Mount Vernon Letter: Legalized Extortion

Mount Vernon Letter: Legalized Extortion

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

Thank goodness we have the Dillon Rule in Virginia. That rule precludes localities such as cities and counties from taking any actions not specifically authorized by the state legislature. The House of Delegates and State Senate have both passed Bills (HB 770 and SB 549, respectively) the intention of which is to place limitations on the ability of localities to extract unreasonable proffers from property developers.

From my lengthy experience in land use in Fairfax County, it is not an exaggeration to say that the proffer system in Fairfax County has operated as legalized extortion. In the Mount Vernon District, under the former supervisor, developers wishing to develop properties that could not be developed in the desired manner "by right" were required to attend hearings before the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens' Association (MVCCA) and gain their blessing before the supervisor would decide what development conditions to impose. Since the MVCCA only represents approximately 20 percent of the citizen associations in the district, and since many neighborhoods in the district don't even have a citizens' association, and since community representatives to MVCCA committees are rarely accountable to their respective communities (the MVCCA does not record how each committee member votes), visits to the MVCCA by developers amount to nothing short of a shakedown.

I recall three clear examples of this abuse and they are just examples. One member of the MVCCA's Environment & Recreation Committee (E&R) routinely demanded that developers exceed the legal requirements for stormwater treatment to gain his vote. On two occasions, the chairman of that committee informed the developers of proposed developments, one on Lukens Lane and the other concerning the Green Church on Mount Vernon Highway, that he would urge the committee to favor their proposals if they made significant contributions to a dog park he was supporting.

I also recall the former supervisor demanding that the proposed developer of the Kings Crossing Town Center project pay each trailer owner at the trailer park that would be swallowed up by the development a relocation payment of $50,000. The developer offered $30,000, but the supervisor refused to budge. As chairman of the MVCCA's Planning and Zoning Committee, I asked the developer if they would be willing to give trailer park residents a $30,000 credit toward the purchase of affordable housing planned at Kings Crossing. They readily agreed, but the supervisor refused to back down from the $50,000 demand. This was one of the reasons why we have a Wal-mart at the site devoid of the storm water controls that would facilitate restoration of the adjacent Fairchild property.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova and her fellow Democrats John Foust, Linda Smyth, and Jeff McKay have gone on record opposing these bills while the two remaining Republicans Pat Herrity and John Cook favor passage of the bills. To his credit, state Sen. Scott Surovell has also come out in favor, although I note a $1,500 campaign contribution to him from the Home Builders Association of Virginia.

Proffers requiring developers to make improvements concerning issues of transportation, schools, parks, and other county infrastructure not directly impacted by their proposed development are unreasonable and inappropriate. I understand the legislation if enacted is intended to address these abuses. Hopefully the House of Delegates and State Senate can reconcile the differences in their respective Bills and complete the process and hopefully Governor McAuliffe will sign the final bill into law.

H. Jay Spiegel

Mount Vernon