Tony Arbid, owner of Lake Anne's Il Cigno Restaurant, was at home Sunday evening when he received an alarming phone call.
At around 9 p.m. an employee of Cafe Monmarte, which neighbors Il Cigno, saw a group of five men removing the wooden planters that sit in front of Arbid's restaurant.
"One of the guys [from Cafe Monmarte] walked out and said, 'What are you doing?' The guy moving the planters said, 'I have a court order.' The guy from Monmarte put two and two together and asked himself, 'Why would he be taking something with a court order at 9 p.m. on Easter Sunday,'" Arbid said.
After hearing the news, Arbid called Fairfax County Police and drove over to the restaurant himself. He arrived as the men were getting ready to take the last planter.
And he recognized one of the men. It was Wayne Schiffelbein, a member of the Lake Anne Condominium Association Board of Directors. Schiffelbein, Arbid said, had hired four freelance workers to help remove the planters. When a police officer arrived at the restaurant he asked Schiffelbein what right he had to take the planters. Schiffelbein went to his home to retrieve a "court order," which the officer dismissed as a bunch of irrelevant papers, according to Arbid.
Because it was deemed a civil matter, Schiffelbein was not arrested. But the officer advised Arbid to take legal action. The officer also made Schiffelbein return the planters to their original locations, Arbid said. Some of the planters were damaged in the move.
SCHIFFELBEIN HAS BEEN involved in a series of discussions on a seasonal canopy Il Cigno installs over its outdoor seating area. Schiffelbein, along with other members of the condominium association board, believes the canopy is an eyesore that obscures other storefronts on the historic plaza.
But Arbid says he went through all the correct Reston Association (RA) and Fairfax County procedures in authorizing the canopy. In fact, the former president of the Lake Anne Condominium Association signed the canopy application Arbid originally sent to the RA Design Review Board. Schiffelbein, in a previous interview, said that signature does not represent approval of the canopy.
The planters in front of Il Cigno form a base for the canopy and on Feb. 20 of this year the condominium association sent Arbid a letter, telling the restaurant owner to remove the planters by Feb. 28. The letter stated that the planters, which have been in place for over 20 years, were outside a 32-foot easement onto the plaza and, therefore, they were infringing on condominium association property.
After receiving the letter, Arbid hired attorney Michael Horwatt, who has since filed injunctions to stop the association from taking the planters.
Over the past month representatives from both the restaurant and the condominium association have been discussing the canopy, trying to find some kind of resolution. Both sides agreed not to take any action, legal or physical, until April 1. And, Arbid said, it seemed that the condominium association was willing to continue discussing the canopy past the April 1 date. There were meetings on the canopy scheduled for this week.
"We were told last week," Arbid said on Monday, "that [Schiffelbein] was looking for alternative ideas to compromise on the tent."
But after Sunday Arbid is not sure if he wants to continue cooperating with the condominium association.
"By acting in that manner they have lost all legitimacy," Arbid said.
CALLS TO BOTH Martha Green, condominium association president, and Schiffelbein, were not returned. But Patricia Shelton, acting chair of the merchants committee of the condominium association, condemned Schiffelbein's actions.
"None of the merchants are pleased with that approach," Shelton, owner of Exquisite Designs, a Lake Anne shop, said. "To do anything at night like that, we're just upset about it all. I can't imagine any merchants liking that approach."
Shelton said there will be action taken, but she is not yet sure what that action will be. She is investigating Schiffelbein's motivation for removing the planters and is investigating whether or not the rest of the condominium association board was involved. There are five seats on the condominium association board. Three of those seats are reserved for Lake Anne residents and two seats are reserved for Lake Anne merchants. Schiffelbein fills one of the merchant seats, but he does not own either a business or a residence on Lake Anne. He has said that he represents the Lakeside Pharmacy, but on Monday pharmacy owner Larry Cohen denied that. Although he voted for Schiffelbein to be elected to the board, Cohen said Schiffelbein does not represent the pharmacy.
"I didn't know anything about it till [Monday] morning," Cohen said, referring to the planter removal. "I don't support it."
If Schiffelbein doesn't own property on Lake Anne and does not represent a Lake Anne business, he is not eligible to serve on the Lake Anne Condominium Association Board. Shelton said she is also investigating Schiffelbein's eligibility.
"It's very strange," Shelton said. "We're looking to see if this is the action of one person who is so totally obsessed with Lake Anne and the guidelines and rules created years ago."
Tony Arbid's brother Fouad Arbid, who also runs a business on Lake Anne, described Schiffelbein with the same word Shelton used: "obsessed."
"Our concern is that if someone is willing to do this, on Easter night, might he be willing to do more?" Fouad Arbid asked.