High court to take up Alexandria waterfront plan case next month

High court to take up Alexandria waterfront plan case next month

By Derrick Perkins

After more than a year of battling the city’s waterfront redevelopment plan in lower courts, a trio of Old Town residents, represented by attorney Roy Shannon, will make their case before the state’s top judges.

The state Supreme Court, which accepted the case in the fall, will hear the arguments next month. The case stems from the original waterfront plan vote, a 5-2 city council decision made in January 2012.

Residents critical of the plan tried to force a supermajority vote on the proposal by filing an 11th-hour protest petition. When Planning Director Faroll Hamer rejected the petition during a weekend public hearing, opponents sought an appearance before the board of zoning appeals.

Hamer blocked that attempt as well, sparking the litigation. Shannon believes the vote should have been stayed until the board examined the issue.

“It goes to a much more fundamental issue. This is whether or not [Hamer] had to accept the appeal,” Shannon said. “As a matter of law, when [an appeal] is filed with the BZA, it’s filed — the stay is triggered.”

Though justices enjoy wide latitude on how they might rule, Shannon believes the waterfront plan will be nullified if the high court sides with his clients. Even with March’s 6-1 revote on the zoning portion, City Hall would have to start again, Shannon warned.

“If [the 2012 vote] should never have occurred, then the waterfront plan was not passed,” he said.

City Attorney Jim Banks disagreed. Though he will not represent the city in the case — McGuire Woods will take the lead — Banks said the best Shannon can hope for is see the high court nullifying the zoning changes incorporated in the plan. And city council could just vote — as they did earlier this year — to implement the changes again.

“At best, the plaintiffs can only receive what has already been given,” he said.