the city would give the club parking in an Old Town garage and $2.5 million. Another option would be for the Boat Club to move to a building at the foot of Prince Street, an offer that includes a waterfront parking lot and boat launch. That offer comes with $5 million.

"I just think it's wrong for government to come in and step in and this council has basically become the eminent domain council," says Townsend Van Fleet.

Fleet says he's supporting a third option — call the city's bluff and fight eminent domain in court.

Former Waterfront Commission member Christine Bernstein says she disagrees with how the Boat Club has structured the ballot because members who want to cut a deal will be divided between the two compromise options.

"It appears more like a ballot that was structured for the Crimea election rather than Alexandria, Va., in the United States of America," Bernstein says.

If Boat Club members vote for fighting the city in court, members of the City Council will have to vote on eminent domain — a part of their record that will likely be brought up in future elections.

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