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Alexandria Board Without Lawyer For Waterfront Case

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A view of some of the development that's already along the Potomac Riverfront in Alexandria.
Adam Fagen (http://www.flickr.com/photos/afagen/6811967296/)
A view of some of the development that's already along the Potomac Riverfront in Alexandria.

Members of the Alexandria Board of Zoning Appeals will not have legal representation in a case challenging their recent decision on the city's controversial waterfront plan.

After receiving a request from members of the Board of Zoning Appeals for the city to hire a lawyer to represent them in Circuit Court, Council member Paul Smedberg proposed spending $5,000 for an attorney. But some confusion arose as to what exactly that would mean during a city council meeting last week, and and City Attorney James Banks told members of the council he wasn't sure what the ramifications would be if the city council hired an attorney to represent the board they themselves are challenging in court.

"If this motion stays on the table and is approved, procedurally, how does this sort of play out?" Smedberg asked Banks.

Banks replied he didn't know, so Smedberg withdrew his motion. Now, the Board of Zoning Appeals will not have legal representation in court when the city brings a challenge against its decision in the coming months.

At issue is a ruling made in a late-night meeting last month. The ruling overturned a decision by the city's planning director denying a petition by citizens calling for the waterfront plan to be approved by a supermajority of city council members.

Stakes are high because the plan fell one vote shy of reaching a supermajority in a January vote. Bert Ely, a member of the waterfront work groups, believes the Board of Zoning Appeals deserves independent representation.

"The concern with the city doing this is the potential for conflict of interest between the city providing advice to the Board of Zoning Appeals on one hand, and then being the party that is suing to overturn the board's decision," says Ely.

Vice Mayor Kerry Donley disagrees.

"If you've got this other lawyer here ... he or she is going to look to justify their existence," he says. "And, you know, that's like having a bouncer at a bar. I mean, they're just going out looking for a fight."

The Board of Zoning Appeals is left without a lawyer for now. The Circuit Court case is expected to be heard in the next few months.

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