A long-running saga in city politics finally concluded last week when Judge William H. Shaw III ruled that then-Mayor Bill Euille and Alexandria’s city council did not act illegally in 2014 when they voted to allow La Bergerie owners Laurent and Margaret Janowsky to move their restaurant to a historic property on North Washington Street.
We concur that this was the right decision, on numerous fronts.
First, we agree with Shaw that council did not show the Janowskys undue influence, that the benefits to the community of the new restaurant and hotel outweigh inconveniences to neighbors and that due process was followed.
Second, one of the main stated concerns of neighbors — potential noise from outdoor events at the new establishment — already is covered by existing noise ordinances. Thus, although neighbors will not be able to prevent the restaurant from holding outdoor events, the Janowskys will be required to minimize noise and disruption. If they don’t, they could face fines and a shutdown of events.
And the original approval included provisions to revisit the special use permit in six months, which will allow for revisions if council decides the terms do not effectively mitigate neighbors’ concerns.
The Janowskys made numerous concessions to neighbors during meetings with residents. But they were correct to hold firm to their ability to hold outdoor events, as that is likely an essential economic component to the success of a restaurant and inn like this.
We are sympathetic to residents’ fears that a restaurant and inn in their midst might alter the feel of their neighborhood. But the city’s established process for such approvals was followed and neighbors had their chance to state their concerns — both at a public hearing and to individual councilors in person. In addition, neighbors were able to exercise their constitutional right to oppose the decision in court.
But the court has now ruled and it is time for everyone to accept Judge Shaw’s decision and move on. Defending the city’s elected officials cost Alexandria taxpayers nearly $1 million in legal fees and staff time. While the residents were within their rights to oppose this establishment in their midst, the cost to both the city and the plaintiffs also showed that suits like this should not be brought lightly.
Lastly, lost in all of the rancor is the likelihood that a first-rate restaurant and inn situated in a historic building like 329 N. Washington St. will be a significant — and positive — addition to Alexandria’s culinary and cultural scene.
We look forward to seeing the finished result.