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Agreeing To Disagree

George Mason-Braddock District Forum attracts concerned citizens from the neighborhood on two important issues.

In an effort to facilitate better communication between George Mason University and its surrounding residential neighborhoods, officials and residents gathered in Braddock Hall for the first of four meetings this year, Wednesday, Jan. 3.

A big concern for many neighbors at the George Mason-Braddock District Community Forum was the large animated sign at the corner of Sideburn and Braddock roads. Del. David Bulova (D-37) has been trying to appease neighboring residents after they began flooding his office with complaints about the sign last fall.

A Dec. 12 “informal” response from the state attorney general’s office — provided by a deputy attorney general— stated that the university, since it is a state school and thus a government agency, is exempt from following "any statute unless the statute by its express terms extends to the state."

The law means that GMU does not have to abide by the section of the Virginia Code that prohibits certain types of signs, nor does the school have to follow the part of the Code that requires a permit from the Commonwealth Transportation Commissioner.

“It’s ‘do as I say, not as I do’,” said Bulova. “I don’t think that’s a particularly good approach to public policy.”

So laws regulating the proximity of large signs to major roads or highways don’t hold weight in this case. The sign exists just 11 feet from the road — 4 feet less than the legal distance for such a structure.

THE LAWS regulating the brightness and speed of animation flickering atop the busy intersection are also meaningless at GMU. But those lights are causing a blurry distinction between the sign’s green advertisements and the green traffic signals, said Tony Vellucci, president of the Kings Park West Civic Association. The lights have also been the root of several complaints to both Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) and David Bulova.

“As long as the sign is there, you need to do something about the color code,” said Vellucci, speaking to GMU representatives at the forum. “The green on the sign shouldn’t be the same as the green on the traffic light.”

Many neighbors agree and cite an increase in traffic accidents at the intersection since the sign went up as reason enough to move it elsewhere. Sharon Bulova, who hosted the forum, said that the traffic accident statistics didn’t appear to be significant. Eight accidents occurred at the intersection in 2006, with six of them happening since the sign went up, according to police. Two accidents occurred there in 2005 and 11 in 2004.

Since the university has expressed no intentions to move the sign, David Bulova said he would introduce legislation in upcoming General Assembly session that would prevent such signs from going up in the future. The legislation would require direct communication from the university to the community if and when another sign is proposed.

A FEW "LIFESTYLE conflicts," said Sharon Bulova, have caused some concern among residents on High Bluff Court. Two units on the block, both of which nearby residents say are occupied by GMU students, are causing continuous problems for the street.

Residents at the forum expressed concern that more than four unrelated persons might be living in one of the units, making it a possible zoning violation. Neighbors have called the police several times about partying and excessive noise coming from the units. Police have responded to neighbors' calls and issued parking citations, but police cannot cite the residents for a violation unless they witness it personally, said Lt. Dave Moyer, of the West Springfield District police station.

"We'll listen, but if there's not a violation, we won't go up and knock on people's doors," he said.

George Ginovsky, of GMU police, said violations in the school's police department are forwarded to the dean of students for disciplinary action. Ginovsky offered to also forward county police complaints or violations to the dean, so off-campus instances are still capable of having academic ramifications.

Doug Coulter, a Fairfax County crime prevention police officer, said creating a neighborhood watch is another way to get police more involved in the community.

"I would like to get to some of these issues before they rise to the level of frustration they're at," said Coulter.