December 3, 2014
More than a year after dismissing the last major challenge to the city’s controversial waterfront plan, the Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in a new appeal from three Alexandria residents better known as “The Iron Ladies.”
Last year, the high court ruled that April Burke, Elizabeth Gibney and Marie Kux’s appeal of city council’s 5-2 approval of the development roadmap — despite residents filing a valid protest petition — was moot, because council had already revisited the issue and approved it with a supermajority vote of 6 to 1.
That second vote was the genesis of this latest case, said Roy Shannon, an attorney representing the three residents. In the days leading up to city council’s vote in March 2013, the residents filed an appeal to then-Planning Director Faroll Hamer in an attempt to delay the vote.
Hamer rejected the effort, so the residents appealed her decision, which Hamer also rejected. But Shannon said the second appeal should have automatically triggered a hearing before the Board of Zoning Appeals.
“When you file an appeal of a planning director’s decision, the charter says you file it with her and with the [Board of Zoning Appeals],” Shannon said. “This is about that appeal and whether the planning director is able to reject appeals of her own decisions.”
Hamer retired from her position over the summer.
Since last year’s court ruling, the city has moved ahead with projects along the waterfront. City council gave final approval to Carr City Centers’ planned 120-room boutique hotel in May, and local developers EYA have had several informal work sessions with the board of architectural review to go over plans for a mix of residential and commercial buildings at the site of Robinson Terminal South.
But foes of the controversial plan said throws these projects back into limbo.
“The granting of this appeal continues to maintain a cloud over the rezoning of the Alexandria waterfront and therefore over proposed projects on the waterfront, including a hotel at Duke and South Union streets and redevelopment of the south and north Robinson Terminal properties,” said Bert Ely, co-chairman of Friends of the Alexandria Waterfront in a statement.
But City Attorney Jim Banks said its business as usual for planning the various developments along the Potomac River.
“This is just the latest in the entire series of litigation out of the waterfront plan,” Banks said. “We’re going to continue to handle it as we have handled the previous ones.
“The previous case ultimately was ruled in our favor, so this doesn’t change anything the city is doing or can do right now. There hasn’t been any order telling us to do anything or not do anything else at this point.”
The court refused to hear arguments on claims that the city’s actions constituted a “deliberate” attempt to deny the residents their right to appeal the planning director’s ruling.
But Shannon remains hopeful, even if the Supreme Court simply says council has to vote on the plan one last time.
“At the end of the day, we don’t know if what the developers are doing right now poses an issue, if it turns out the rezoning is not technically done,” he said. “There are going to be elections this year. Maybe a different city council will vote a different way.”