Alexandria: Lawsuit Over Rezoning Hits City Council

Alexandria: Lawsuit Over Rezoning Hits City Council

Neighbors oppose change allowing restaurant.

A lawsuit against the City Council by local residents claims that the rezoning of a residence on Princess and Washington streets, allowing it to become a restaurant, deprived the residents of equal protection of the laws. The property, located at 329 North Washington St., also faces the adjacent cobblestone Princess Street. On Oct. 18, the City Council considered the application to rezone the property and on Nov. 15 approved two ordinances that allowed the building to be re-zoned.

“The council’s decision was the product of a sham proceeding,” according to the lawsuit. “The council’s decision was unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious; amounted to illegal spot zoning; and denied the plaintiff’s constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection of the laws.”

The residents are represented by C. Bryan Wilson and Matthew C. Monahan of Williams & Connolly LLP, a litigation firm in Washington D.C, who referred questions and comments on the case to the text within the suit.

The lawsuit argues that the City Council did not adequately consider the impact of rezoning on the surrounding Princess Street neighborhood, despite comments made in a 1997 City Staff Report that the property “served an important land use/urban design function” as the “entrance into primarily residential neighborhoods.”

“The 1997 report was for the rezoning of the next door building, which was being rezoned in the same way,” said Karl Moritz, acting planning director for the City of Alexandria. “Washington Street is a mix of residential and commercial, it’s not just commercial like on King Street. It’s very much part of the character to have commercial and residential on the street. What’s special about this application is that they’re using the existing historic building; it’s just a different use for the same structure.”

Additionally, Moritz has said that the restaurant has agreed to keep loading and unloading for the restaurant on Washington Street and will having parking space available off-site.

One aspect of the suit is the allegation that the restaurant’s owner, Margaret Ticer Janowsky, used the influence of her mother Patricia Ticer, former mayor of Alexandria and former state senator, to help secure the zoning application. Ticer attended the City Council meeting on Oct. 18 and was honored by the council. Some local residents requested that council members with personal relationships to the Ticers recuse themselves from the decision, namely Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg who had received $1,000 in donations from Ticer.

“A number of us had a few words about this,” said Silberberg. “I took the suggestion seriously and I did speak to the city attorney about it. [Some citizens] suggested that we should recuse ourselves, but the applicant is not the senator, her daughter is.”

Lawsuits against the city are not unusual, but don’t often target City Council specifically.

“The city is subject to a number of claims for a variety of reasons, typically an alignment is knocked by a pothole or someone fell in a city facility, city vehicle damaged vehicle; minor claims,” said Craig Fifer, director of communications and public information for the City of Alexandria. “Lawsuits that challenge actions of City Council are less common but they’re not entirely rare.”