Rappahannock Area Grassroots (RAG), a citizen-interest group that formed last August to oppose the Celebrate Virginia project, has filed a petition to oust the mayor of Fredericksburg and the entire City Council because of their actions concerning zoning rules guiding the controversial development.
The move comes despite an admonition from the special prosecutor assigned to the case that their complaints have no legal merit and will likely be thrown out of court.
"Rappahannock Area Grassroots, after much thought and discussion, has decided to submit the collected signatures petitioning the removal of the City Council and Mayor of Fredericksburg," according to the group's press release announcing the move.
The petition accuses council members of negligence, misuse of office and incompetence in the performance of their duties. The accusations stem from a public hearing in August at which a throng of residents spoke against rezoning land for Celebrate Virginia. After the hours-long meeting, the council approved the rezoning.
But it's unlikely the case will ever be heard in court. Special Prosecutor Richard Trodden, an Arlington County prosecutor who has been assigned to the case, has expressed serious doubts about the petition. In a letter to RAG, Trodden questioned the legality of the wording of the petition and advised the group that he would recommend that the case be dismissed.
"What I said was, in essence, that I investigated the matter and found no evidence of corrupt motive or anything that would be actionable under removal statute," Trodden said.
Nevertheless, RAG is undeterred. "I expect to see a court date," said Paul Lewis, a group spokesman. "I'm confident that when a judge looks, he'll rule in our favor."
The filing is the latest move by RAG and other residents to try to put a halt to the massive retail, commercial and tourist project. But, so far, theirs has been a losing battle. Officials in Fredericksburg and Stafford County are squarely behind Celebrate Virginia, and they have approved proposal after proposal supporting the project.
On Tuesday, the Stafford County Board of Supervisors expanded the scope of what the Silver Cos., which is developing the complex, can build by adding more office space and raising the height limit for buildings.
Tuesday's meeting was not only a practical defeat for those opposing the project but also a psychological one. Only a couple of people spoke out against the new measures.
"It was disturbing only because there was so little real discussion," Lewis said. "I'm really quite surprised about how the meeting took place. I talked to a couple of people before and expected a strong showing."