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Catholic diocese’s suit over alley by Alexandria housing project dismissed

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A judge in Alexandria has dismissed a lawsuit from the local Catholic diocese against the Northern Virginia city, putting a formal end to a legal dispute over an alleyway next to both a Catholic church and a planned affordable housing development.

The suit had escalated a tense back and forth between city and church officials and the complex’s nonprofit developer, the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation (AHDC), who all serve the mostly Central American immigrant population living near the alley in the Arlandria-Chirilagua area.

Those parties all agreed to set aside the suit ahead of the Nov. 9 dismissal order.

The alley will no longer be included in the AHDC development and will remain accessible to parents at Saint Rita School and parishioners at Saint Rita Catholic Church who use it for drop-off and pickup away from the busy roadways on Russell Road and West Glebe Avenue.

Catholic diocese sues Alexandria over affordable housing development

Earlier this year, Alexandria city lawmakers had voted to vacate a portion of the alley, allowing AHDC to use it as part of its plans for a 474-unit affordable apartment complex — a long-awaited project in this lower-income neighborhood.

But Bishop Michael Burbidge, who oversees parishes across the region from the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, filed a lawsuit in April contending that the city did not have the proper authority to vacate the alley. His suit cited a decades-old land deed that he said shows his diocese has a private right to the alley over that of the public.

After the lawsuit was filed, AHDC resubmitted new designs that incorporated an additional parcel of land and did not end up using the alley. The city of Alexandria withdrew its vacation of the alley and subsequently asked that Burbidge’s lawsuit be dismissed.

Billy Atwell, the chief communications officer with the Diocese of Arlington, said in a statement that the church was happy to agree to a final order dismissing the court case.

“The Diocese’s legal action was necessary to preserve and clarify certain property rights relating to the alley adjacent to the property that are critical for the continued operations of Saint Rita Catholic Church and School,” he said. “After the lawsuit was filed, the parties had sufficient time to coordinate their efforts.”

Alexandria officials did not respond to a request for comment. Kayla Hornbrook, a spokeswoman for AHDC, said the organization was looking forward to continuing with the project.

“We were glad to arrive at this solution that we think is architecturally better than where we started and works for the church and works for all our other neighbors as well,” Hornbrook said.

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Amid rising rents and rapid development prompted by Amazon and Virginia Tech, many advocates have feared that existing Arlandria residents could be displaced from market-rate properties in the neighborhood. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Alexandria leaders have said they hope the community can benefit from lower rents in the AHDC project, which will stand to become one of the largest sources of “committed affordable” housing units in the city.

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The project — which is for now known simply as “Mount Vernon and Glebe” — is also set to provide unusually deep levels of affordability: About one quarter of units at the AHDC property will be reserved for families making less than 40 percent of the area median income, and another half of the units for families making less than 60 percent of the area median income.

Burbidge’s suit was filed but never served. Some advocates feared the suit would delay the long-awaited AHDC project but without ever leading to time-consuming legal proceedings.

Alexandria City Council approved a revised AHDC plan for the site in July. The revised plan also eliminates a proposed new north-south road that would have been next to the Saint Rita playground and relocates two loading docks that were adjacent to the school play area.

Construction of that road was also contingent upon a land swap with Saint Rita Church for a small portion of its property — one that city officials noted was premature, according to ALX Now.

Atwell, the diocese spokesman, said the church would have liked to see some other minor modifications to the AHDC project to reduce “negative impacts” on its property — ones that will require “significant alterations to facilities and operations” at both the church and the school.

“That said, the Church appreciates that sacrifices are inevitable, and adaption is necessary,” he said. “We look forward to welcoming our new neighbors, the future residents of the AHDC development.”