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City Officially Appeals BZA Decision to Circuit Court

City says Board of Zoning Appeals failed to understand essential underpinnings of the law.

The city has filed suit in Alexandria Circuit Court to express it disagrees with the decision of its Board of Zoning Appeals by Alexandria’s planning director who determined a citizens’ petition was invalid.

The BZA in April ruled in favor of citizens who had asked it to reconsider a ruling by Planning and Zoning Director Faroll Hamer. She ruled as invalid some waterfront land near their homes, allowing more and different development like hotels.

Mayor Bill Euille said the decision because “it could have implications on future land use decisions throughout the city.” He commented during Saturday’s general City Council public hearing that in his 18 years on council, this is the first time he has seen the city appeal a decision of its own board or commission, although it has happened in the past.

"The action to appeal is above and beyond anything dealing with the waterfront,” Euille said Saturday. “It is about the ability of the City Council to make decision on future development projects throughout this city."   

The BZA “ignored some very basic principles of underlying law,” City Attorney Jim Banks said during council’s Saturday hearing. “The city is, unfortunately in my opinion, put in a difficult position of having to appeal this decision in order to clarify those underpinning principles of law… otherwise we end up in this endless cycle of litigation.”

Banks also said that the BZA does not need to have legal counsel to defend itself because the appeals board “is party to this action for the sole purpose of providing the record. It is in effect not a true legal party to the proceedings. … It is the city’s decision at this point that we will not incur the expense of providing them such outside counsel.”

Banks reiterated to Patch that “the city is not suing itself” or “suing the BZA,” rather it is appealing the decision that the BZA, which acts similarly to a court, made in the case of the plaintiffs versus the city.

The BZA is named as a party in the suit in the title of the case “for technical reasons only,” Banks said, adding it’s “solely and only to transmit the record” to the higher court.

Bert Ely, a leader of Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan, told members of City Council at the Saturday hearing that the appeal “is absurd. You, the council, appointed seven citizens to serve on a board created by the city’s charter to hear zoning appeals as provided for by a zoning ordinance that you the council adopted.”

Mayoral candidate Andrew Macdonald, who co-founded CAAWP, said: "How much taxpayer money has been spent so far to fight… citizens and how much additional money will be needed to fight the BZA’s decision and citizens on what is a valid protest petition?"

He demanded a "true accounting" of the cost of "wasteful litigation."

Haunches May 14, 2012 at 10:57 PM
The title of the lawsuit is "City Council, City of Alexandria v. City of Alexandria Board of Zoning Appeals, et al." How can Banks say the BZA is not being sued? Of course it is being sued. The allegations made against the BZA this article suggests are unusually harsh, attacking its competence and motives. ANd where does the City Attorney get the authority to decide on his own that the city will not provide funding for BZA to get legal counsel? Shouldn't that be an open and considered decision by his client, i.e. City Council (who happens to be the plaintiff). Nice work -- set up the BZA to be the principal defendant and then use your office to render them defenseless. Good work if you can get it. Conflict much? Who in their right mind would want to volunteer for this city if they will get attacked like this?
Mark Mueller May 15, 2012 at 09:58 AM
Hello Haunches- Even those who oppose us would have a hard time I think disagreeing with your points. They can see for themselves by reading the attached PDF which contains the city's filing against the bza. This is unprecedented and an obscene display of arrogance and disdain for citizens and now for this all volunteer board. The City should drop the suit and come to the table. Amateur video highlights of key events in this ongoing saga can be found in the link below: http://m.youtube.com/user/AlexandriaPatriots?client=mv-google
William Black May 15, 2012 at 04:34 PM
City to BZA: Nice Board you got there.....shame if anything happened to it.
Hurrah May 16, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Under these circumstances, city attorney, Jim Banks, ill-advised City Council when he declared that he would not recommend providing the BZA with funding to retain independent legal counsel. The Fairfax County case Banks referred to has a completely different set of circumstances - in that case the Fairfax County BZA attempted to initiate litigation proceedings on its own, and the VA Supreme Court denied the BZA's request for legal fees to be paid for by the county. In this situation, the Alexandria BZA is not attempting to initiate litigation on its own behalf. Instead, the Alexandria BZA is a named party in a lawsuit filed against it BY THE CITY! For Alexandria City to deny an all-volunteer board of local residents funding for legal representation to respond to the City's suit (when the City named the BZA as a defendant), is beyond the pail! What would the City Council and City Attorney have the BZA members do? Pay for legal representation out of their own pockets? Risk defaulting on filing a response correctly or timely? Perhaps that is what the City is hoping for. Responses like these certainly do not encourage residents to become involved in their community and local boards and commissions - which is what these BZA members have done..... unfortunately, perhaps to their own detriment.
Ruben Duran May 17, 2012 at 12:40 PM
Hopefully it will provide grounds for the court to dismiss the case, forcing the city to refile and then forced to pay for outside counsel, reflecting just how biased, determined the city is to shove their "small area plans,", high density projects down our throats

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