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Votes

Charter Bill In Peril

Council acts on visitors' center sites.

The weather wasn’t perfect but the Alexandria City Council held its second legislative session of January on Tuesday night just the same.

Members received a legislative update from Richmond, approved recommendations on a visitors’ center, discussed improvements to the Special Use Permit process and learned about the purchase of a piece of property in the Eisenhower Valley.

The 2004 session of the Virginia General Assembly is well underway and Legislative Director Bernard Caton, reported to Council about the status of the city’s legislative package.

“We need to make some changes to the city’s charter bill or I am afraid we are going to lose the entire thing,” Caton said. “The piece that would have given our human rights commission more enforcement powers has already been deleted. There was just no way that was going anywhere."

The city proposed several changes to the charter, which would allow it to charge developers a contribution to the affordable housing trust fund in return for increased density, and allow the city to provide housing subsidies for city employees, particularly police officers and teachers so that they can live and work in Alexandria. These require action by the state legislature because of the Dillon Rule, which states that no power that is not specifically delegated to localities is prohibited.

Caton told Council the big issue before them was the cost of living allowances for Council members. "We were asking for the authority to give Council members COLAs every year at the same time that city staff get them. Arlington County is the only other jurisdiction that has this authority and we are getting some pretty strenuous objections about this. It is my recommendation that we delete this item from the charter bill or risk having the entire bill defeated.”

Members of Council agreed with Caton's assessment.

“We want to do what we can to ensure passage of the remaining pieces of this bill,” said Mayor William D. Euille.

Caton also discussed legislation which would rescind the city’s living wage ordinance. “There are two separate bills,” he said. “Both of them would nullify our ordinance, which has been on the books since 2000.”

The living wage ordinance requires certain contractors who do business with the city to pay their employees $9.19 per hour. Contractors have generally been supportive of this ordinance.

Councilman Ludwig Gaines offered a resolution in support of the living wage ordinance. “I was very pleased to represent the city at a press conference in Richmond a couple of weeks ago in support of living wage ordinances,” Gaines said. “Now, it is time for us to make our position in support of our own ordinance very clear to the governor and to the members of the General Assembly.”

That resolution passed.

“We just need to make it clear that we support our ordinance very strongly,” said Vice Mayor Redella S. “Del” Pepper.

GAINES ALSO OFFERED another resolution in support of Juvenile and Domestic Relations Judge Nolan Dawkins to be appointed to the Circuit Court vacancy.

“We believe in an impartial, diverse judiciary,” Gaines said. “And we need to make that clear to everyone in Richmond. Nolan Dawkins is a highly qualified judge who has the support of the local Bar Association and of our local legislative delegation. He should be appointed.”

Council agreed with Gaines and approved that resolution as well. “These resolutions will be drafted and sent to the governor and the leadership of both the House and the Senate,” Euille said.

Delegate Marian Van Landingham introduced legislation that would provide stricter guidelines for the Mirant power plant that is located in Alexandria. “We basically have another year to work with Mirant to resolve any outstanding issues and then this legislation would come back,” Caton said.

Caton provides weekly updates to Council through the legislative committee. These meetings are held on Friday afternoon at 5 p.m. and are open to the public. The meetings are held in the City Council work room next to Council chambers at City Hall.

PROPERTY PURCHASED

The city has purchased property at 2900 Business Center Drive. Vice Mayor Del Pepper explained the purchase, saying, “We have been discussing this matter in executive session, which is appropriate because we don’t want to tip our hand as to how much we want to spend on property, but there are some misconceptions and rumors out there as to how we are going to use this property, so I want the city manager to talk about its uses, both now and in the future,” Pepper said.

City Manager Philip Sunderland told Council, “This property will give us 43 acres of land in this part of the city that we can use for parking and maintenance facilities,” he said. “We already have recreation and Transportation and Environmental Services facilities here and this would allow us to have even more space for these activities.”

The city had planned to renovate the T & E S facility at a cost of $2.4 million, simply to bring it up to code. “We can move that activity into this new facility without expending those resources,” Sunderland said.

“I want to make it clear that this property is not being purchased to obtain a right-of-way for a future connector,” Pepper said.

Sunderland assured everyone that this was not the case.

“Also, while it may not be a total wash, there will be very little cost to the city for this property when you consider that we will be receiving some rent for occupied space in the facility, won’t be paying rental for our job link facility, which is already located there and won’t have to spend the $2.4 million to renovate the T & E S facility,” Sunderland said.

RECOMMENDATION APPROVED

Council approved the city manager’s recommendations regarding a new visitors’ center for the city. Council agreed to remove the Market Square and the expanded Ramsay House visitors’ center options from further consideration; maximize the benefit of Ramsay House for visitors by improving its interior programming of space; pursue initiatives regarding improved signage, marketing, kiosks, parking, tour bus management and a new King Street Metrorail station visitor information area; and not pursue the leasing of a retail site in the Market Square area at this time.

“Also, I would like to ask that the staff further study the property at 132 North Royal Street as a possible visitors’ center site,” Pepper said.

Councilman Andrew Macdonald asked that citizens be involved. “It is important to get citizen input into this process,” he said. “I would like to see us appoint a working group of some kind to assist us.”

Sunderland demurred. “It’s fine to have a group, but I want to move on with the tour bus improvements and the signs,” he said. “I don’t want to have to study this for another year. It’s time to move on,” he said.

Council will meet again next week for the first legislative session of February.