The Virginia Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Old Dominion Boat Club maintains a vested easement over Wales Alley, reversing a circuit court ruling in a long legal battle concerning a pivotal piece of waterfront property.
Alexandria approved plans from Virtue Feed and Grain to build a raised patio deck in the alley that connects Union Street with the Strand when it opened in spring 2011, renewing a squabble between the city and the Old Dominion Boat Club. The club claims to hold a longstanding 30-foot easement on the alley.
The circuit court had previously found that the boat club’s interest in Wales Alley was dedicated to the city, giving it authority to alter the alley.
Virginia’s high court ruled Thursday that evidence in the case was insufficient to support that the boat club expressly or impliedly dedicated its easement to the city.
“What the court said is just because the city now is the fee simple owner, the club’s easement didn’t go away or go to the city,” said attorney David Chamowitz, who represents the Old Dominion Boat Club in the case.
The city is allowed to use its fee simple as long as it doesn’t interfere with the club’s 30-foot easement, Chamowitz said.
The case was remanded back to the circuit court, where the ruling judge will meet with the parties and discuss the high court’s ruling.
The ruling will likely require Virtue Feed and Grain to remove its outdoor seating in the alleyway. Instead of building a raised patio to meet the restaurant floor, the eatery had set up a street-level patio in Wales Alley.
The ruling may also return the alley to two-way traffic, allowing boat club members to enter and exit its lot and boat ramp through the alley.
“We are disappointed by this ruling, but we accept it,” Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille said in a statement. “However, this does not affect our implementation of the adopted Waterfront Small Area Plan. I look forward to our November 19 special meeting and public hearing to discuss implementation of the Plan at the foot of King Street.”
Euille announced the special meeting earlier this month to discuss options for implementing the waterfront plan in regards to the Old Dominion Boat Club’s parking lot near the foot of King Street and adjacent areas, including the use of eminent domain.
Euille has called the parking lot “the missing link” in the city’s plan for waterfront redevelopment, crucial for assuring connectivity and public access along the shore of the Potomac.