Occasionally, the Times criticizes businesses in Alexandria for not being good neighbors.
The most notable cases have been the since-shuttered GenOn power plant, for pollution that it generated, and Norfolk Southern, for its handling of chemical spills in the West End. There is an expectation that any entity operating in Alexandria, be it a business or nonprofit, will make a good-faith effort to work with the city.
But being a good neighbor goes both ways. The city also should work with — or, at a minimum, not harass — local businesses and nonprofits.
In City Hall’s on-going, multifaceted tussle with the Old Dominion Boat Club, it is our local government that’s not playing nice — and spending a lot of tax dollars in the process.
In the most recent battle, the state Supreme Court sided with the club, ruling that the organization retains its easement to Wales Alley, which runs between Union Street and The Strand. The decision means Virtue Feed & Grain likely can’t build a deck for outdoor dining in the passageway.
This easement grants club members the right to use the alley in getting to and from the waterfront and dates from 1789, when John Fitzgerald owned the property.
Like the overarching land-use dispute between the city and boat club, the Wales Alley fight reeks of government arrogance. As city council voted to allow Virtue to build its deck and turn the alley — formerly open to two-way traffic — into a one-way street, the boat club sued. City Attorney James Banks scorned the lawsuit, telling city council: “Let’s just say I’m not all that worried about what’s been filed.”
He should have been.
While the agreement with Virtue would have netted the city about $52,000 over the first five years, the lawsuit has instead cost taxpayers untold thousands. (Deputy City Attorney Chris Spera estimates that the three-year case cost taxpayers only about $1,000 — this after bouncing between the circuit court and state Supreme Court twice. That figure is laughably low, as it clearly doesn’t include the time and cost of city attorneys.)
The larger picture that emerges is that our local government has decided it wants a large piece of what the boat club owns and appears willing to use any means necessary — including eminent domain — to get what it wants. Club members want to keep what they own and have shown that they will sue toward that end.
What is needed is a middle way. The club should be able to keep its property but foot the bill for flood-mitigation measures. It also should contribute a public walkway along the shoreline edge of its parking lot.
In turn, City Hall should drop, permanently, its threat of eminent domain and accept a revised waterfront design that doesn’t include a plaza on boat club property. Let’s not waste further resources on unnecessary lawsuits.
The time has passed for arrogance, or intransigence, on either side. Like Wales Alley, being a good neighbor should be a two-way street.