LETTER: Longtime Resident Opposes Lincoln Avenue Development
By Paul Perrot
August 6, 2012
Last Monday, I attended the Planning Commission meeting regarding an appeal on new construction at 1007 Lincoln Avenue. The appeal was continued to August 6 and a final decision is expected when the Commission reconvenes in City Council chambers for further deliberation at 7:45 P.M. this evening. We need your help. Please come to make your views known.
This is a matter of critical importance for Falls Church City. The rights of our fellow citizens who initiated the appeal have been grievously violated. Moreover, the rezoning on this property is not consistent with existing code, and the resulting increase in density has far reaching implications for increased demands on city services and the capacity of our city to pay for them. Most significant for this evening’s agenda, the development proposed for the property is not in line with CBIRT (Chesapeake Bay Interdisciplinary Review Team) regulations. It must be stopped.
CBIRT regulations allow for a maximum water runoff of 35 percent. The proposed grading changes to the property will produce a 41 percent runoff. Members of the Planning Commission who were on the City Council when this code was written stated that the maximum limit of 35 percent was intended as a ceiling to mitigate aggregate runoff from conditions caused by all properties combined throughout the entire City. The current proposal violates this premise. Even if this proposal offers some kind of solution for the additional runoff, from everything I heard, there is no sure plan to dispose of the excess runoff in accordance with CBIRT regulations. And let’s not overlook the fact that any excess runoff is simply a violation of the regulations in the first place.
If this weren’t enough, the property is currently in violation of the CBIRT requirement of 20% tree coverage.
Take a look at the site yourself. There are no trees there at all! With all the structures proposed including driveways and underground holding tanks and other shenanigans the developer might have in mind, there doesn’t appear to be any guarantee that the property will ever have sufficient growing room to attain this requirement of a 20% tree canopy.
It should concern you that the developer has subsequently ‘volunteered’ to address the matter more stringently, “at my own expense,” he proffers. And this comes after outrageous violations of the neighbors’ due process rights by all other parties involved. Do these more stringent measures really sweeten the deal? I think not. They merely underline the fact that the CBIRT regulations have not been properly followed and that the appeal should be upheld.
The City Engineer’s presentation was ill-conceived and unconvincing. According to him, we are to believe that the only thing CBIRT is supposed to protect is ‘water quality’. This is not true. As Planning Commissioner John Lawrence pointed out, ‘water quality’ is just a very small part of the regulations (“8th on the list,” he said). The City Engineer’s reading of ‘water quality’ is exceptionally limited and does not address the quality issues covered in all other aspects of CBIRT regulations, which he doesn’t even appear willing to consider anyway. He made no substantive accounting for the consequences of accumulated water runoff and how the quality of that water may be affected or further compromised in subsequent handling. Nor does he give any good reasons why the City should be the one to bear increased costs for services to address this issue, let alone the substantially higher cost implications for other services such as our schools. More to the point, the City Engineer is hardly the one to be calling the shots on matters of such magnitude, especially since he seems to mistake his interpretations for the code itself.
On the matter of the code requirement for a stay to any and all work on the property where zoning decisions are subject to appeal, the City Attorney stated that conventional interpretations of the wording ‘compliance’ in the code refer to compliance regarding orders issued by the City. This reading does not make sense here where the appeal is made by some entity other than the City. The only ‘order’ that this section of code can possibly allude to is the weight of the appeal itself. Otherwise there would be no need to admit the possibility of any ‘stay’ in the wording of this statute. The statute itself only uses the word, ‘order’, in the first instance in reference to the ruling under appeal; in the second instance in the sense of ‘restraining order’ where the stay by appeal can be undone by authority of the City Manager or by court order. Since our City Attorney wants to understand ‘compliance’ in the way he stated, one thing for sure is that this section of the code needs to be rewritten for clarity. Also, a distinction needs to be made between large commercial projects and small residential ones. What makes sense for the former should not necessarily apply to the latter. The increased density here is only possible with the hocus pocus of specious calculations designed to meet the requirement of a maximum 35% runoff.
What concerned me the most about the City Attorney’s statement is that he did not demonstrate any interest in supporting a reading in accordance with the actual language or intent of the Code. His reading was, in fact, totally opposite the interpretation of every commissioner who opined on the matter. There may be some basis in established legal precedent for the City Attorney’s position. But in this instance where such legal precedent is obviously wrong, I would expect our City Attorney not to pander to it but rather to challenge it and make it right. The City Attorney impresses me as an astute professional. I believe that his hand is being forced to maintain a position more to justify mismanagement of the whole matter than to uphold the letter of the law.
Falls Church City needs more stringent zoning requirements to protect it from developers who exploit the system. This has been an issue as long as I have lived here (since 1987). While we succeeded in reducing the Jennings townhouse development on East Jefferson from 130 or so – I don’t recall the exact number but it was ridiculously high and inappropriate – to its present size, remember that one of the developer’s ‘proffers’ was a bike path with egress to East Jefferson. Do not trust either the developer or the City on that one.
My experience is that developers will do and say anything to skirt City requirements intended to ensure the integrity of our community when the only real consideration is their own bottom line. Every time this happens, the developer engages legal counsel to intimidate or persuade the City from enforcing codes designed to protect the greater public interest. And in doing so they make vain, pandering ‘proffers’ that, like the bike path, may not even be realized. If these projects were truly transparent, fair and above board, would such legal counsel really be necessary?
Last Monday there were only a handful of citizens to speak out against what is happening on Lincoln Avenue. And now this matter is at its final hour. To be effective blocking initiatives that violate a major zoning ordinance, we need to step up and voice our views. The time is now. Since zoning matters in the City are not transparent, extraordinary vigilance of the citizens is required to make sure that the City doesn’t expand to an unsustainable size.
We have to put a stop to rezoning that leads to larger density, which is detrimental to the future of Falls Church City. Our schools simply do not have room for larger enrollments, and our city does not have adequate free space to construct additional school buildings without astronomical costs. The extraordinary growth in nearby Loudoun County has come at a huge cost of capital investment. Two high schools just recently opened and a third opens this year, not to mention new elementary and middle schools, too. And yet more building is required. At least Loudoun has available space. We have to be very careful not to grow to a size that we cannot afford to maintain. Falls Church City Schools are excellent and we need to keep them this way. The consequences of higher densities will be higher costs to run our quality schools and maintain other needed services. If we are not careful, these costs might just outrun our capacity to pay for them.
Please come to tonight’s meeting. Our fellow citizens on Lincoln Avenue need everyone’s support. We all need to work together to preserve the future of our City.
By (see byline)
August 6, 2012