Letter: Understanding Development

Letter: Understanding Development

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

What is there about the simple words "by right" that retired science educator Martin Tillett doesn't understand [“By Right Development, opinion, July 23-29, Mount Vernon Gazette]. It seems everyone else understands it means you can build it without the government extracting additional requirements not spelled out in local ordinances and regulations. There is not an easier to understand concept in the world of land development. For example, in a R-3 zoning district, it means if you buy a lot subtending greater than 10,500 square feet, you can build a house there as long as you comply with the 30 foot front yard requirement, 12 foot side yard requirement, 25 foot rear yard requirement and stay at least 15 feet from any floodplain and away from any wetlands. Of course, you must also comply with the 35 foot mean roof height limitation. This is a simplification and there are other requirements spelled out in the law, but the point is you can build your house without being required to submit to public hearings or to offer proffers.

Now suppose you want to build the house closer to the street than 30 feet or reduce the rear yard below 25 feet. Now you have to go to the Board of Zoning Appeals for a variance and withstand a public hearing. Likely you must offer additional concessions such as installing stormwater controls. Now suppose you want to operate a day care business or halfway house in the house. You would have to apply to the Board of Supervisors for a Special Exception or Special Permit. They would likely attach conditions for approval such as requirements for screening from neighbors or off-street parking. This is as it should be.

Introducing the uncertainty of the ability of the government to attach additional conditions to "by right" development not only violates the 5th Amendment to the Constitution, it also would introduce uncertainties in the costs of development that would bring local development to a grinding halt. The system is not broken. Community activists like and including Martin Tillett must recognize there can be adverse consequences to their activism. Exhibit A is the proposed Kings Crossing Town Center project that fell victim to the adverse effects of excess civic activism. No need to rehash what has been discussed on these pages ad infinitim.

Candidates for public office who lack respect for the 5th Amendment's protection of property owners should be defeated by well-informed voters. The same goes for politicians who do not strike a proper balance between the benefits of proposed developments to the community as a whole and respect for communities most likely to be affected by proposed developments. The views of the latter must be given deference so long as those views are credibly known.

H. Jay Spiegel

Mount Vernon

The author has lived in the Mount Vernon District and has owned property there for over 30 years. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the Cornell University College of Engineering and a law degree from George Mason University. He was formerly a member of the MVCCA’s Environment & Recreation committee and is a past chairman of its Planning & Zoning Committee. He represented the Mount Vernon District on the APR Task Force for BRAC and was a vice-chairman of the land use committee of the 2009 Visioning Task Force.