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Alexandria Waterfront Issues Before Virginia Supreme Court

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The plan to redevelop Alexandria's waterfront has spurred various legal challenges.
WAMU/Michael Pope
The plan to redevelop Alexandria's waterfront has spurred various legal challenges.

In Virginia, city leaders in Alexandria are back in court once again to consider various parts of its controversial waterfront plan.

Alexandria City Attorney James Banks will be back in Richmond today, arguing yet another case before the Virginia Supreme Court. Today's oral arguments come just days after the state supreme court ruled in a separate case—one brought by opponents of the controversial waterfront plan, which allows for increased density at three sites slated for redevelopment.

The court ruled that the case was moot, but attorney Roy Shannon says it was a victory for his clients.

"The reason it's moot is because the city had to do it over again the right way, and it should have been passed with a supermajority vote and the city disregarded that," he says.

Shannon's clients say the city was wrong to reject their protest of a decision from the planning director. They say their protest should have stopped the vote on the waterfront plan and required a supermajority to pass. City leaders say they couldn't have stopped the vote because the city was not open for business during a public hearing.

"The city is not going to change its current business practice, which is when you file you have to file when the city's offices are open for business," says Deputy City Attorney Chris Spera.

Now city officials are back before the justices once again, this time in a case involving Wales Alley. At the heart of the case is the Old Dominion Boat Club's claim that they have a private right to use the alley, a right that dates back to documents from the 1700s.

"Back in 1789, what the parties did to avoid somebody trying to block their access was reserve these private rights," explains Spera.

But things have changed, city officials maintain. Since 1972, the city has treated the alley as a public street clearing snow, filling potholes and issuing parking tickets.

"In 1789, to the surprise of no one, we didn't have the contemporary subdivision ordinances we have now," says Spera.

The dispute over Wales Alley is part of a larger dispute between the Boat Club and the city, one that has members of the Alexandria City Council considering the use of eminent domain.

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