With three additional resignations at the Board and committee levels coupled with a growing schism between the Board and the Environmental and Recreation Committee over North Hill, the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens' Associations seems to be approaching meltdown.
Within the past week Jojo Shifflett, chair of the Special Committee on Affordable and Workforce Housing; Rob Johansson, acting Budget Chair; and Chis Granger, Editor; all tendered their resignations.
Exacerbating the situation, a resolution from the Environmental and Recreation Committee pertaining to a suggested land swap involving North Hill was not approved for publication in the association's newsletter, "Record," thereby procedurally thwarting its consideration by the full Council at its July 25 meeting.
That resolution is authored by David Dale, president, Spring Bank Community Association, and one of two candidates to be voted upon by the membership on July 25 to fill the co-chair vacated by the abrupt resignation of Jerry Ireland. His opponent in that election is Queenie Cox who serves as chair of the Council's Consumer Affairs Committee.
"Both Jojo and Rob informed us by letter that family and business obligations prevented them from continuing in their respective roles for the Council. Jojo has taken on various obligations created by the death of her father and Rob's job has been expanded requiring additional time demands," said Council Co-chair Dan Fisher-Burrier.
"We have not been informed of the reason or reasons for Chris' resignation as editor," added the Council's other co-chair Dan Rinzel. Although calls were placed and messages left to all three who resigned none has returned those calls by press time.
"Both Jojo and Rob said in their letters that they have enjoyed serving but that outside obligations at this time require that they readjust their priorities. We are presently seeking to find others who will serve in these three positions as well as chair of the Planning and Zoning Committee," Fisher-Burrier said.
Last month Jay Spiegel, P&Z Committee chair, was asked to resign from that position due to a law suit he has filed against Dan Burgess, president, Stratford Landing Citizens' Association. The suit alleges slander, libel and defamation of character by Burgess against Spiegel.
Although Spiegel has maintained that the suit is not directed at Burgess' role as president of the Stratford Landing association, it is based on a dispute over the use of land known as the Pumping Station located adjacent to the Stratford Landing community. The association's insurance carrier has determined that Burgess is entitled to be defended at the association's expense under the terms of that organization's Officers & Director coverage.
ON JULY 3 the Environment & Recreaction Committee approved a resolution forwarded to them by Dale and introduced by Martin Tillett, vice president, SBCA, in Dale's absence. It calls for Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland to "sponsor a meeting including representatives from the County government, ... and others as needed, to review the legality, feasibility and process for transferring North Hill to the Park Authority by enacting a land swap for other County property, especially the properties from the School Board."
Two votes were passed relative to the resolution, according to committee minutes. The first approved the resolution while the second "resolved that should the resolution be rejected by the Board of Directors (of the Council), that the E&R Chair demand publication of the resolution in the Record for a vote by the full Council."
If it is not published in the Record prior to the full Council meeting, it supposedly cannot be considered at next Wednesday's meeting. Since the Council does not meet in August, action would be delayed until September.
However, according to Hyland's office, he has planned an open meeting for Thursday, Aug. 2 at 7 p.m. in the Community Room of the Mount Vernon Government Center on Parkers Lane to have open discussion on the various aspects of North Hill.
"This resolution does not negate or conflict with any other Council position on North Hill. It does not require a land swap. It merely calls for an exploration of all the legal implications of whether a land swap can be done legally. However, even this is apparently too much for the present Council co-chairs to accept," Dale said.
"If we did do a land swap we would end up with more workforce housing, at lower construction costs, in better locations, and all while preserving all of North Hill for open space. Right now the County is looking at 11 acres in North Hill for workforce housing.
If we did a land swap for all of North Hill they would gain 34 acres for workforce housing," Dale said.
The actions of the Council Board to deny publication of the E&R resolution in the Record raised both the ire and suspicion of Tillett. "This is the third time [the E&R Committee has] brought forth a proposal that the Board has quashed," he said.
"I don't know what they are afraid of but it's very frustrating. I believe it's because of those two co-chairs. There's been a lot of strange things happening with the Council," Tillett said.
Those suspicions were buttressed by Catherine M. Voorhees, Hollin Hall Village E&R Committee representative. "The E&R Committee and the MVCCA voted in 1996 to keep the entire North Hill area as a park, if 11 acres are chipped away today, when will the rest be chipped away?" she inquired in a memo to E&R Committee Chair Larry Zaragoza.
"The purpose of the Land Swap Resolution, that was passed by the committee and which the Committee unanimously voted should be printed in the Record, ... is to educate the members of the MVCCA. It is my understanding that the purpose of the co-chairs and the Board of the Council is to facilitate communication (which should include education) to member associations," she wrote.
AS DALE SAID there are three primary reasons to advance the Land Swap concept:
"Just to get the North Hill 11 acres ready to build would cost $2 million that could be used more effectively to provide even more workforce housing elsewhere," he said. This was the price tag arrived at by MACTEC Geotechnical Engineering Evaluation in a 2006 study dealing with "Estimate of Construction Costs Related to Marine Clay." That is the soil base in the area of North Hill scheduled for housing development. As noted by MACTEC, "Marine clays are subject to notable shrink/swell behavior with changes in moisture content. Marine clays have very low strength when strained and consequently have contributed to many landslides in Fairfax County."
The Land Swap would allow for workforce housing to be spread throughout the community and County rather than being located in an area already highly developed in low cost housing, according to Dale. As noted in the E&R resolution, "Mount Vernon Planning District already has a disproportionately high amount of lower priced housing units when compared to the rest of the County. Mount Vernon District has 8.8 percent of the [County] population, and 24.5 percent of the lowest priced houses."
"The land swap would integrate workforce housing closer to employment centers, making it easier for those residents to get to and from their places of employment," according to Dale.
ON THE FLIP SIDE of the argument, Zaragoza, who serves as chair of the E&R Committee, stated in a July 5 memorandum, that during a meeting he had with Hyland the latter was "very clear on four points" concerning North Hill and the committee's resolution:
* "A swap would make no sense. If excess County land was available for a swap, the authority would use that land too."
* "The North Hill property was originally purchased with the full intent of using it for affordable housing. There is a clear expectation that the land be used to provide affordable housing."
"The decision on the 11 acres is made. The County will go forward."
"Any discussion on a swap would not be productive. I believe that the motion passed by E&R ... would not only be counter- productive, it will erode the credibility of the Council because it proposes to change the use from the last North Hill resolution that was adopted. It is a by-right development."
Zaragoza concluded his memorandum by stating, "As a result of this conversation [with Hyland], I believe our best option is to seek preservation of the remaining land on North Hill and minimize the removal of trees as the project is developed." Now a new option has been added with the planned Aug. 2 meeting scheduled by Hyland.