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Opinion

Examiner Local Editorial: Alexandria holds cynical 'do-over' vote on waterfront plan

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Opinion,Local Editorial

Alexandria officials have bungled their controversial waterfront redevelopment plan so badly that they have completely shattered the illusion that that they listen to and respect constituents' concerns.

As The Washington Examiner's Taylor Holland reported Sunday, an appeal filed by Alexandria residents, now before the Virginia Supreme Court, is stalling the city's plan to turn its historic Old Town waterfront into a dense thicket of high-rise hotels, restaurants and other urban amenities. The City Council approved the waterfront redevelopment and related zoning changes by a 5-2 vote on Jan. 21, 2012.

However, Alexandria planning director Faroll Hamer had denied a protest petition signed by nearby property owners the day before, as well as the day of, the 2012 vote. The petition would have required a supermajority of six council members to vote for the waterfront plan in order for it to pass.

This Saturday, the council has scheduled a "do-over" of the 2012 vote. This is a tacit acknowledgement that the Board of Zoning Appeals, which the city sued, got it right last April when it ruled that Hamer had wrongly denied the petition. Mayor Bill Euille, City Attorney James Banks and council members claimed the vote was valid anyway. Saturday's "do-over" suggests otherwise.

Last November's election resulted in a Democratic sweep of council seats. Incumbents Alicia Hughes and Frank Fannon, who both voted against the waterfront plan, were defeated. With only Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg in opposition, Democrats now have the supermajority that eluded them last year.

So on Saturday they will attempt to legitimize last year's illegitimate vote. The fact that council members openly admit this cynical, after-the-fact maneuver is an attempt to undermine the citizen lawsuit makes it even worse.

The city has major landowners onboard, including the Washington Post, which stands to profit handsomely from selling its Robinson Terminals to a waterfront developer. And the city has the power to invoke eminent domain to acquire other parcels from unwilling sellers. The city has pressured the Alexandria Planning Commission to agree to Saturday's unprecedented "do-over" vote, and the council is currently attempting to make it even more difficult for citizens to challenge zoning changes in the future.

Alexandria's self-imposed supermajority requirement was intended to reassure residents that major zoning changes are noncontroversial. Its breach in this case has revealed the contempt that Alexandria officials have for the democratic process, and there's no "do-over" for that.

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