Circuit court sides with City Hall on Wales Alley

 By Derrick Perkins

After a lengthy legal battle for control of Wales Alley, a circuit judge Tuesday tossed out the Old Dominion Boat Club’s claim on the narrow waterfront roadway.

The fight began when city officials allowed neighboring restaurant Virtue Feed and Grain to build an outdoor deck in the alley about two years ago, effectively narrowing the paved strip connecting Union Street to The Strand. ODBC members objected, arguing the decision violated a centuries-old easement the club enjoyed on the property.

Though the easement agreement is far older, the case has its roots in a 1972 legal battle between the boat club and a then-adjacent business, which tried to block off the alleyway. At the time, a judge turned possession of the alley over to City Hall, but affirmed the boat club’s right to use the roadway.

The current dispute reached the state Supreme Court in May, which found a lower court had misapplied the ’72 case’s outcome when ruling in favor of the ODBC earlier in the legal battle. But the commonwealth’s top judges declined to settle the case, instead kicking it back to circuit court.

The second time around, the court sided with City Hall.

“When the alley went public, everybody [got] rights to it, even the Old Dominion Boat Club,” said Chris Spera, assistant city attorney. “[The court] basically said, ‘look, once it becomes public the need for this protection against private interference, that goes away.’”

The decision frees the restaurant to begin working on a permanent deck in the alley, he said. Though Virtue Feed and Grain already boasts outdoor dining, restaurant employees set up and broke down the open-air dining section on a daily basis to keep the alley clear during the legal dispute.

Miles Holtzman, ODBC president, called the ruling a disappointment in a statement. He warned the case equated to the government-sanctioned theft of private property and would have future ramifications.

“It seems that the right to own private property is quickly becoming a government-sanctioned privilege, which sets a dangerous precedent,” Holtzman said. “Eminent domain is alive and well in the Old Dominion.”

While the ODBC could petition the state Supreme Court for another appeal, Spera said the case is closed as far as city officials are concerned.

“In our mind, this is conclusive with respect to Wales Alley and it’s our intention to proceed as if it is a public alley and process any application that the restaurant owner would submit to construct permanent outdoor dining,” he said.

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