Residents challenge Alexandria waterfront plan

Local,Virginia,Aubrey Whelan

Alexandria residents upset with the city's plans to redevelop its historic Old Town waterfront have filed legal challenges that could delay key votes on the development until well into the spring.

City officials, however, insist that the legal challenges have no merit and said plans to build high-rise hotels and other attractions along the Potomac River will continue on schedule.

Alexandria City Council late Tuesday approved a key component of the city's waterfront plan and agreed to hold a public hearing on the plan later this month. But the council was forced to delay a vote on a rezoning ordinance that would make it easier for developers to begin construction at the waterfront.

Critics of the waterfront plan say that without the rezoning ordinance, developers will have to petition the city council to change zoning on individual parcels of land before they can begin work -- a victory, they say, for residents concerned about the waterfront. But Alexandria City Attorney James Bank said the start of construction along the waterfront is so far off that this delay is negligible.

To halt the council's approval of the waterfront plan, residents petitioned the city to force a new vote, one that would require six of seven council members to vote for it. But that effort was thwarted by the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Residents also filed two appeals with the Board of Zoning Appeals. And a lawsuit was filed in civil court asking, in part, that the court render the waterfront plan vote invalid.

Banks shrugged off any concerns about the appeals, calling them "muddled, indistinct and not very clear." The city considers all three invalid and plans to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The Board of Zoning Appeals will likely meet in April to rule on the appeals. Until then, the city council will not vote on whether to rezone the waterfront.

Still, critics of the waterfront plan say the delayed vote is cause for celebration.

"Basically, the heart of the plan is on hold -- it's a big victory," said Andrew Macdonald, the president of Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan. "But we're still deeply disappointed that the city chose not to work with the community and they've forced the community to take legal actions."

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