State Supreme Court hears Wales Alley case — again

State Supreme Court hears Wales Alley case — again

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

Another chapter began last week in the lengthy fight over control of Wales Alley. The Virginia Supreme Court took up the case as attorneys for the city and Old Dominion Boat Club sparred over who has claim of the narrow waterfront roadway.

The court battle has been years in the making, featuring a previous trip before the state Supreme Court last year. The fight flared up about three years ago when City Hall let Virtue Feed and Grain install a deck in the alley. The boat club, which claimed a centuries-old easement on the property, launched a legal campaign fighting for control of the roadway afterward.

City attorney Jim Banks said after the Supreme Court hearing that when the boat club accepted public services in Wales Alley — like repaving, snow removal and parking enforcement — it gave up easement rights through a process known as implied dedication and acceptance.

“The implied dedication effectively erased the easement previously held by the boat club, because the alley became a public way,” Banks said. “As a neighbor to that public way, they automatically had access like any other citizen.”

But David Chamowitz, who represents the owners of the boat club, argued in court documents that since the organization did not own the alley outright, it had no avenue to reject those services.

“The easement owner has no legal right to object to any actions taken or uses made of the servient estate which do not interfere with its easement rights,” Chamowitz wrote.

Chamowitz further argued that the city’s actions in approving construction of a back patio in the alley amount to taking away the boat club’s rights in favor of another private entity — in this case, Virtue Feed and Grain.

“The irony of this case is that, for all the discussion of ‘implied dedication to the public,’ it is the ODBC who is trying to keep Wales Alley entirely open for continued use by the public and itself, while the city and an adjacent owner are trying to close off a significant portion as private restaurant space and limit the use of the rest of it,” he wrote. “The ‘public’ is trying to make it private, while a private owner is trying to keep it fully public.”

Banks disagreed with Chamowitz’s assertion, saying that approval of the patio was contingent on previous city decisions to turn the alley into a one-way street. The city attorney said the road redesign was part of a comprehensive study of traffic patterns intended to benefit all residents.

“When Virtue Feed and Grain was given license to set up outdoor dining in Wales Alley, it was done in conjunction with the city’s decision that Wales go from two-way to one-way while looking at traffic patterns through the whole area,” Banks said. “The city looked at how traffic flows along the waterfront, and one of the things it really wanted to do was encourage pedestrian traffic toward the water.

“One way to accomplish that was to make Wales Alley one-way and also repaving in the fashion that we did.”