Circuit judge dismisses waterfront lawsuit

By Derrick Perkins (File photo)

Alexandria’s courts rejected yet another legal challenge stemming from the oft-maligned waterfront redevelopment plan last week.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Roy Shannon on behalf of three Old Town residents known as “The Iron Ladies” earlier this year, challenged Planning Director Faroll Hamer’s rejection of attempts to stay city council’s March supermajority vote rezoning the waterfront. But Circuit Judge James Clark sided with City Hall on August 14, dismissing the case.

Yet, it is not a decisive win. Clark’s ruling left the door open for the trio to return with an amended complaint, Shannon said. They plan to make another go at it in short order, he said Tuesday.

Shannon has framed the lawsuit as a way to clarify residents’ rights in challenging projects involving redevelopment and rezoning. Waterfront plan opponents have accused City Hall of playing fast and loose with the rules throughout the multiyear debate.

“We want to know what the rules are so we can be engaged in the next 15 years,” Shannon told the Times in March. “The city has the ability to set the rules — we can’t get around that. If the city wants to set the target 300 yards away, they can do that, but they can’t set it 300 yards today and tomorrow [set it at] 50.”

City Attorney Jim Banks holds a less nuanced view of the trio’s legal maneuverings.

“For whatever reason, Mr. Shannon’s clients don’t like the waterfront plan, and they’ve tried to do this to thwart the plan in any way they can,” he said. “It, frankly, has not been successful.”

The three residents also are behind the lawsuit that the Virginia Supreme Court heard earlier this summer. That unrelated case harks back to city council’s original vote on the redevelopment plan last year and likewise hinges on arcane land-use ordinances.

The state’s highest court is expected to announce a decision in the coming months.

Clark’s ruling quickly kicked off another round of verbal sparring between City Hall and waterfront plan opponents. Critics accused officials of blowing its significance out of proportion.

Saying it “objects to the City of Alexandria’s characterization” of the ruling, the opposition group known as Friends of the Alexandria Waterfront wrote in a statement Tuesday that “any declaration of victory by the city at this time is premature and misleading.”

Again, Banks disagreed.

“I tend to take the long view on this,” he said. “I have always believed we were correct on the facts and the law, and the American justice system is a good one. It usually gets to the right results — not always, but usually. … As far as the city is concerned, this is another step in the right direction.”

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