Legal battle over Old Town Waterfront

Local,Virginia,Aubrey Whelan

Alexandria residents are ramping up efforts to halt the redevelopment of the city's historic waterfront, even as city officials press ahead to expand commercial development at the foot of Old Town.

The city already faces three appeal petitions and two lawsuits related to proposed zoning of the waterfront. That means that the city can't rezone the land along the Potomac River -- creating a much more attractive site for developers -- until those issues are resolved.

But Alexandria officials are forging ahead in the face of opposition. Most recently, the City Council voted to add the Waterfront Small Area Plan to the city's master plan, a routine procedure but one that underscored the council's determination to transform the area, including the construction of high-rise hotels.

City officials scoffed at threats of legal action from the opposition group Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan, despite the recent filing of a second lawsuit against the city. The three appeals filed with the Board of Zoning Appeals and two lawsuits filed in Alexandria Circuit Court focus on a protest petition residents hoped would force a new vote on the waterfront plan, one that would require six of the seven council members to approve it.

City attorney Jim Banks said the legal appeals are without merit and said the city would file motions asking the court to dismiss both lawsuits. Even if residents' efforts to block rezoning plans are successful, it wouldn't undercut the overall waterfront plan, he said.

"[The rezoning amendments'] failure to pass at the moment has done nothing to change the progress and implementation of the plan," he said.

Still, residents are determined to show the city they're not going to quit their opposition. Development opponents protested outside city council chambers recently, part of an attempt to transform the waterfront plan into a political issue in November's local elections.

"[We have] already spent thousands of dollars fighting the city, and the city has already spent thousands of dollars fighting the citizens, using taxpayer money," CAAWP President Andrew Macdonald said. "These issues are going to define the next election."

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