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Alexandria alley fight to state’s top court

City, club at odds on riverfront land

- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2011

The long-simmering battle between the city of Alexandria and the Old Dominion Boat Club - part of the battle, anyway - is headed to the state's highest court.

The Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeals of both the city and a local restaurant in a case involving Wales Alley, a property near the waterfront that Alexandria owns but that is used by the boat club.

"We were certainly happy that the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal," City Attorney James L. Banks said.

Last year, the City Council approved a special-use permit for a restaurant called Virtue Feed & Grain that allows the restaurant to use part of the alley for outdoor seating. The boat club sued over the agreement, arguing that the area in question was private property. The Alexandria Circuit Court ruled that the city owned the property in question but club members had a right to use it.

"The only real ruling made at the circuit-court level directed at the city was that the Wales Alley was a city right-of-way," Mr. Banks said.

In July, the city made an offer of $150,000 for the easement as well as some parking spaces, and Mr. Banks mentioned that eminent domain - to take property from the boat club - was one possibility for settling the dispute, though he later backed off that remark.

The city and the restaurant each subsequently appealed the part of the ruling that barred the restaurant from constructing an outdoor dining deck. The Supreme Court will pair the two cases for the purposes of oral arguments.

"Basically, they had at least from midnight to 11 a.m. to move boats through," Mr. Banks said of the boat club's members. "Our understanding is that boaters move in the early morning hours anyway."

An attorney for the Old Dominion Boat Club could not be reached for comment.

The frosty relationship between the club and the city dates back decades - centuries, actually. The club also objected that the proposed use of the alley space by the restaurant violated the terms of an easement held by the club from a 1789 deed. In 1972, Dockside Sales, the owner of the property, built fences across both ends of the alley. The boat club sued, and the court for Alexandria ruled that the alley was "an established public way" and the club had "a vested easement of way."

After Judge John J. McGrath's ruling in April, the boat club tried to get the court to hold the city and the restaurant owners in contempt for blocking the alley.

Mr. Banks said ongoing negotiations over a plan to overhaul the city's waterfront would not have an effect on the case and he expected a result by sometime in the spring.

"There is absolutely no reason to indicate it would be handled in any different fashion," he said.

Alexandria and the boat club have been talking for years about using part of the club's land for a multimillion-dollar redevelopment plan for the waterfront. Mayor William D. Euille appointed an eight-member citizens group to develop recommendations after residents raised concerns during the spring over a city-proposed development that would overhaul the area to include hotels and restaurants.

An alternative plan was released earlier this week by the group Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan, which advocates retaining more parks and open space.

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