McLean Citizens Association (MCA) President John Foust said last week he will rescind Herb Becker's appointment as one of four MCA representatives to the McLean Planning Committee (MPC) because Becker wrote a letter at variance with the MCA's position opposing an option to close Lowell Avenue.
Becker is about two months away from assuming the presidency of the MPC.
On March 19, Becker wrote a letter to Dranesville Planning Commissioner Joan DuBois, setting out reasons he favors closing Lowell Avenue to create a larger park at Civic Place.
However, at the MPC meeting on March 20, Becker adhered to the MCA's position. He was one of four MCA representatives who voted against a motion to ask DuBois to defer the Planning Commission's decision on the option to close Lowell. The MCA now opposes the closing, and wants it struck from the Comprehensive Plan.
Despite the MCA's four "nay" votes, the motion passed 8 - 4, and DuBois deferred the Planning Commission’s decision on March 21.
"Herb wrote a three-page letter to the planning commissioner that was contrary to the MCA's position on Lowell Avenue," Foust said. "He is entitled to his opinion, but he is not speaking for the MCA when he did that.
"You cannot be an effective representative when you aggressively argue for a position that is contrary to the one taken by the board of directors," Foust said.
FOR SEVERAL YEARS as the MCA's representative to the MPC, Becker chaired a committee on Civic Place. During that time, he worked on a "proffer" from Madison Homes, Civic Place's developer, to exchange higher density for the park and other amenities. The project got increased density that doubled the floor area ratio from .7 to 1.6.
Madison Homes promised amenities that included construction of the park. Civic Place will be a six-story building with 59 high-end condominiums and shops and offices. It will have underground parking, accessed from the part of Lowell Avenue that would remain open.
The MCA's 40-member board of directors meets once a month, reviewing positions adopted by its standing committees. Those ratified by the larger board become MCA positions, and it is MCA policy that its members adhere to them when they attend other meetings, Foust said.
"You can't write that letter, and believe what that letter says, and at the same time, represent the MCA's position," Foust said. "It's not fair to the organization to let people go off, and take positions that are contrary to the organization.
"Herb is a great guy, and he's a hard worker. The issue is representing the organization," Foust said.
BUT BECKER SAW THE SITUATION FROM ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE. "Either the MCA trusts its delegates to make the right decisions for the MCA, or it shouldn't have them waste their personal time representing the MCA," he said. "Rather than insult its own delegates, maybe the MCA should withdraw from the MPC."
Two other MCA representatives to the MPC, Maya Huber and Greg Lakin, voted against the Mar. 20 motion asking DuBois to defer. Later, Huber said she personally thought it would make no difference to leave the option in the Comprehensive Plan.
Lakin said his vote "represents my personal view, but it's also the right thing to do.” Lakin was first appointed to the MPC two months ago.
Alternate Jan Perriello, who also voted against the motion asking DuBois to defer, was attending for MPC member Chris Monet.
Poole, chairman of the MCA's Trees Committee, broke rank with the MCA to vote for the motion. He won't be removed from his chairmanship, Foust said, because he was attending as a citizen rather than as an MCA representative.
At a Jan. 30 hearing on nominations for changes in the Comprehensive Plan, Fairfax County's Planning and Zoning staff said that because of the developer's proffer, it would be "premature" to remove the option of closing Lowell Avenue.
CAROLINE PICKENS, PRESIDENT of the MCA in 1998 when the option to close Lowell was added into the Plan as an out of turn amendment, says she can't remember any discussion.
"It certainly wasn't an issue in terms of coming to the board," she said. "I don't recall it as a 'hot' issue. Whatever stand the P and Z recommended, it was approved," she said.
On Feb. 16, 1998, Pickens wrote a letter to the Planning Commission that established the MCA’s support for the revitalization plan in the Community Business Center (CBC). She identified two areas of concern: the proposed roundabout at Old Dominion Drive and Chain Bridge Road and retention of a retail post office in the CBC.
LAST WEEK, PICKENS BACKED Foust's decision to remove Becker.
"If you are the MCA's representative to the MPC, and the MCA has taken a position on something, then you owe it to the board to take that position," she said.
"There is always an issue when you are a representative to another organization. Because we have a P and Z committee, if there is an issue that we take a position on, then they should represent that as the representative of the MCA."
But she also questioned whether it is wise to withdraw from a proffer agreement.
"If there was a tit for tat, when either the tit or the tat backs out, it changes the deal," Pickens said. "If that is true [at Civic Place], then we have the worst of both worlds. We get the density, but not the park that was supposed to offset it."
Last June, former Dranesville Supervisor Lilla Richards formally asked that the option to close Lowell be removed from the Comprehensive Plan.
At the Jan. 30 hearing, MCA Planning and Zoning chairman Adrienne Whyte called it "an albatross" that should be removed. "The McLean Planning Committee has misled the community," Whyte said.
Under questioning from Planning Commissioners, neither Richards nor Whyte could recall the MCA's position when the option went into the Comprehensive Plan on April 27, 1998.
"I don't know how it got in the Plan. The developer got his density. Let's get our street back," said Richards.
On McLean Day last year, when the McLean Planning Committee presented drawings of the proposed street closing and the park, 115 citizens signed a petition supporting the street closing. Four were opposed.
BECKER HAD BEEN scheduled to assume the presidency of the McLean Planning Committee in June. The office is rotated among the four groups that send four representatives each to the MPC: the MCA, the McLean Chamber of Commerce, adjacent homeowner associations, and landowners in the business community.
The MCA is presently amending its bylaws. One of them, proposed by Becker, would prevent members of its six-member executive committee from also serving as committee chairs.
Those changes will be presented at the MCA's regular board meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 3. A vote on the proposed bylaw changes will be taken May 1, when the MCA has a general membership meeting.