UPDATED: Alexandria waterfront plan opponents try to derail vote with eleventh-hour petition

UPDATED: Alexandria waterfront plan opponents try to derail vote with eleventh-hour petition
Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan spokesman Mark Mueller outlines the organization's case against the city's proposed waterfront plan. (David Sachs)

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.