Alexandria city officials announced Friday the introduction of a new zoning text amendment that if passed will allow the city to overcome existing litigation and begin implementation of the controversial waterfront small area plan that would spur development along the Potomac River.
In an executive session of City Council earlier in the week, Mayor Bill Euille said councilmembers "provided guidance" to City Manager Rashad Young indicating that he should request the Planning Commission initiate and consider the new text amendment to implement zoning of the plan.
“This action provides us with an opportunity to get beyond the litigation,” Young said Friday. “We are agreeing to meet the supermajority standards the plan opponents are asking for even though we don’t feel it’s required. This is a positive step in moving the plan forward.”
The Planning Commission will consider the text amendment on March 5 and council will consider it at a public hearing scheduled for March 16.
“In short, city council wishes to take this action to affirm our approval of and commitment to the implementation of this plan,” Euille said. “… It’s really not about the litigation but it’s about doing what’s right and what will benefit the people of the city.”
The plan is currently held up by two court cases. The Virginia Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a suit filed by three women who live near the city’s riverside — April Burke, Beth Gibney and Marie Kux — to invalidate City Council’s 5-2 adoption of the waterfront plan and its accompanying zoning change that would allow development such as hotels.
The three women say council must adopt a zoning change by a supermajority or 6-1 vote because a required number of property owners who live within 300 feet of the waterfront areas being rezoned signed petitions protesting the change.
In the second case, the Circuit Court is scheduled to hear the city's appeal of an Alexandria Board of Zoning Appeals decision that overturned a ruling by Alexandria’s planning director who determined the petition was invalid.
The Supreme Court will not hear the supermajority case until the Circuit Court hears the BZA case in early April.
Bert Ely, an opponent of the city’s plan who has been involved in the waterfront lawsuit, said he would have to see the language of the new text amendment before coming to a determination about any further action.
“We don’t know what they’re proposing,” he said.
City Attorney Jim Banks said he believed the new text amendment would not open the city up to any new legal actions, but that he understands that “one of the hallmarks of the American judicial system is creativity.”
Euille said council has not made a vote count on the issue. A new council was installed last month, almost one year after the waterfront plan was adopted by a 5-2 vote in January 2012. Former members Frank Fannon and Alicia Hughes, who were not re-elected, opposed the plan.
Three councilmembers who supported the plan in 2012 were re-elected in November—Del Pepper, Paul Smedberg and Euille.
During one of the debates leading up to the November election, newly elected Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg—a first-time member of council—said she did not believe the plan was “visionary enough.”
New councilmembers John Chapman, Tim Lovain and Justin Wilson all expressed some support for the plan in the lead up to the election.