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Week in Alexandria

Can the Circle Be Broken?

What happens to members of city boards and commissions who get sued by the city government? It’s an awkward question, one that Alexandria now faces in the Alexandria Circuit Court.

“We don’t envy suing any of our appointed boards or commissions,” said Mayor Bill Euille. “In my tenure of 18 years on the City Council, I believe this is the first time we have ever done such.”

Last week, city officials filed an appeal to a decision issued last month by the Board of Zoning Appeals. That decision, rendered in a late-night meeting, overturned Planning Director Faroll Hamer’s determination that property owners in Old Town were not able to file a protest petition requiring a supermajority vote to pass the controversial waterfront plan.

“This appeal is absurd,” said Bert Ely, a member of the waterfront work group. “The city will have to pay additional thousands of dollars in fees to provide legal counsel to the BZA since it is among the main respondents in the city’s appeal.”

Not so, says City Attorney James Banks.

“The BZA does not need to have counsel,” said Banks, adding that Fairfax County took a similar position in a recent case. “It is the city’s position at this point that we will not incur the expense of providing them such outside counsel.”

Ely and others have also suggested that suing the BZA is unnecessary because the city can always change the part of the code in question. That way, the decision does not set a precedent and the city could avoid taking its own board to court. Again, Banks disagrees, saying the suit is necessary to set the record straight.

“The city is just simply in a position where we’ve got to clarify that as an underlying matter,” he said. “Otherwise, we’ll be in an endless cycle of litigation.”

Dubious Distinction

We’re Number One! Too bad it’s not for something better.

This week an environmental advocacy organization known as American Rivers issued a report on the state of the nation’s rivers. The Potomac River earned the dubious distinction of being the most endangered river in the country as a result of threats from pollution and development.

“When a member of Congress makes his or her cup of coffee in the morning, they are drinking Potomac River water,” said American Rivers president Bob Irvin. “So we all should be concerned about the quality of that water.”

The report notes that the Potomac is cleaner than it used to be, although it’s still threatened by urban and agricultural pollution. That’s a problem that could get worse, the report notes, if Congress rolls back clean water safeguards. Specifically, group is urging member of Congress against passing legislation that prevents the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Corps of Engineers from restoring protections for small streams and wetlands.

“We actually have situations now where many of the male fish found in the Potomac River carry eggs,” said Irvin. “That’s not the way nature intended it.”

Biking to Work

Get out your bike helmet. Dust off your handlebars. Friday May 18 is Bike to Work Day.

This year marks the 15th year that Alexandria has been part of National Bike to Work Day, when thousands of area commuters will ride their bikes to work on this day to promote the use of bicycles as an environmentally friendly way to commute. This year, the city will have three “pit stops” that will be part of the 40 regional spots — Market Square from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.; Carlyle Square Park from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.; and the Mark Center Transit Center from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.

The pit stops will include free food, gear and prizes from local businesses and sponsors. Alexandria’s locations usually draw some of the largest crowds, and about 800 participants are expected this year.