Peter Murphy took the unusual step of commenting on the Burke Nursery before its public hearing began. The nursery had been cited for numerous violations of the Zoning Ordinance in 2002 and has seen been going through the county's processes to correct them. On April 20, Murphy, chairman and Springfield representative of the Fairfax County Planning Commission, wondered aloud if it was ready yet. "I'm still not sure whether we are in the proper posture," he said
The nursery first opened in 1978, and, at the time, it was allowed by right. After it opened, the county changed the Zoning Ordinance making a plant nursery only allowable through a special exception.
While the nursery could continue to operate without the exception, it would require permits to expand. Since 1978, numerous changes have been made to the site including the construction of buildings with proper permits, according the Department of Planning and Zoning staff report.
Additionally, about 80 percent of the 21.8-acre property is in a floodplain. While nurseries were permitted by right in floodplains at the time, they are not any longer and require an additional level of permitting.
JUNKED CARS, play equipment and trailers are all on the property without authorization, said Tracy Strunk of the Department of Planning and Zoning.
The nursery has appealed the violations to the Board of Zoning Appeals, but that appeal is on hold pending the resolution of this case.
The nursery's owners, Robert and Ronald DeAngelis, have applied for the Special Exception that would allow some of the uses in the complex to continue to operate. It also would mandate that the nursery remove some structures, stop selling propane, and set standards for the Nursery's Fall Festival which happens in October.
"There are a couple of things we've still got to tweak in these conditions," said Tom Thomas, attorney for the owner.
After hearing Thomas' presentation, at least one commissioner was still not happy with the situation. Laurie Frost Wilson (At-large) said she had never seen a case with so many blatant violations. "Right now, if I had my druthers, I'd shut this nursery down," she said. Wilson pledged to remain an open mind about the application.
John Betz, who owns property across the street from the nursery came and asked Wilson not to be too open. "Along with keeping an open mind, I'd ask you to be somewhat jaded, too," he said. Betz said that nursery "looks like a dump" and he is selling his property because of it.
"I can understand. I can understand," Murphy said. "I'll leave it at that."
Murphy said that he had toured the site and found many items being stored there that had nothing to do with a plant nursery. "This is not a junkyard, and that was my impression," he said.
Thomas conceded that the property had things it shouldn't on it and noted that not all of it belongs to the property owners. He compared the property to some homeowners who keep things for a long time. "When you have 21 acres, it's a lot easier to be a pack rat," he said.
Commissioner Susanne Harsel (Braddock) looked a the plan and noted that it's taken 25 years for the nursery property to collect the various things that don't belong. "I want your word that it's not going to take 25 years to get out of there," she said.
The nursery owners have been in touch with some of the owners of the stored property and advised them to remove it, Thomas said.
The Planning Commission deferred its decision until May 11. If the application is not ultimately approved by the Board of Supervisors, the nursery would need to be returned to its last legal state circa 1978.