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Week in Alexandria

Moot Court

What’s the difference between a map amendment and a text amendment?

The answer to that question is complicated, although it’s safe to say that residents have the ability to challenge the former but not the later. City Council members took action this week to clear up any confusion that irate citizens can force a supermajority for a text amendment. That’s what happened last year, and the protest petition cast the new zoning into a legal limbo.

“This would weaken zoning protections in a fundamental manner,” said Old Town businessman Bert Ely. “And it’s being rushed through the legislative process without debate or consideration of all of its implications.”

But in politics, as in life, timing is everything. City Attorney James Banks said that the council’s decision to change the wording of the zoning ordinance may influence a case currently before the Alexandria Circuit Court. That case was initiated by a group of citizens known as the Iron Ladies who said the city improperly dismissed their protest petition. The Board of Zoning Appeals agreed, so city leaders took them to court.

“By clarifying that confusion, which we think is a rather straightforward and commonsensical fix, by doing that we then at least potentially render the pending litigation moot,” Banks told council members in a public hearing Saturday. “We therefore think that the Supreme Court matter would similarly go away.”

Supreme Court justices will have the final say this spring.

Deck Madness

Residents in the West End neighborhood of Colonial Heights are about to enter a brave new world — the ability to construct decks. For years, residents in the townhome community have lived with a restriction against decks. The rule dates to a dispute years ago between neighbors when one wanted to build a deck but others opposed.

Now, times have changed. And new residents have moved to the community. Perhaps most importantly, the neighbors worked together to craft the zoning change with city officials. During the public hearing on Saturday, they made it clear that Colonial Heights is a tight-knit community where people really know their neighbors.

“I can see my neighbors’ television from my living room,” said Ron Bennet.

“That may be a bonus for March Madness,” said Mayor Bill Euille.

“They do watch a lot of sports over there,” added Bennet.

The Smallest Cut

The budget crunch may end up hitting city residents who are the least able to defend themselves — poor children.

City Manager Rashad Young’s budget includes cutting about 50 children from the city’s Child Care Services program of the Department of Community and Human Services. That would save about $130,000. But what happens to children already on the waiting list?

A new budget memo explains that the Child Day Care Fee System currently has 318 families on its waiting list, although budget officials estimate that only 111 would qualify for child-care services. Assuming each family has about 1.5 children, that would mean funding services for 167 children. The cost of clearing the waiting list is estimated to be about $1 million.

“The maximum recommended child care caseload is 65,” wrote Budget Director Nelsie Smith. “which means that serving the additional 111 families would require at least two additional FTE’s.”