Apparently city zoning laws are only laws if the Department of Planning and Zoning feels like enforcing them. Thats the message the department emits to the public by deciding not to pursue the omissions of Alexandria Academy a new private school that has not secured an operating permit required by law before it opens.
The school is a good thing. Educational institutions, like businesses, benefit from competition. Having a new private school should add an element of quality to the city, assuming a high-quality education is in store for the fifth- through eighth-grade students scheduled to hear the academys first bell ring on September 7.
But the school officials did not follow the protocol for starting the institution despite announcing its opening almost two years ago. They have applied for a permit but have not yet been approved. There was plenty of time and there is no excuse.
Yet the director of the city department in charge of enforcing these ordinances is nonchalant in reaction to the academys blatant disregard for the law, calling the idea of enforcing it draconian. The city likely wont even pursue the $50 fine as a matter of principile? Such casualness sets a bad precedent.
Its not about the money or the punishment. Its about everybody being equal under the law.
Remember Le Tache, the sex shop that opened last year on King Street that ruffled so many feathers? The owner of the building that houses the shop spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and more than a year working with City Hall to expand his fishing and hunting store. What did he get? Turned away, thats what. The Board of Architectural Review said it didnt go with the areas historical ambiance. So he legitimately opened the bawdy shop, perhaps out of spite. How do those fishnet-clad mannequins go with the historical ambiance?
Alexandria Academy is a much more noble use for an Old Town building than Le Tache. But the point is that the city doesnt get to pick and choose. Both owners and operators enjoy identical rights and the onus was on Alexandria Academy to follow the same rules Le Tache did to get the appropriate special use permit.
By not even flinching at Alexandria Academy, the city is setting a precedent of neglect. If the city will not enforce its own law, then it should do whats necessary to have the school open on time legitimately. Call a special meeting and get the bureaucracy over with. Because right now, according to the logic being used by staff at Alexandria City Hall, laws are made to be broken.