By Barbara Beach, Alexandria (File photo)
To the editor:
Every city council in the history of zoning laws in Alexandria has sought to preserve and protect the residential character of neighborhoods by implementing and enforcing a zoning code.
The zoning code classifications have been carefully defined by prior councils and were subject to hours of review and input. The RM zone is one of these residential zones that zealously defined all uses in harmony with residences and prohibited those that were not.
500 S. Royal St. is in the RM zone. The RM zone does not permit a bike rental use. A private person could not open a bike rental shop in this zone. But the current city council apparently feels that, as the local government, they not only do not have to protect and preserve a RM-zoned district but that they are above compliance. City councilors sit back and allow staff to advance prohibited uses and to bypass required public hearings and commissions.
I purchased my home knowing I would not be living next to a commercial enterprise. I bought in the RM zone understanding that I could not earn my livelihood fully operating my business out of my home.
Several months ago, city staff installed a Capital Bikeshare station on the corner of Gibbon and Royal streets. In doing so, they took a public right of way and narrowed it by half. The result was limiting pedestrian access to a narrow aisle.
There was no approved plan or hearing about installing a Bikeshare station at this intersection. There is no authority for staff or city council to alter or change the use of a public street or sidewalk in the city without public hearings. Section 9.06 of the city charter requires that “no … narrowing, … or change in the use of … public ways, grounds and places within the city … shall be authorized to take place unless such transactions shall have been first submitted to and approved by the [planning] commission.”
Bikeshare station locations need sign-off from the planning commission, city council and the Board of Architectural Review. Every one of those sign-offs re- quires notice, a public hearing and input from concerned citizens. City government — including city council — is not above the law.
In the last election, we had a very full slate of candidates. I never heard a debate question answered or a platform displayed that said, “Elect me and I will delegate and not interfere with city staff or the city attorney positions as I am just too busy.” Yet, that is what is happening.
If city councilors are too busy to manage the affairs of the city, they should not run for office. If city councilors cannot read and understand the language of the city code without a legal opinion, they should not run for office.
What they should do is their job. Like it or not, the job involves public hearings at the council level. The job requires an open mind and a desire to advance the status of all residents. The job does not require agreement with all positions, but one would hope it would require a continued preservation of the zoning code and the protection of residential neighborhoods.
This is not about bikes — it is about residential neighborhoods and protection from commercial uses.