By Alexa Epitropoulos | [email protected]
Four residents of the neighborhood that borders the planned four-house Karig Estates development in the Seminary Ridge neighborhood have filed a lawsuit against city council about the project.
John Scruggs, Nancy Scruggs, Loren Needles and Janice Lachance filed a lawsuit, both as individuals and as representatives of neighborhood group the Alexandria Coalition for Responsible Stewardship, with the Circuit Court of Appeals of the City of Alexandria on March 19. The four publicly announced the action and that they had retained law firm Offit Kurman to represent them on May 5.
The lawsuit comes after city council in January denied, by a 6-1 vote, an appeal of the planning commission’s Nov. 9 decision to approve changes to the development site plan. The amended development site plan shifted one of the houses 12.5 feet closer to the street. The planning commission first approved the development site plan in October.
The group requests, in the lawsuit, that city council’s decision be reversed, alleging it isn’t supported by substantial evidence, and that it be remanded to the planning commission “for revision to comply with the applicable laws and regulations.”
John Scruggs, whose home on Colonel Ellis Avenue is next to the planned development, said filing the lawsuit wasn’t an easy decision for the group. Scruggs has lived in the neighborhood for 21 years, while Needles has lived there for seven.
“Deciding to bring a lawsuit against the city council of the city you live in is no small matter and we thought about it long and hard,” Scruggs said. “But the issues are too important not to pursue it. When you look at the environmental issues, the quality of life issues – we just felt like we didn’t have a choice.”
Needles, whose property on St. Stephens Road also borders the development, said the city didn’t adhere to all of its own environmental rules. Chief among Needles’ and Scruggs’ concerns are construction of the homes on marine clay, which has previously posed problems both with house foundation slippage and with drainage.
“We think the city was selective in what environmental regulations they were going to adhere to – not only the regulations, but the physical layout,” Needles said.
Scruggs said other areas of the neighborhood have dealt with negative impacts from new development.
“If you go right down Colonel Ellis [Avenue], there’s a new street constructed behind my neighbors’ houses. They were told the same thing: ‘No, there won’t be any kinds of problems. We’ll take care of the run-off,’” Scruggs said. “You ought to see the remedial action they’ve had to take behind their house in terms of retaining walls, huge stones, to
keep that hillside and those houses from sliding down into their yards.”
The two said, since discovering the plans for Karig Estates in the early months of 2017, they have had concerns about what problems the development would pose. Scruggs and Needles also felt discouraged by the process.
“We felt, overall, if you summarized all three hearings, that the city acted as
if they were not responsive to the citizens’ concerns,” Needles said. “It was ‘Well, OK, we have to listen to you and we’ll go ahead and make the decision the way we want to.’”
Scruggs and Needles, along with Mayor Allison Silberberg – who cast council’s lone dissenting vote in January – have also lamented that the city didn’t listen to the report of geologist Anthony Fleming.
“This is not just Loren Needles and John Scruggs speculating this. … [There are] hydrology reports from an expert that says there are some valid concerns here that we think we need to be concerned about,” Scruggs said.
Scruggs said the issue at hand is more than one that impacts his neighborhood alone. He hopes, through the lawsuit, to ensure the city follows environmental regulations in the future.
“It is in my backyard and in Loren’s backyard, but I think there are bigger issues here because this can happen to anybody, anywhere,” Scruggs said. “The issue here is whether we’re going to comply with the environmental laws that apply to everyone, whether the city is going to enforce those laws and whether they’re going to give the issues proper scrutiny. It doesn’t matter if it happens to be in my backyard because someone ten miles away can have the same issue crop up with them next week or next month.”
City spokesperson Craig Fifer said the city didn’t have a comment on the lawsuit, as it was pending litigation.
Scruggs said the city has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and that he expects there to be a hearing in June. He said the best case scenario is that the case survives dismissal and that the hearing goes forward. He said he wouldn’t speculate further on the outcome.
“We’ll file responses to their motions. We’ll have a hearing before a court judge and see where it goes from there,” Scruggs said.