Let the lawsuits begin!
It’s difficult to envision any other near-term course of action following City Council’s unanimous vote Tuesday night to pass the divisive Zoning for Housing initiative in the face of fierce opposition from a large swath of Alexandria residents.
And given the successful legal challenges to similar reforms passed in Minneapolis and Arlington, expect more of the same in the Port City.
Minneapolis passed zoning changes that abolished single-family zoning back in 2018 in a much-heralded victory for the “yes in my back yard” – or YIMBY – movement. This plan was touted here in Alexandria by consultants that were paid $100,000 by the city of Alexandria to promote the ZFH plan.
However, the Minneapolis zoning changes were quickly challenged in court by a group of plaintiffs, including environmentalists and “smart growth” advocates. After several years of legal wrangling, a Minnesota judge ruled in September that building under that city’s new zoning law must halt while an environmental impact study is conducted.
In adjacent Arlington, a lawsuit filed by residents advanced last month after a judge “denied most of the county’s motions to dismiss the case, according to an attorney for the 10 residents who sued Arlington,” according to ARLnow.
The action in Arlington was significant, because the judge ruled that residents of single family neighborhoods have standing to sue prior to redevelopment taking place. In recent years, Alexandria judges have dismissed numerous lawsuits filed by city residents on the basis of standing.
In the 19 years of the Times’ existence, we don’t recall any single issue that has outraged such a large swath of our city’s residents as ZFH.
One of the fascinating aspects of this dispute is how it cuts across ideological lines. While the zoning changes have been done in the name of progressive ideals such as increasing the affordable housing supply and eliminating racism – and many supporters are genuine in those motivations – the YIMBY movement has been funded by the conservative Koch Brothers and backed by developers.
Meanwhile, those fighting against the initiative also run the political gamut, from self-described progressives to centrist Democrats to Republicans. The leader of the opposition group Coalition for a Livable Alexandria is a Black man.
Whether this local opposition to ZFH runs deep enough to topple at least four members of City Council in the looming 2024 local election is unclear. What is clear is that in this one-party town, that changeover would have to take place in the June Democratic primary, not the November general election.
It’s difficult to get a reliable handle on the depth of opposition to ZFH in Alexandria. The CLA commissioned a poll from Bellwether Research, which often works with Republican candidates. That poll showed 58% of city residents were opposed to ZFH with only 26% supporting the initiative.
We asked readers for their opinion on whether ZFH should be considered as one package or broken up into pieces in our weekly, admittedly unscientific, poll. The response: 68% favored breaking it up and 30% wanted it considered as one, large package.
Patch also asked readers for their take on ZFH in another unscientific poll that was limited to Old Town, Del Ray and West End Patch readers, and a whopping 81.5% said they were opposed to ZFH, with 15.4% supporting.
Council had its say Tuesday night. But as baseball sage Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”