The city has filed suit in Alexandria Circuit Court to express it disagrees with the decision of its Board of Zoning Appeals for overturning a ruling by Alexandria’s planning director who determined a citizens’ petition was invalid.
The BZA in April ruled in favor of citizens who had asked it to reconsider a ruling by Planning and Zoning Director Faroll Hamer. She ruled as invalid their petition requesting the city not rezone some waterfront land near their homes, allowing more and different development like hotels.
Mayor Bill Euille said the city would appeal the BZA’s decision because “it could have implications on future land use decisions throughout the city.” He commented during Saturday’s general City Council public hearing that in his 18 years on council, this is the first time he has seen the city appeal a decision of its own board or commission, although it has happened in the past.
"The action to appeal is above and beyond anything dealing with the waterfront,” Euille said Saturday. “It is about the ability of the City Council to make decision on future development projects throughout this city."
The BZA “ignored some very basic principles of underlying law,” City Attorney Jim Banks said during council’s Saturday hearing. “The city is, unfortunately in my opinion, put in a difficult position of having to appeal this decision in order to clarify those underpinning principles of law… otherwise we end up in this endless cycle of litigation.”
Banks also said that the BZA does not need to have legal counsel to defend itself because the appeals board “is party to this action for the sole purpose of providing the record. It is in effect not a true legal party to the proceedings. … It is the city’s decision at this point that we will not incur the expense of providing them such outside counsel.”
Banks reiterated to Patch that “the city is not suing itself” or “suing the BZA,” rather it is appealing the decision that the BZA, which acts similarly to a court, made in the case of the plaintiffs versus the city.
The BZA is named as a party in the suit in the title of the case “for technical reasons only,” Banks said, adding it’s “solely and only to transmit the record” to the higher court.
Bert Ely, a leader of Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan, told members of City Council at the Saturday hearing that the appeal “is absurd. You, the council, appointed seven citizens to serve on a board created by the city’s charter to hear zoning appeals as provided for by a zoning ordinance that you the council adopted.”
Mayoral candidate Andrew Macdonald, who co-founded CAAWP, said: "How much taxpayer money has been spent so far to fight… citizens and how much additional money will be needed to fight the BZA’s decision and citizens on what is a valid protest petition?"
He demanded a "true accounting" of the cost of "wasteful litigation."