With barely a quorum present tonight, three out of four members of the Falls Church Planning Commission on hand voted to continue a hotly-contested matter of ruling on an appeal of a water runoff matter impacting areas around the 1000 block of Lincoln Avenue until Monday. The vote came after a three-hour deliberation on the matter which included strong words on both sides of the issue.
At issue is residential developments on two lots at 1007 Lincoln Avenue, where City officials have approved a so-called Chesapeake Bay Interdisciplinary Review Team (CBIRT) water runoff review and building permits were granted for a demolition and the commencement of new construction of two homes.
Neighbors to the site filed a “third party” appeal of the City staff’s CBIRT, objecting to the City’s refused to stay construction pending the outcome of their appeal and claiming the new construction will contribute further to dire storm water management problems in that area.
For the Planning Commission, it marked the first time ever it has been called on to rule on an appeal of a CBIRT ruling, and acting chair John Lawrence and members Lindy Hockenberry, Ruth Rodgers and Russ Wodiska all expressed concern for the process that brought the matter to them late last week without more advanced notice.
Falls Church City Attorney John Foster stressed to the Planners that their ruling on the appeal had to be on the merits of the criteria for the CBIRT ruling, solely, without concern for matters, such as due process and the volume of water the new developments would place as a burden on the City’s storm water management system.
The criteria set out have to do solely with the quality, and not the quantity, of the water any new development will unload into the streams and ground water systems that will ultimately feed the Chesapeake Bay, on condition that locality-specific limits on impervious surfaces on any newly developed land be met, or mitigated with added water quality measures. In Falls Church, the impervious surface threshold is 35 percent.
Spokesmen for citizens in residences near the site in question — including Nancy Morrison, John Murphy, John Perot and Dan Maller — argued that they are rightfully aggrieved parties to this matter, a position shared by Foster. They spoke to the impact of even moderate rainstorms on their area, and the cumulative effect of over-development on flooding into the basements of people’s homes.
However, Arthur McArthur, a resident of a newly-constructed adjoining home at 1005-A Lincoln Ave., argued in defense of the City staff’s favorable June 18 CBIRT ruling that the only two parties who matter in the case are those who represent the interests of the Chesapeake Bay and the developer, and that there is not merit to “third party” appeals. McArthur and his wife, constituting the Little City Builders, LLC, and represented by local attorney William Baskin, is the developer of the properties in question.
The four Planning Commissioners present appeared to be sympathetic with the neighbors, and Hockenberry was particularly incensed that building permits had been granted to move ahead with construction even while the matter was under appeal. Lawrence called the fact the construction was not stopped with the appeal “unconscionable.”
Maller, a former City Council member, argued that the appeal process has “been stood on its head,” because a stay in construction should have been automatic pending the outcome of an appeal. Foster disagreed.
Despite any “appellant anger could alleged due process,” Foster counseled the Planning Commissioners, “it is not the issue before you. It is only whether or not the CBIRT ruling was based on proper bases.”
The vote to put the matter over a final ruling, one day before the deadline, was 3-1, with Wodiska voting against.