Old Town Alexandria residents continue fight against waterfront plans

Old Town Alexandria residents might have lost one court case to overturn the city’s waterfront rezoning plan, but they haven’t surrendered their quest to stop the redevelopment along the Potomac River.

The waterfront plan, two years in the making, enraged many Alexandria residents in 2011, who opposed what they saw as overdevelopment. Supporters, however, viewed it as allowing necessary improvements. The City Council voted after a raucous, all-day hearing Jan. 21 to go forward with a revised proposal that cut the number of allowed hotels from three to two. Disappointed residents vowed to appeal.

Circuit Court Judge James C. Clark last week rejected an appeal from attorney Roy Shannon, representing three residents — April Burke, Elizabeth Gibney and Marie Kux — who said the city improperly refused to accept a petition that would have forced a supermajority vote of the City Council. The issue passed 5-2, a vote short of a supermajority.

Still in play are two other sets of actions. One, which will be heard before the Board of Zoning Appeals on April 12, says that planning director Faroll Hamer should have accepted their petition Jan. 21. Because she didn’t, the council’s action should be overturned, the appeal argues.

Another suit was filed last month by attorney Benjamin G. Chew of Patton Boggs on behalf of two Union Street residents, Michael Peck and Elizabeth Baldwin, who live across from Founders Park. The suit seeks to overturn the plan, charging it with illegal spot zoning and calling its adoption arbitrary and capricious.

That suit says the city will allow far more development than it has admitted and that it will benefit two property owners — The Washington Post Co.’s Robinson Terminal Warehouse and three families who jointly own what’s known as the Cummings/Turner property. Both entities own warehouses along the riverfront. Representatives of the Cummings/Turner property announced plans last fall to develop a small hotel on its land; The Washington Post Co. has kept its options open.

The suit notes that The Post dropped a civil suit against the city over a previous proposal to change its zoning after the city agreed to participate in redevelopment planning workshops and after the Union Street residents intervened.

“As a result, the city catered to The Washington Post to give it priority, and unbalanced benefits, over the interests of the city’s other citizens,” the suit says. “The city did not extend the same courtesy or opportunity [to the plaintiffs, who] . . . were disenfranchised.”

The suit also attacks the city for not addressing what will happen to the GenOn Energy plant, which is closing; expected traffic and flood mitigation initiatives; and for a lack of planning for docking commercial vessels. It also repeats charges that activists with Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan raised, alleging that Mayor William D. Euille (D) and Vice Mayor Kerry Donley (D) will benefit from the rezoning. Euille is in business with one of the owners of Virtue Feed and Grain at another location but not at the Old Town restaurant; Donley is employed by Virginia Commerce Bank, which loaned the restaurant $3.9 million.

Both officials heatedly denied any financial or business involvement with the restaurant or other waterfront businesses.

“We believe strongly in the allegations as we’ve pled them,” Chew said.

The case, which has not yet had a hearing, will likely be scheduled in the next month.

Patricia Sullivan seeks out news about Alexandria and Arlington County for the Washington Post.
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