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Waterfront Redevelopment: Board of Zoning Appeals Rejects Planning Director's Decision

The 4-2 vote in favor of the petitioners could trigger another City Council vote on the zoning portion of the waterfront plan.

The Board of Zoning Appeals has sided with a group of citizens who appealed the city planning director’s decision to reject their petition asking that waterfront area near their homes not be rezoned allowing more and different kinds of development.

The meeting was a cliffhanger until the bitter end as members flipped and flopped during discussion over which way they would vote – ultimately delivering a victory to the citizens with a 4-2 vote around 1 a.m. Friday.

BZA Chairman Mark Allen recused himself from the debate and vote at the beginning of the meeting due to a long-standing relationship with one of the parties involved. Member John Keegan said his membership in the , which does not favor much of the city’s waterfront plan, would not influence his decision.

The City of Alexandria allows people who own properties surrounding a property being rezoned to protest that process to the city.

A group of landowners filed a petition with the city, but it was rejected in January, on the day City Council voted on the waterfront plan. This type of protest petition must directly relate to a “zoning amendment” and it did not, according to city legal staff. If the petition had been accepted, it would have triggered a supermajority, or 6-1 vote, by council to pass the waterfront plan. Council passed the plan in concept 5-2. However, a vote on the zoning portion of the plan was delayed.

Three women who appealed the petition’s rejection – Beth Gibney, April Burke and Marie Kux – all argued Thursday night that they thought they were following the plain language of the ordinance, spent hours collecting signatures and made every effort to comply with city rules.

“We followed the rules, the language of the text amendment. What is the spirit of the law? Isn’t it to give us a voice and protect the citizens?” Gibney asked the BZA.

The BZA members were torn over this point throughout the night’s discussion.

“Is there no process mechanism to appeal a text amendment at all? Is there any other due process option?” asked member Jennifer Lewis.

According to city language, a text amendment can not be protested although a “map amendment” can be protested.

Deputy Director of Planning and Zoning Barbara Ross replied that anything related to a text amendment goes through a series of public hearings and every action of council can be challenged in court – but there is no clear mechanism.

Chairman David Lantzy several times questioned why the city could use a text amendment to change entire zoning, and “there’s nothing citizens can do about it.”

For example, Arlington County had a proposition allowing residential owners to raise chickens on their property. In Alexandria, Lantzy posited, that could be covered under a text amendment and citizens would not have the ability to protest it.

Several BZA members agreed the process was a “train wreck” that should never have been allowed to come before them in this form. They also asked City Council to consider forming a work group to address the underlying issues of petitioners' abilities and rights.

Ultimately, the majority of the BZA agreed with the petitioners' lawyer, Roy Shannon, who said the city was cherry-picking which provisions it sought to follow and "when petitioners took action, the city sidestepped the rules and denied them due process."

The meeting was packed with petitioner supporters, who also gave their opinions to the BZA during the public hearing. A smaller group supported the city’s position.

Members Geoffrey Goodale, Keegan, Lantzy and Lewis voted for the plan with Eric Zander and Stephen Koenig voting against.

The city can appeal the decision to the Alexandria Circuit Court.

Click here for more Patch stories and history on the debate over the city's waterfront redevelopment plans.

Dennis Auld April 15, 2012 at 12:24 AM
Katy, my understanding of a text protest is that the proceedures, although difficult, are there and different than that of a map protest. You described above the process of protesting a map amendment. This is not the case. As for Mr. Zander's comments, he pointed out early on that he was not an expert in zoning code, however he said his experience with codes in many other areas are similar in the fact that in certain cases, you should look at a word in a paragraph in the light of it being referenced some other place, as opposed to determining its meaning in that specified paragraph. I thought his comments were relevant and inciteful to the Boards determination of approaching 808(D). I felt they were not at all outside the bounds of resonable discussion. If you want to get into personal opinions of observing the actions of individual board members, I found it interesting that the Board deferred to Mr. Goodale who. appfrently had written the decision before he even got there.
Boyd Walker April 15, 2012 at 02:12 AM
Let's start a real dialog on the Waterfront. Over two hundred people who live and own property next to the rezoning, representing over %30 of the land made a legal protest and do not want what is proposed in the rezoning. That is their right. Whether it is ultimately deemed legal to do so based on whether this is a Text or Map amendment should not matter. What matters is that the plan put forward by council and advocated by Waterfront For All is not in the interest of property owners in Old Town and citizens across the city who share our concerns not just about the process, but about the intended outcome. If we remove the right for residents to protest, through a very difficult procedure, I might add, the right to appeal to the BZA or the circuit court and give this planning department and any future planning department a loophole through which to avoid any chance of protest we are setting a precedent for decision to made in the future with absolutely no recourse. It is now time for the city to come to us to work on a different plan, or acknowledge that the plan they pushed for cannot succeed without the rezoning which now will require a very expensive legal process in order to thwart the clear wishes of those of us who live near the waterfront and would like other alternatives to be considered. To begin this dialog I will be having a press conference at the foot of Oronoco St. Monday at 6 pm, and invite members of CAAWP and Waterfront for All to come
Dennis Auld April 15, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Boyd, no one is advocating removing the right to protest. For both a text and map amendment, process are in place, and should remain so. The jist of your comment is that you do not like the outcome of the Waterfront Plan to date, and you want to stop it. There are ways for your group to continue the debate, and as Mark stated on Saturday, they will be used. When the plan is implemented, there will also be opportunity to influence the final design. A balance between the wishes of residents located near a small area plan, and the needs of all citizens of Alexandria is a difficult achievement. The city did an excellent job in finding this point in the Waterfront Plan. You do not like the results. The City has given your side many opportunities to influence the process, and you continue to discount all of the concession that have been made over the last three years. Sitting down to have a dialog with you is code for "unless we get everything our way, we will continue to object". Sorry.
Gina Baum April 15, 2012 at 03:55 PM
The City has gone above and beyond the call of duty to work with these citizens....increasing open space, decreasing the number of hotel rooms, requiring underground parking, implementing a traffic study at their request.....and still the disgruntled 20% minority protest, lawyer up and sue. The only thing the protesters are accomplishing is ensuring the developement of ugly high rise condos and townhouses on the waterfront, excluding the entire community to ever setting foot on or enjoying our communities most precious natural resource.
dennis kux April 20, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Dennis Kux: Clearly, Mr. Auld, the citizens who live near the areas covered by the Waterfront Plan clearly do not agree with you. As only a third of the property abutting the concerned area was residential, we needed to have 60% of the home owners on our side, and we did. So you are not talking about a disgruntled few, but an angry majority of those whose homes would be directly affected by the proposed plan. You talk about fairness, but where was the fairness when Ms. Hamer refused to accept the protesters' appeal during the Jan 21 public hearing? The city's argument that it was "closed for business" was ridiculous. If so, what were the mayor, the council, the planning director and other relevant officials doing from 10 am until close to 9 pm? What the city unfortunately did was to deny the protestors their right of due process; The city should not have voted; it did so because it knew it did not have a supermajority and would lose the votes of Frank Fannon and Alicia Hughes. The Council majority should be ashamed of its action. It not only disregarded the views of Alexandria citizens, but its own rules.

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