At the outset of the recent luncheon feting past Fairfax County Planning Commissioners and one leaving his chairman’s post, County Executive Bryan Hill told them, “Your time with us has been well-spent and we appreciate it. This is all about the county saying thank you, and to honor these great, county residents.”
Emcee of the May 4 event at the Fairview Park Marriott was the new chairman, Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner – who, as Providence District’s commissioner, knows firsthand what the position entails. “Serving on the Planning Commission involves long hours, late nights and complex, controversial issues,” he said. “But Planning Commissioners get the job done.”
Acknowledging the packed room filled with local dignitaries – including current supervisors and commissioners, plus former Board of Supervisors Chair Kate Hanley, former Sully District Supervisor Michael Frey and former planning commissioners Ron Koch and John Litzenberger – Niedzielski-Eichner said, “They’ve all made profound contributions to the historical evolution of Fairfax County and also to its future.”
Current Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay then noted the attention to detail that’s required of the commissioners and praised their families who “supported them in their long hours on the job, away from them.” This article will focus on former At-Large Planning Commissioner Jim Hart of Centreville and Burke’s Pete Murphy who’s still a member but has stepped down as chairman.
Niedzielski-Eichner read Hart’s biography and list of accomplishments and presented him with a plaque. Hart is a 23-year member of the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals as well, serving on it since 2000; and in 2021, he was elected vice-chairman.
Originally nominated to the Planning Commission by then Board of Supervisors Chairman (and now U.S. Rep.) Gerry Connolly in 2004, Hart was an at-large representative for 16 years, until 2020. During his tenure, he served in various capacities, including parliamentarian, secretary and vice-chairman.
Hart was formerly on the county’s Board of Equalization and on the countywide Non-Motorized Trails Committee from 1994-2004. But that’s not all. Before that, Hart served 10 years on the West Fairfax County Citizens Association Land-Use Committee, including as its chairman from 1998-2000. He was also president of its umbrella organization, the WFCCA, from 1996-98.
A Virginia Run resident, Hart also previously represented the Virginia Run Community Association, on the Sully District Council. And in 2016, he received a citation of merit from the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations.
An attorney, he graduated from UVA’s School of Law, receiving an undergraduate degree in architecture. He’s lived in the county for 40 years and, since 1998, he’s been director of the law firm of Hart & Horan P.C. in Fairfax City.
“I consider myself very fortunate,” said Hart at the podium. “Over the years, I’ve been allowed to participate in all kinds of things I’ve never volunteered for. Kate Hanley and Michael Frey asked if I’d go on the BZA; and at some point, Gerry Connolly asked me to join the Planning Commission, too. And for 16 years, I did.”
“I heard it all – lots of interesting things,” continued Hart. “I learned a lot and chaired the [Commission’s] Environment Committee for 13 years. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to work with so many fine people, including Pete – a monument. The Planning Commission started in 1938, and to its current members I say, ‘Do your job, ask questions and vet proposals. Don’t take anything for granted and, hopefully, the county will be a better place.’”
As for Murphy, McKay called him “an institution – a true public servant who always puts the interests of the community first. On behalf of the 1.2 million [county] residents, we salute you.”
Then Niedzielski-Eichner read Murphy’s biography and achievements.
A Boston College graduate, he received an Army commission through the Reserve Officers Training program and worked in public relations and communications as a civilian. In December 1982 – more than 40 years ago – the Supervisors appointed Murphy as Springfield District representative to the Planning Commission.
“After serving two terms as vice-chair and three terms as secretary, he was elected chairman in 1989 – and served in that capacity for an astonishing 33 years,” said Niedzielski-Eichner. “During that time, he’s served on and led a multitude of Planning Commission committees and served on various task forces.”
On the Celebrate Fairfax Board of Directors for many years, Murphy helped organize that event and several others. He’s a member of the Old Guard Monument Campaign Leadership Council; and in 2010, he was selected to serve on the Department of Defense’s 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War Commemoration Commission.
He's received a slew of awards and honors over the years, including the Department of the Army Commanders Award for Public Service, the Katherine K. Hanley Public Service Award, the Distinguished Public Service Leadership award presented by the Springfield District Council, the Fairfax County Volunteer of the Year award in the “Community Leader” category, and an award from the county’s Department of Planning and Zoning.
Murphy was also given the Army Ten-Miler Leadership Award and the James Scott Public Community Spirit Award from Celebrate Fairfax. And he was named honorary chief of the Burke Fire and Rescue Station. Yet there’s more.
He was named the Springfield District’s Lord Fairfax and received the Celebrate Fairfax Ambassador award, presented to those who’ve dedicated themselves to that event’s success, served extended periods of time and significantly improved the organization and event. And on May 7, the county Federation of Citizens Assns. gave him an award of special gratitude.
Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) also spoke at the luncheon. Saying Murphy couldn’t have done all these things without his family’s support, Herrity had the attendees applaud Murphy’s wife Charlene and daughter Cherilyn. And, he added, “You can’t go to a Burke Volunteer Fire Department dinner without having one or more of the three Murphys recognized for something, so thank you for all your service to the community, as well.”
During Murphy’s time as Planning Commission chairman, said Herrity, “He’s played a critical role in transforming the county from a sleepy, bedroom community to the economic powerhouse it is today. He’s been [instrumental] in forming land-use policies in Fairfax County, and his steady leadership is one of the elements that’s enabled the county’s development success.”
Addressing Murphy directly, Herrity said, “I’m proud to call you my friend – you represent the best of Fairfax County. The Supervisors [previously] recognized your service, and today you’ve earned the Springfield District challenge coin.”
Next, Del. Dan Helmer (D-40th) presented Murphy with a gavel and a proclamation from the Virginia General Assembly in his honor. Then Murphy, himself, took the podium, acknowledging everyone present and thanking his wife and daughter for all their “years of service,” making his accomplishments possible. He also stressed that crucial to his success were “the great people I worked with.”
“We’ve had differences on the Planning Commission, but they’ve been professional ones,” he said. “We’ve worked together as a team, even though we don’t agree all the time – so it’s like a family.” Murphy said the county’s changed over the years, but reminded his colleagues that “Citizens and their testimony [on land-use cases coming before the county] are important.”
Regarding the luncheon, Murphy said, “It was overwhelming, and I felt proud, to hear over 100 people signed up for it. Knowing that former and current commissioners and all the people on the different staffs, in different areas of the county, responded to this event made me feel really good, and I thank you all very much for this wonderful honor.”