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War on the Waterfront

Iron Ladies file another lawsuit challenging city's efforts to upzone three sites.

When the dispute between Old Town and City Hall was at its height last year, 20th Century Fox movie "Iron Lady" was in the theaters celebrating the life of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. So when Old Town residents April Burke, Beth Gibney and Marie Kux filed a lawsuit against the city, the trio was dubbed the "Iron Ladies" — a tip of the hat to the steely determination of the former prime minister. Now, the same week that Thatcher died, Alexandria's Iron Ladies are at it again.

This week, the trio filed another lawsuit challenging the waterfront plan — a proposal to open the door for buildings that are triple the size of buildings at three sites compared to what's there now. Their complaint seeks to have the Alexandria Circuit Court undo the City Council's March 16 vote to change the zoning. At issue is whether or not council members had the authority to move forward with a vote after the Iron Ladies challenged a determination from Planning Director Faroll Hamer.

"Once again, city staff have violated the city's own rules," said Bert Ely, a member of the waterfront work group and leading critic of the waterfront plan. "The time has come for the city of Alexandria — both its council and staff — to begin playing by their own rules."

Even though City Council members have approved the zoning change, the plan remains mired in court. The Virginia Supreme Court is expected to take action this spring in a separate complaint filed by the Iron Ladies. And the city is challenging a ruling by its own Board of Zoning Appeals that city officials acted incorrectly by rejecting a protest petition from residents. Now, a third legal case has been added to the ongoing legal quagmire.

"I'm not surprised by the lawsuits," said Mayor Bill Euille. "Any time you deal with major land-use and redevelopment projects, they are always susceptible to lawsuits. That's part of the process."