By Dino Drudi, Alexandria (File photo)
Normally, the legal process affords a governing body with a systematic bias plausible cover. Only occasionally does a matter arise where the governing body must choose between maintaining its systematic bias or its cover. With the Harris Teeter Development Special Use Permit/Special Use Permit modification allowing 24-hour operation, Alexandria City Council chose to stand by whatever-favored-businesses-want über alles over any semblance of even-handedness.
Now, citizens are on notice that the current council considers DSUP/SUP public hearings as being merely for show; all the major decisions regarding these developments are fait accompli before the hearings commence. So as to remove all doubt, city council members exhorted residents to shop at Harris Teeter. What more blatant example could citizens have of a prostituted public process than city hall subordinating its own due process to a business’ operational model (all Harris Teeters have 24-hour operation).
Councilmember Del Pepper, who held the swing vote, could have insisted Harris Teeter provide some slightly more than token amenity in exchange for the concession. Her failure to do so is emblematic of why, with all this recent development, city hall finds itself fiscally strapped. They simply will not negotiate hard with developers to win amenities, and instead will make broad, unilateral concessions.
Thanks to some crusading journalism, the previous city council, elected in last May’s election, refused to allow an academy to open until getting right with the city’s DSUP/SUP process. However, the current city council — elected in the first November election — allowed Harris Teeter’s 24-hour operation, in violation of its application condition, as soon as it applied for its DSUP/SUP modification. If Harris Teeter can transgress its DSUP/SUP condition upon application, why did Alexandria Academy have to wait to open in its desired venue until city council came back into session and approved its DSUP/SUP?
Citizens should commend Stewart Dunn as the sole Planning Commission member to oppose the Harris Teeter DSUP/SUP because, once city hall allowed 24-hour operation as soon as Harris Teeter requested it before the Planning Commission could even hear the matter, the Planning Commission was effectively strong-armed into supporting it or else it risked not being reappointed. How can city council say “no” to the next applicant with a “bait-and-switch” DSUP/SUP change as soon as it opens its doors now that it has established this precedent?