The McLean Planning Committee last week voted unanimously to commend its former vice president, Herb Becker, for his work on the committee as a representative from the McLean Citizens Association.
MPC member Barbara Phillips, a former member of the MCA’s planning and zoning committee, proposed a letter commending Becker be sent to MCA President John Foust.
“I want to commend Herb Becker for all the years of work he has put in. I don’t think anybody has worked as hard, or as passionately,” she said.
Last month, Foust removed Becker as one of four MCA representatives to the MPC because he wrote a personal letter to Dranesville Planning Commissioner Joan DuBois in which he expressed support for the closing of Lowell Avenue.
Foust appointed MCA first vice president Jan Perriello to replace Becker.
DURING THE MPC MEETING last month, however, Becker voted against the closing, in keeping with the official position of the MCA.
“I personally deplore the position that was taken by the MCA. [Becker] voted with the MCA on the MPC,” she said.
“I am an immigrant. I am a U.S. citizen. One of the things I value is the freedom of speech,” said Phillips, a native of Columbia who raised her family in McLean.
Becker has said he spent thousands of hours helping to negotiate a “proffer” under which Madison Homes would get increased density for Civic Place in return for offering to expand the footprint of a public park at the terminus of the “Main Street” in a revitalized downtown McLean.
“My neighborhood relied on that, and agreed to the largest development since McLean House,” said Jim Peoples of the MPC, a former planning and zoning chairman for the MCA.
He said the issue of empowerment has surfaced before relative to the MCA appointees to the MPC.
“I am going to ask, again, the executive committee of this organization to go to the MCA board and ask, again, that we re-establish your abilities to negotiate on the MCA’s behalf.
“We can’t just depend on good will any more,” he said. “I will ask for a resolution to establish the authority of their representatives to represent the MCA, and they will support those positions. Otherwise, we can’t negotiate anything,” Peoples said.
THE MCA’S Chris Monet, who was appointed to the MPC in February, said the situation involving Becker “is all very unfortunate, because there has been miscommunication by some very sophisticated people who know better."
Monet said the MCA position on the issue of closing Lowell Avenue “has developed through the deliberative, collaborative process of the MCA by far more experienced people who have lived in McLean” for a long time.
When someone who is the MCA’s representative to the MPC writes or speaks in his own behalf, Monet said, “It is incumbent on that individual to go to the leadership to make clear it is for the purposes of self expression.
“The individual who did that is very sophisticated, and he should have known better. It is just not acceptable,” said Monet.
Barbara Soderquist, who represents the McLean Chamber of Commerce to the MPC, said all the MCA’s representatives block-voted in effect, to keep Lowell open by removing the option for closing it.
MPC President Shirley Elliott said the Lowell closing was part of the negotiating process for Civic Place.
“We were negotiating in good faith, and driving as hard as we could to get community benefits [at Civic Place], only to discover there was a switch in [the MCA’s] position,” she said.
Greg Lakin, also appointed to the MPC from the MCA in February, said “I have no history. My sense of it is it wasn’t so much a change of [MCA] position as being presented with a change of a series of facts that were eloquently stated in front of our group, saying ‘this isn’t gong to happen.’”
John Fredericks, a former MPC president, said “The ‘facts’ are not facts. The facts are opinion. The MCA’s [change in] position was based on opinion, not fact.’”
“The MCA acts like they are somehow different than we are,” Soderquist said. “We are all citizens of McLean.”
“Planning is a multi-year process. We have to depend on consistency over a period of time,” said Peoples.
“The MCA’s planning and zoning committee has a frame of reference of six months. We are involved on a much more granular level.”
CIVIC PLACE, which will build 59 high-end condominiums over retail shops with an underground garage, will cost more than $60 million.
“Peoples’ livelihoods — their fortunes — are involved in this,” said Peoples. “We can’t afford to be inconsistent."
He proposed that the MCA and MPC boards meet to resolve the issue of representation to the MPC.
In 1998, the MCA wrote a letter to the Fairfax County Planning Commission, supporting the revitalization plan for downtown McLean.
Two years later, after the leadership of the MCA had changed, its Planning and Zoning committee voted to oppose closing Lowell Avenue.
Both the MCA and the MPC are non-partisan.
The MCA is a citizens group made up of volunteers who represent their neighborhoods on a 40-member board of directors.
That board has a planning and zoning committee that reviews plans for land use changes and recommends positions to be adopted by the larger board.
The MPC has 16 members, four each from the McLean Chamber of Commerce, downtown landowners, surrounding homeowner associations, and the MCA.
LAST JUNE, during an every-other-year review of the Comprehensive Plan, former Dranesville District Supervisor Lilla Richards, a Democrat, made nominations to remove the option to close Lowell, and a proposed roundabout at Chain Bridge Road and Old Dominion Drive from the Comprehensive Plan.
There is no plan to institute the roundabout, but the Lowell Avenue closing could go forward with the development of Civic Place. Both nominations were deferred indefinitely.
Madison Homes, the builder of Civic Place, says sales of 59 condominiums facing Lowell Avenue will open in late June, with construction to begin in September.
Phillips, who defended Becker’s representation to the MPC, is a former Democratic candidate for Dranesville District supervisor. She was defeated in 1999 when Mendelsohn was re-elected.
Foust also ran for office that year, seeking the Democratic Party nomination as a candidate for the General Assembly from the 34th District. He lost in the primary to Carole Herrick.
Foust has sidestepped questions about whether he will seek the Democratic nomination for Dranesville Supervisor next year.
Several other potential candidates say they are waiting to see whether Mendelsohn runs before they decide if they will be candidates next year.