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Week in Alexandria

Charming Campaign

Everybody knows that Baltimore is Charm City. But what is Alexandria?

For years, the city was known as “Fun Side of the Potomac,” a marketing campaign that bit the dust in 2007. The city’s newest pitch describes the city as “Charm-ville,” a distinction that’s already been splashed across the pages of high-end magazines such as Town & Country and Food & Wine. The Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association is currently seeking an additional $100,000 to launch a new Charm-ville destination advertising campaign to encourage overnight stays.

Charming? Some say it’s vile.

“The name ‘Charm-ville’ sounds like a fairy tale, comic book or reality TV show team,” wrote Christine Bernstein in a letter to city officials. “It certainly does not reflect the rich history of our city and will not entice visitors to visit.”

Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association president Stephanie Brown disagrees. She says the campaign has already attracted attention to Alexandria, and she’s hoping to extend its reach even more. Last week, she presented statistics to City Council members showing a recent spike in the industry. In the last four years, for example, Alexandria’s tourism industry grew 16.8 percent, drastically outpacing growth in Prince William, Fairfax or Arlington.

Even though Baltimore has been known as Charm City since the 1970s, Brown says, there’s still room for the Charm-ville campaign.

“This will extend our reach even more,” said Brown.

Shifting Battle Lines

For those keeping score, mark one battle victory for City Hall in the war for Alexandria’s waterfront.

Late last week, Circuit Court Judge Jim Clark denied a writ of mandamus to force city officials to reconsider their January vote for the controversial plan to increase density and allow hotels. At issue was the city’s refusal to accept an appeal to Planning Director Faroll Hamer’s rejection of a protest petition of property owners on the waterfront. That could have required a supermajority of six members to pass the plan. Because only five members voted for the proposal, the stakes were high.

“We tried to go through normal channels,” said Beth Gibney, one of the three Old Town women who filed the lawsuit. “But nobody listened to us and so we had to take action.”

The trio hired attorney Roy Shannon to represent them during the January public hearing on the waterfront. During the hearing, Shannon presented his clients’ objection to the waterfront then plunked a stack of papers on a table where Hamer was sitting. City officials said they could not accept the appeal because City Hall is not open for business during a public hearing. The dispute ended up in court.

“In order for the court to grant the relief requested by the plaintiffs, it would first have to require the director to accept the plaintiffs appeal as properly filed,” Clark wrote in a two-page ruling. “The court is without authority, on a writ of mandamus, to require the director to accept the plaintiffs’ appeal as properly filed.”

Although that battle may be over, the Board of Zoning Appeals is considering at least two challenges to the waterfront plan. Either of those could end up in Circuit Court. So there’s no end in sight yet to the war over Alexandria’s waterfront.

Blarney at City Hall

Newsflash: Saturday was St. Patrick’s Day. That’s a day when everyone is Irish, of course. And everybody wears green.

Almost everybody.

During a discussion of code enforcement, Vice Mayor Kerry Donley stopped suddenly to ask City Manager Rashad Young a pointed question.

“Why didn’t you wear any green today?” the vice mayor inquired.

“It’s my grandmother’s birthday today,” he said. “I have no awareness that today is St. Patrick’s Day.”

“We need to have a discussion,” Donley shot back.