News Politics __Featured Slider — 19 January 2012
UPDATED: Alexandria waterfront plan opponents try to derail vote with eleventh-hour petition

Opponents of the waterfront plan scheduled for a vote by Alexandria city council members Saturday are making an eleventh-hour attempt to derail the decision.

Members of Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan revealed Thursday that several citizens, including members of CAAWP, collected more than 200 signatures of waterfront stakeholders against the plan — enough to require a supermajority decision by the city council, according to CAAWP member Mark Mueller. Under a supermajority scenario, only two council members would need to vote against the plan kill it, Mueller said.

Signatories of the petition included home owners and home and commercial property owners in the affected area of the waterfront, creating a protest petition against a text amendment that would realize the controversial shoreline blueprint. They submitted it to Planning Director Farol Hamer, who is tasked with substantiating the names as legitimate.

But the petitioners have no case to begin with, according to City Attorney Jim Banks. City code states only a map amendment can be petitioned against, not a text amendment, he said.

“Unless we see something very unusual [with the petition] I would expect that the planning and zoning director will find that it’s probably not a valid petition,” Banks said.

Banks has advised Hamer but by law has no decision-making ability. If Hamer cannot verify or debunk the petition by Saturday’s 9:30 a.m. city council meeting, the vote could be delayed. She will advise the council on her progress that morning, Banks said.

As head of the planning department, Hamer headed the waterfront plan’s creation. Asked if there is any mechanism to protest her involvement in verifying the petition, Banks said he was “unaware of any course of action.” By law, it is the planning director’s job to uphold zoning ordinances, Banks said.

Members of CAAWP are operating under the notion that some members of the city’s planning department and city council have “direct and indirect conflicts of interest” with the plan.

CAAWP Co-Chair Andrew Macdonald sent a letter to City Attorney Jim Banks demanding Vice Mayor Kerry Donley recuse himself from the vote as a vice president at Virginia Commerce Bank, which extended a $3.9 million loan to the owners of waterfront restaurant Virtue Feed and Grain.

Donley has denied being involved with the decision-making for that loan. MacDonald claimed he has documents suggesting but not proving Donley’s involvement.

Macdonald said “the community is beginning to feel the cozy relationship” between decision-makers is responsible for the current plan.

Macdonald called out Mayor Bill Euille as well, who has a stake in West End restaurant Mango Mike’s, whose owner Mike Anderson is also an investor in Virtue.

But CAAWP members did not accuse City Councilman Frank Fannon, a 17-year member of the Old Dominion Boat Club, which owns perhaps the most coveted waterfront properties of all at the foot of King Street. Fannon told the Times Tuesday he is undecided how he will vote on the plan.

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Alexandria Times Staff

(2) Readers Comments

  1. The protest petition process is a mechanism which can be employed by those most affected by a zoning change – the immediate neighbors. It enables them to let their voices be heard in a very powerful way.
    Generally speaking, the way it works is follows: Neighbors representing at least 20% of the land within 300 feet of the proposed zoning boundary must submit signed protest petitions to the City Clerk prior to noon on the last business day before the Council meeting. The Planning Director then rules as to whether the petitions are valid or not and whether their sum represent 20% of the land. If deemed valid by the Planning Director, this forces City Council to have a super majority versus a simple majority in order to pass the zoning change. A super majority is 6-1, meaning only 2 votes are needed to defeat the zoning change. If deemed in invalid, any one (or more) of the petition signatures can file an appeal to the board of zoning appeals. These past few weeks dozens of citizen petitioners went door to door and office to office, up and down the Alexandria waterfront gathering signatures for this effort. They grossly exceed expectations, obtaining hundreds of signatures of both residential and commercial property owners who oppose this zoning change. Combined, these commercial and residential property owners pay millions of dollars per year in taxes to the city – a point which woefully overlooked in this debate. The proverbial ball is in the Planning Directors court.
    Note that members of the press asked whether this protest as valid as the section 11.808 is titled “map ammendment”. Read section 11.808 and you will see that in section D it clearly states “MAP OR TEXT” ammendment. The protest petition we believe it solid.

  2. Pingback: Fight for the river’s edge: Live blogging Saturday’s public hearing | AlexTimes

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