Council Notebook

Council Notebook


<b>On the Corner?</b>

Property owner <b>Barry Seymour </b>has been waiting for years to do something with his Latham Street property. After years of being told no by the Planning Commission, City Council and Circuit Court, Seymour finally got the green light this week from the Virginia Supreme Court.

At issue was Seymour’s ownership of 227 North Latham St. After purchasing the property in 2004 for $519,700, Seymour approached the city with a plan to demolish the existing 1950s-era house and build two two-story townhouses. Neighbors bitterly opposed the proposal, calling the two new homes oversized "McMansions" that would reduce their property values. Interim Planning Director<b> Rich Josephson</b> testified that "from a perspective of form and function," Seymour’s property is a corner lot even though it was not on a corner — a distinction that would require the lot to be of the same character as "similarly situated" houses. Judge <b>John Kloch</b> ruled that the city was entitled to exercise discretion in applying the corner-lot rule, but the Virginia Supreme Court disagreed.

"We hold that the trial court’s decision affirming the Planning Commission’s disapproval of Seymour’s resubdivision application was plainly wrong and without evidence to support it," wrote Justice <b>Donald Lemons</b>. "Because the definitions of a corner lot and an interior lot are mutually exclusive, a corner lot and an interior lot cannot be ‘similarly situated.’ Therefore, Seymour’s interior lot and the corner lots in the Latham subdivision are not ‘similarly situated.’"

Reached by telephone after the opinion was released, Seymour was pleased.

"It’s not up to the City Council to design my house," he said. "And what the neighbors have to say has nothing to do with it."

<hr><b>Abandoning the Target</b>

After the city advertised a possible tax rate of 83.5 cents for every $100 of assessed value — two cents more than the current rate of 81.5 — several taxpayers became infuriated. During a public hearing on the tax rate, they said that the City Council should stick to its own target, which the city manager met by keeping the current tax rate. The School Board’s budget, which came in $6.8 million over the target, became a particular sticking point for the disgruntled taxpayers.

"This proposed tax increase is based on dubious figures that the superintendent is unable to explain or document to the mayor, City Council or the School Board," said <b>Jean Anton</b>. "Taxpayers are being asked to fund a bloated administrative staff."

"Please do not give Superintendent <b>Rebecca Perry</b> twice the increase offered in the city manager’s budget," said <b>Lou Cordia</b>. "She needs to stop her addiction to huge annual spending increases."

"Commitments and integrity matter, yet the taxpayers of Alexandria have been set up again," said <b>Annabelle Fisher</b>. "This is a bait and switch."

<hr><b>Golden Goose, Rubber Chicken</b>

<bt>Parkfairfax condominium owner <b>Maria Wildes</b> is sick and tired of paying for services that condominium owners don't receive but which are offered to other Alexandria residents — and she wants City Council members to know about it.

During a public hearing on the budget last week, Wildes said that the city offered a host of services to people who live in single-family homes that are not available to condominium dwellers: leaf collection, Christmas tree pickup and spring cleanup, just to name a few.

She brought a city-issued leaf collection bag to make her point. Brandishing it in council chambers, she called condominium owners "the city’s golden goose" in terms of property tax revenue. To help make her point, she pulled a rubber chicken out of the leaf-collection bag and told City Council members that "the goose isn’t feeling too well."

"That damn chicken cost me $15," Wildes said as she exited the council chambers.

<hr><b>24 Years of Trees</b>

Every year since 1983, the National Arbor Day Foundation has recognized the City of Alexandria as a "Tree City USA." To celebrate the distinction, Councilwoman <b>Del Pepper </b>held up a sign that read "24 years" to signify the reign of trees in Alexandria.

"As a special note, that’s the number of years that Del Pepper has been on City Council," said Councilman <b>Paul Smedberg</b>. "Just a coincidence."

"Not quite," said Pepper, who was first elected in 1985.

"Most of the trees were seedlings then," interjected Councilman <b>Ludwig Gaines</b>.