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High Court to Hear Waterfront Plan Appeal

Virginia's Supreme Court agrees to hear appeal to a Circuit Court decision on the city's waterfront plan and related zoning issue.

The Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal to an Alexandria Circuit Court decision on the city’s waterfront redevelopment plans.

Three women who live near the city’s riverside — April Burke, Beth Gibney and Marie Kux — had sought to invalidate City Council’s 5-2 adoption of its waterfront small area plan and its accompanying zoning change that would allow development such as hotels.

They 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.

Old Town waterfront property owners attempted to file such documentation, but it initially was deemed not properly filed. Ultimately, it was rejected by the city's director of Planning and Zoning for not meeting certain criteria in the city charter.

The Circuit Court decided in March that “in order for the court to grant relief requested by the plaintiffs, it would first have to required the Director to accept the plaintiffs appeal as properly filed. ...The writ does not grant the authority to require an official to undo an act that is already done.”

Roy Shannon, the plaintiff’s attorney, told Patch at the time that he believes “the court may have erred there,” which is why the plaintiffs asked the high court to consider their case.

Shannon told Patch this week: “We want the court to rule that the director should have accepted the appeal that was filed on that Saturday.” That was Jan. 21, the day of the council hearing on the waterfront plan and its subsequent, successful vote.

Alexandria City Attorney James Banks told Patch on Wednesday that the waterfront plan itself is not in jeopardy.

"The allegation that the waterfront plan itself is in some sort of legal jeopardy is factually and legally incorrect," he said. "The only thing appealed or challenged is the text amendment. That is what is at issue."

Shannon maintains that because City Council voted Jan. 21 on both the plan and its related zoning change in one 5-2 vote, if the high court rules in their favor, the council vote would be void because the plan and zoning changes did not pass by a supermajority.

"The Supreme Court's acceptance of the Iron Ladies' appeal is a tremendous victory for [Friends of the Alexandria Waterfront] and its supporters as it keeps alive the very real possibility that the entire waterfront plan, and not just the W-1 zoning change, will be invalidated," said a statement from members of FAW, who are funding the Iron Ladies. "The Supreme Court would not have accepted the Iron Ladies' appeal unless at least some of the justices believe that a reversible error may have occurred in the Circuit Court's ruling on the Iron Ladies' lawsuit."

The three women, whom supporters call the Iron Ladies, are asking the high court to reverse the Circuit Court’s decision, which their lawyer cites as erroneous on five counts. (Attached to this story is a PDF file of a document put together by the plaintiffs outlining its five major issues that the state Supreme Court could address.)

The Supreme Court has not set a date for hearing oral arguments on this appeal, but it is likely to be in the spring. That's around the same time the Circuit Court will hear Alexandria's appeal to its Board of Zoning Appeals decision in a related, but separate case.

JD Valk November 01, 2012 at 05:33 PM
So if the city decided to do a deal with a developer to put a hotel along Mount Vernon Avenue near Monroe in the interest of economic diversification, the neighbors shouldn't be able to point to neighborhood considerations and historic concerns but should instead accept whatever is hoisted on them? Gotcha.
BTurner November 01, 2012 at 11:05 PM
Great! After this let's sue to invalidate the Giants World Series win by retroactively requiring them to win not 4 but 6 games! They will have to play them next year, the Giants will be weaker, and the Tigers will emerge a year later as this year's World Series Champs!
Haunches November 02, 2012 at 10:42 AM
The Virginia Supreme Court only takes appeals if it has something it wants to say. The Circuit Court ruling is in serious jeopardy. The city tried to game the system last January to get the plan and text amendment through that day despite legal requirements (which was what the BZA found) and may be held accountable for it.
OT insider November 08, 2012 at 01:55 AM
Since the new council will now have a supermajority who have stated support for this, shouldn't the city not contest the appeal, and once the new council is seated just re-vote the plan that was passed before? Seems like this would save time and taxpayer money spent on legal fees.
paul November 08, 2012 at 07:18 PM
Sounds like a plan OT. It will be interesting to see how all this will unfold now that we have the new council.

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