Alexandria City Council voted to oppose an amendment to the state’s eminent domain law last week following a discussion of its list of 2012 legislative package proposals with Dels. David Englin (D-45th) and Charniele Herring (D-46th).
The eminent domain amendment was voted on separately from the rest of the package, passing 5-2 with Councilmembers Frank Fannon and Alicia Hughes favoring the change.
Legislation was passed earlier this year to add an amendment to Virginia’s Constitution that will alter the eminent domain law. The legislation must be reenacted during the upcoming session of the General Assembly for it to appear on the ballot during next November’s election.
Council Democrats expressed worry that the amendment was poorly written and too broad, with two provisions marked as particularly troublesome.
The first provision says a locality will have to pay property owners for lost access and lost profits caused by government action, whether or not any land is acquired from owners.
“A business could allege a parade like the Scottish Walk could impact their business and sue the city alleging loss of revenue,” Mayor Bill Euille said.
Councilman Rob Krupicka called it “the anti-parade, anti-outdoor dining amendment.”
The second provision prohibits the use of eminent domain for economic development reasons such as increasing jobs or tax revenue.
Fannon argued that property rights are fundamental in Virginia and that, in this instance, the majority of the council is voting against the rights of property owners.
“It’s going to pass, big time,” Fannon said during the work session, pointing to the fact that 85 percent of the General Assembly voted for the amendment in 2011.
Bernard Caton, the city’s legislative director, said the upcoming vote might yield different results because the 2011 vote came during an election year.
City Attorney Jim Banks said the amendment is a departure from federal law and that the “broad provision” was meeting some opposition from other organizations.
The Virginia Municipal League voted to oppose the amendment earlier this year. Recently, the Virginia Farm Bureau said it backs the change.
“I think this is a freight train steaming ahead,” Krupicka said. “In its current form, we are opposed. … But I think we need to offer a meaningful alternative rather than just oppose it.”
Euille said he was worried about the “unintended consequences of a poorly written amendment.” He said he was pretty sure eminent domain had never been used in his 18 years on City Council. The state generally uses eminent domain more frequently than local governing bodies.
Englin opposed the change during the General Assembly’s last session, but said in October that he may become a yes vote when the amendment comes up again after the city threatened to use eminent domain to seize a parking lot belonging to the Old Dominion Boat Club.
Alexandria’s entire Richmond delegation was invited to discuss the package, but Sens. Dick Saslaw (D-35th) and Adam Ebbin (D-30th) missed the discussion because of family commitments. Sen. George Barker (D-39th) missed the meeting because he was stuck in traffic.
The rest of the legislative proposal package passed 6-0, with Hughes abstaining.
Council supported for introduction legislation that would grant local control for school start dates.
Currently, state law prohibits school districts from starting before Labor Day, though exceptions are given for areas that are prone to bad winter weather. Many school systems in Northern Virginia believe student performance would improve with an earlier start date and Alexandria’s public school system unsuccessfully pushed for such a change.
Englin said he was hearing “that there might be some appetite for this” across party lines.
Council also supported the introduction of a measure where the General Assembly or the governor’s office, in partnership with local governments, would formally study the needs of veterans and their families in the state. The outcome of the study would help plan a provision of support for veterans.
“I’ve talked to veteran members of our community, Van Van Fleet and others,” Euille said. “There’s really no commitment in Virginia to veterans. There are a lot of nonprofits, but from the state there is very little.”
Vice Mayor Kerry Donley said there was a similar strain on state and local services with the influx of veterans following the Vietnam War.
“It’s a good idea to get out in front,” he said.
The group also discussed alternatives to find transportation funding. Krupicka discussed the creation of a mass transit district to finance projects, something he brought up during his state senate campaign.
Federal resources for transportation projects in Northern Virginia are expected to be minimal, leaving local authorities to find ways to raise money on their own.
“We’re going to have to find a way to break the logjam on transportation funding,” Krupicka said. “We’re going to have to find ways to do transportation funding outside our comfort zone.”