Alexandria Letter: Not Enforcing Zoning Code

Alexandria Letter: Not Enforcing Zoning Code

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

An open letter to City Council:

Every City Council in the history of zoning laws in this city has sought to preserve and protect the residential character of neighborhoods by implementing and enforcing a zoning code … but not the current City Council.

The zoning code classifications have been carefully defined by prior councils and were subject to hours of review and input. The RM zone is one of these residential zones that zealously defined all uses in harmony with residences and prohibited those that were not.

500 S Royal Street in in the RM zoning district. The RM district does not permit a bike rental use. A private person could not open a bike rental shop in the RM zone. This current council apparently feels that as the local government it not only does not have to protect and preserve a RM zoned district but that it is above compliance. The council sits back and allows the staff to advance prohibited uses and to bypass required public hearings and commissions.

I purchased my home knowing I would not be living next to a commercial enterprise. I bought in the RM zone understanding that I could not earn my livelihood fully operating my business out of my home.

Several months ago, the city staff installed a bikeshare station on the corner of Gibbon and Royal streets. In doing so they took a public right of way and narrowed it by half. The result was limiting pedestrian access to a narrow aisle. There was no approved plan or hearing showing a bikeshare station at the corner of Gibbon and Royal Streets. There is no authority for the staff or the City Council to alter or change the use of a public street or sidewalk in the city without public hearings.

City Charter Section 9.06 requires that "no … narrowing, ... or change in the use of ... public ways, grounds and places within the city, … shall be authorized to take place unless such transactions shall have been first submitted to and approved by the (planning) commission."

Bikeshare station structure locations need sign-off from the Planning Commission, City Council and BAR. Every one of those sign-offs require notice, a public hearing and input from concerned citizens. The city government including City Council is not above the law.

The last election we had a very full slate of candidates. I never heard a debate question answered or a platform displayed that said “elect me and I will delegate and not interfere with city staff or city attorney positions as I am just too busy.” Yet, that is what is happening … often. If council members are too busy to manage the affairs of the city, they should not run for office. If council members cannot read and understand the language of the City Code without a legal opinion, they should not run for office. What they should do is their job. Like it or not, the job involves public hearings at the council level. The job involves an open mind and a desire to advance the status of all citizens. The job does not require agreement with all positions but one would hope it would require a continued preservation of the zoning code and the protection of residential neighborhoods. This is not about bikes — it is about residential neighborhoods and protection from commercial uses.

Barbara P. Beach