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Windover Heights Residents Confront Town Council

A few residents expressed anger with the historic district's zoning ordinance.

<bt>Monday night's meeting of the Vienna Town Council was marked by lively public comment, during which a few citizens of the Windover Heights Historic District confronted the council with complaints about the district's zoning ordinance and its implementation.

At the beginning of the meeting, resident Matthew Stich of Walnut Lane, who had already set up a video camera, approached the council to complain of his treatment by the town regarding modifications to his property.

"Why did I get a letter from the town demanding that I demolish my deck in five days, when every effort was made to the Grays who are here tonight to ensure that they got to keep what they got?" Stich asked.

On the agenda was a public hearing on an appeal filed by Vienna resident Michael Covel of Pleasant Street, N.W. on a decision by the Windover Heights Board of Review. The board had granted a certificate of appropriateness on an application filed by Jeffery and Katherine Gray for property located on West Street, N.W. The certificate had approved the replacement of siding with Hardiplank, the replacement of existing windows with Pella windows, the replacement of rotting wood on the front porch and the construction of an addition on the rear of the house.

Stich went on to say his wife had been harassed by a zoning inspector and threatened with police action if she continued to allow a contractor to fix their drainage system and that he had been told he needed a building permit to repair his fence and needed a permit and a plat design to repair his porch.

"Have the other dozen or so citizens in our neighborhood that have put up fences and repaired them been treated in the same manner?" Stich asked. He concluded by saying he feared legal action might be his last recourse.

Mayor Jane Seeman asked that he submit his list of grievances.

When the hearing on the appeal of the Grays' certificate of appropriateness was opened, another eruption of public comment ensued.

ONCE AGAIN, Stich took the floor, this time to read a letter addressed to the council by Michael Covel, questioning whether there are in fact any surviving historic homes in Windover Heights.

"The town of Vienna has never completed an inventory of any homes within the boundaries of the Windover Heights District," Stich read. "There is no list. There is no proof. There is nothing but touchy-feely, catchy phrases that appeal to certain liberal political ideologies."

Stich read for several minutes as the letter went on to question the value of a historic district in Windover Heights, citing a conversation in which Councilmember Laurie Cole was told by Greg Hembree, the director of planning and zoning, that Windover Heights is "not a preservation district," questioning the qualifications of David Miller to sit on the Windover Heights Board of review and concluding, "You've taken a nonspecific legal language and, depending on whether you like that person in front of you, you use the ordinance's lack of objective criteria to make up whatever you want."

Stich's wife, Susan Stich, then addressed the council, calling the ordinance unconstitutional and saying, "This liberal idea of interpreting codes, laws — it's intellectually dishonest, but it is not surprising given most of the cast of characters here. You all can't even define the words historic and preservation."

Next on the floor was resident Jerome Covel, who made various accusations against the council and threatened a lawsuit. He said that at a work session last summer, Windover Heights Board of Review member Carey Sienicki had called for guidelines to define the ordinance, to which Councilmember George Lovelace had allegedly responded, "There are some things that don't have to be on a standard."

"Well, George," said Covel, "the reason I'm suing you is exactly for that kind of ignorance wrapped around arrogance."

He asked the council, "Do you all actually think you can get away with a law that no one understands — that has no objective standards?" Covel said he was saddened to see the council "perfidiously avoid the right thing," and vowed, "This will all be declared unconstitutional in a courtroom."

JEFFERY GRAY, WHO was present with his wife, was asked by Councilmember Lovelace to speak about the proposed changes to his house. Gray said it is an application to "upgrade certain aspects of the property, to make the property look more architecturally accurate, to upgrade higher quality materials to the property."

Councilmember Cole asked if the addition on the back would be visible from the road and whether it would change the footprint of the house. She was told that it would not.

Following a spat between Stich and Councilmember Maude Robinson over materials supporting the existence of a historic district, Steve Bukont, chairman of the Windover Heights Board of Review, got up and defended the district, saying that when he moved to Vienna 17 years ago, he was "amazed that there was this one part of town that was radically different." Bukont said much of the neighborhood is as it was 100 years ago, and he pointed out that, although residents have to go through an "additional step" to modify their houses, they also have the benefit of protection to the value of their homes.

He also defended the certificate of appropriateness his board had granted the Grays, saying the changes not only improved the house but also changed its appearance more toward that of the period from 1875 to the 1930s. He went over each of the proposed changes and the seven criteria of the ordinance as they applied to the house. The council then affirmed the board of review's decision to confer a certificate of appropriateness for the proposed changes to the Grays' house.

In addition to receiving extensive public comment, the council also held a public hearing on adjustments to several fees related to building permits, driveway permits and the administrative activities of zoning interpretation/determination letters and boundary line adjustment or easement plats. No comments were offered by councilmembers or the audience, and the adjustments are now on the agenda for adoption.

A modification to the town's civilian retirement plan in the form of adding a defined contribution plan for all new employees was also approved. Current employees will have the option transferring to the defined contribution plan.

A proposed ordinance, approved at the Sept. 26 meeting, to prohibit the distribution of material, solicitation of contributions and sale of merchanise on the town's streets, was adopted, with Councilmember Mike Polychrones voting "Nay."

A public hearing on a proposal to prohibit the parking of watercraft, boat trailers, motor homes and camping trailers was set for Nov. 21.