Council Notebook

Council Notebook

Eminent Virtue

Private Virtue is a public good.

That’s the result of a decision this week at the Alexandria Circuit Court, which is giving the green light to city officials who want to lease part of a public alley to a private restaurant known as Virtue. The case went all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court before it was remanded back to the Circuit Court, where the Boat Club argued that they had a right to use the alley to transport their boats.

“Once a piece of land was treated as a public way, it was dedicated to the public, it became a public way by operation of the city charter,” said City Attorney James Banks. “That’s a very clear principal of law, and that was really the turning point for the entire case.”

The history of the alley dates back to the earliest days of the city, when former Mayor John Fitzgerald and businessman Valentine Peers had joint ownership of land that’s now known as Wales Alley. Back then it was called Fitzgerald Alley, until Andrew Wales started selling beer in the alley in 1786. Three years later, Fitzgerald and Peers decided to dissolve their joint ownership, creating a deed that allowed “free use and passage.” Boat Club President Miles Holtzman says the Boat Club’s right to use the alley dates to that deed.

“Usually with eminent domain, it’s property being taken from a private entity for public good. In this case, it was given to another private property owner.”

Print Is Not Dead

How modern is Alexandria City Hall?

Visitors are bombarded with messages about how they can find this or that online, and callers are often referred to the city’s website for information. Then there are all the Facebook and Twitter posts. But when it comes to the old-fashioned tax bill, well that’s a hard copy document that arrives snail mail.

“I heard some distressing news yesterday, that nobody has proposed modernizing this City Council’s business with the people in the form of taxation notices,” said Caryle neighborhood resident Grant Withers. “We still get them in the mail, and I wonder if we can get them in email.”

“The government always gets accused of folks always saying they never got their notice,” responded Mayor Bill Euille. “Folks really like to have a hard copy, but we can certainly take under consideration your suggestion about emailing.”

Maybe there are now three certainties in life — death, taxes and email.

Price of Public Art

Public art is always a matter of controversy.

Is the statue of a Confederate veteran appropriate for the intersection of Prince and Washington streets? Should that strange eyeball overlook Canal Place? Does that strange sculpture at the intersection of Commonwealth and Mount Vernon avenues have pornographic undertones? Perhaps a more vexing question is how and when private businesses are required to donate public art.

“We do not support the lack of clarity and guidance on the amount of money that developers will be expected to contribute,” said David Millard, representing a group of commercial real-estate owners. “The policy has had a number of extravagant suggestions for what this contribution should be.”

Last weekend, City Council members considered a policy for public art but eventually concluded that it needed more work. In the next few weeks, city officials will be considering a policy that would dictate private funding of 30 cents a square foot of development with a cap of $75,000. That means smaller development will not be exempt. The new draft policy is also expected to clarify how the requirement can be fulfilled and when the contribution should be expected.

“We need to adopt a policy,” said Mayor Bill Euille. “And we need to do it quickly.”

A final decision has been docketed for the Oct. 23 City Council meeting.