Emotions ran high at Monday's Town Council meeting as an old feud over the Windover Heights Historic District was again brought to the fore. A decision on whether to allow a piece of property to be removed from the historic district was deferred until May 8, but not before impassioned pleas and angry accusations were directed at the council.
At question was the colorfully painted house at 210 Lawyers Road, owned by PMY Associates, the principals of which are Paul Henon and his wife, Jerome and Joanna Covel, and Matthew and Susan Stich. Jerome Covel has been applying to have properties removed from the district since the mid-'80s, to no avail.
Covel's son Michael outlined PMY's position, saying the reasons they wanted the property removed from the district are that the district has "no rules," that enforcement is arbitrary and that there is no survey of the historic value of the properties therein.
"PMY will not run the risk of laying out a business plan, spending time and money to prepare such, with no knowledge of what the rules are," only to have the plan voted down, said Covel. As he questioned individual council members and accused the council as a whole of having its head in the sand, stealing property rights and dissembling, councilmembers George Lovelace and Maud Robinson took issue with Covel's tone and asked him to address them more civilly.
Covel said PMY had laid out 37 reasons for their removal from the district, but he expected them to be ignored.
Paul Henon then addressed the council, saying his primary issue with the district is a legal one. He said the town code requires that anyone proposing a historic district must assess the historic properties to be included, and this was never done. "Why should anyone in this town follow the ordinances when the town itself does not?" he asked.
Jerome Covel said he had not planned on speaking, but he took the podium to express both his exasperation and determination. "Mayor, why don't you get this over with? Why don't you let us out?" he asked Mayor Jane Seeman. "I just don't want to be in it. Keep your district," he said. "I don't care. I'm not going anywhere. But I don't want to be involved in this nonsense anymore."
However, he said, he has no intention to let the matter rest. "If you think I'm going to stop, come up to Windover Court. I've got two grandsons I'm already grooming," said Covel. "We're not stopping."
MATTHEW STICH ARGUED that the district does not preserve historic structures, referring to old houses that had been torn down in the area and large new ones that had been erected. He said PMY had no intention of building a "McMansion" but wanted the freedom to improve the property without restrictions.
He said the council is "hurting people" and "killing the town" by denying property rights in the historic district, as well as in the commercial area. He also accused the council of denying requests for removal from the district out of personal dislike.
"You hate us," said Stich. "Everybody here on this Town Council feels the animosity you have to Michael Covel and to me and to Jerry Covel and to the Henons."
Referring to the pending lawsuit, in which he is a litigant, Stich vowed, "If you're going to make us an issue over this house getting out, then you're going to get what you deserve."
Following testimony by PMY, Councilmember Mike Polychrones said he did not hate anyone and indeed has trusted Jerome Covel as his doctor for the last eight or nine years. Polychrones went on to move that action be deferred until May 8, after the council elections, saying he is reluctant to take any side while he is running against Stich's wife, Susan.
Councilmember Sid Verinder seconded the motion, citing the weightiness of the issue and the volume of material to be considered.
The motion passed, with Councilmember Laurie Cole voting "nay," saying PMY may not want action to be deferred. The public hearing was closed, although, at Councilmember Edythe Kelleher's request, the record will remain open to written testimony.
The current recommendation of Director of Planning and Zoning Greg Hembree is that the application be denied.
IN OTHER MATTERS, resident Mark Morgan asked why no one from the town had been present at a recent meeting regarding the Beulah Road reconstruction. Seeman said a miscommunication between the county and the town had left council members unaware of the meeting until it was too late. However, she said, a meeting will be called between residents of the area, town officials and the police to determine how traffic will be handled during construction. It has been decided that the detour will be Old Courthouse Road, she said.
Councilmember George Lovelace said he had received an e-mail from a family on Meadow Lane requesting a sidewalk installation. Town Manager John Schoeberlein said the town is reconvening a committee of the Traffic and Safety Commission to address various sidewalk requests from around the town. The committee will hold public meetings and come to the council with recommendations, he said, and residents who have made requests for sidewalks have been notified of this plan.
Lovelace also called for immediate action to repair a stretch of asphalt sidewalk on Church Street, between Glyndon Street and 317 Church Street.
Seeman reported that she, Schoeberlein, Director of Public Works Dennis King, civil engineer Holly Chu, Del. Steve Shannon and Town Attorney Steve Briglia had recently met with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) district administrator and a VDOT engineer to discuss the mitigation of tree-cutting along Beulah Road as power lines are moved to accommodate reconstruction. She said the meeting was "fruitful," that they had discussed exemptions to VDOT requirements and that a redesign plan will be submitted to the council in mid-May.
However, Polychrones pointed out that because the General Assembly has not agreed on a budget for the state, all projects not yet started are having their budgets cut by 40 percent. The town will have to borrow money from a project on Cottage Street to fund the Beulah Road project.