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Letter: City’s Futile Legal Battle

To the Editor:

You have to wonder what the City Council majority was thinking April 14 when it decided to appeal the Board of Zoning Appeal’s decision to uphold the citizens’ protest against the proposal to rezone the waterfront area to permit hotels, increased density and higher buildings. In justifying this action, Mayor Bill Euille stated that the BZA’s decision to support the citizens not the city would “set a bad precedent.” The Mayor is flat wrong. The BZA April 12 ruling sets no precedent.

The ruling concerned only Planning Director Faroll Hamer’s rejection of the protest petition. By a 4-2 vote, the BZA overturned her action. Concluding that the language of relevant Ordinance was unclear, the BZA also recommended that the City Council appoint a study group to consider revised language to remove the ambiguities. The Council ignored this sensible recommendation, instead deciding to plunge ahead to appeal the BZA’s action.

The chances of the decision being overturned by the Virginia courts are poor, especially since the BZA overruled Ms. Hamer on not just one but two counts. By his action, the Mayor has, in effect, told the 200-plus property owners who signed the protest (the so-called abutters whose property is within 300 feet of the area being rezoned) “to get lost.” The protesters needed signatures of the owners of 20 percent of the adjacent property; they ended up with about twice the required amount. Along with residential owners, the Catholic War Veterans, USA; the Plumbers and Pipefitters National Pension Fund; the American Physical Therapy Properties, and the 110 South Union Street, LLC joined the protest.

Presumably on the advice of City Attorney Jim Banks, the Council has once more hired expensive outside lawyers, McGuire, Woods, LLC, where Banks used to be a partner (conflict of interest?). The city will, in addition, have to pay the legal bills for the defendant in this case, the Board of Zoning Appeals.

During the open microphone portion of the April 14 Council session, Mark Mueller, one of the vice presidents of CAAWP, which has opposed the Waterfront Plan, suggested that the city avoid further litigation and instead work with Plan opponents to seek a mutually satisfactory solution. The City stiffed this suggestion. Rather than trying for a compromise, Mayor Euille and his supporters have opted to spend a lot of taxpayer money in a costly and probably futile legal fight against citizens and the BZA.

It sounds as if it is time for a change in City Hall.

Dennis Kux

Alexandria