Parks, Police and Property Rights

Parks, Police and Property Rights

A short laundry list prompted some extended discussion at Monday's Town Council meeting.

The Vienna Town Council upheld a decision by the Windover Heights Board of Review and approved a proposed park on Nutley Street and consulting services for the police department Monday night, but not every vote was an "aye."

Resident Lynn Sanderson began the meeting by making a request for the police department during the public comment portion of the meeting. Referring to recent public accusations of police brutality leveled at the town by a Maryland woman and her father, Sanderson said, "We need something in those cars, and that is called cameras. We wouldn't have this situation if they were on there."

The first item on the agenda was a public hearing on an appeal filed by Windover Heights resident Jerome Covel on a certificate of appropriateness granted by the Windover Heights Board of Review. The certificate was requested by Staats Development Inc. for a household on Lewis Street in order that they might tear down and replace the home.

Standing in for Jerome Covel was Michael Covel. However, it was not the design of the home that had prompted the appeal but rather that not all of the Covels' questions had been answered at the Board of Review meeting when the certificate was granted.

Referring to the minutes of that meeting, Michael Covel showed that Jerome Covel had asked the board's chairman, Steve Bukont, whether the building being torn down was a historic structure, and Bukont had declined to answer, saying he refused to be cross examined.

"So the first thing I'd like to ask tonight — is this a historic structure?" he asked.

"It's in the historic district," Mayor Jane Seeman responded.

"That's a parsing of what I just asked. I asked a real straightforward question — is this a historic structure? Yes or no?"

"It's not listed on the Vienna historic register, no."

"Is it listed on any historic register?" Covel asked.

"Not that I'm aware of," Seeman answered.

"So it's not a historic structure. Why was it such a problem to ask that question at the Windover Heights meeting?"

The other question Covel wanted addressed was one that he had asked Bukont regarding the criteria by which the type of stone selected for the house might be approved or rejected.

"You look at the house as a whole," said Seeman. "Does it fit in with the rest of the neighborhood? Does it fit in harmony and congruity?"

Covel said he was disturbed by the lack of guidelines explicitly stating what kinds of stone were better than others. "How can a citizen who owns property not have the government give him rules he can understand? This is the basics," he said.

Seeman again said the structure had to be taken as a whole.

"So it's not a historic structure and we have no guidelines," said Covel. "Thank you."

When a movement was made to uphold the certificate of appropriateness, Councilmember Laurie Cole dissented, saying she felt the new design did not comply with the historic district's criteria for general design and arrangement, nor for the relation to similar features in the surrounding structures. She pointed out that there is "a consistency on that street" of single-story, brick-facade houses, with which she thought the proposed design was not congruous.

The proposed home is a two-story wood-frame home with beige Hardy plank and white trim and with a cultured stone veneer foundation and chimney.

The vote was 5-1, as Councilmember Sydney Verinder was not present.

THE NEXT PUBLIC hearing was on a zoning change to allow for the construction of a proposed Nutley Park and on approval of the site plan.

Valerie Mosley of Lardner/Klein Landscape Architects PC and Cathy Salgado, the town's director of Parks and Recreation, presented the proposed design for the park, which will sit on a half-acre plot of land at the intersection of Nutley Street and Knoll Street.

Two of the more novel features of the park will be a gathering circle, which will act as an outdoor classroom for nearby Louise Archer Elementary and feature a "north arrow" oriented to true north, and a rain garden along the park's northern side. The rain garden will collect runoff from Knoll Street through breaks in the curb and will grow plants that have a high tolerance for pollution. Thereby, the garden will, to some degree, cleanse the water that passes through it.

Resident Charles Brewer, who has been working with the Department of Parks and Recreation and other citizens to plan the park, proposed that it be named after Sarah Mercer, who he said was a contemporary of Louise Archer and worked at Louise Archer Elementary.

The site plan and zoning change were unanimously approved.

POLICE CHIEF ROBERT Carlisle came before the council to request permission for the Vienna Police Department to ride a City of Alexandria contract to buy the services of Fields Consulting Group Inc. at a cost of $9,500, so that they might design and administer an assessment process for creating a list of officers eligible to become sergeants.

There are currently two vacancies in that rank, with the possibility of a third opening soon, and the current eligibility list is over three years old, said Carlisle. He said the department had used this contractor before and been pleased with the service, which included preparation classes and candidate feedback free of charge.

"It was very helpful to our candidates — I think they got a lot out of it, in the developmental process as well as the promotional process," he said.

"I presume that probably no one knows better the qualifications of the people on the force than the chief," said Councilmember Maud Robinson. "Is the thrust of this to provide objectivity to the assessment of candidates, or what?"

Carlisle said the purpose is threefold: to clearly define and rank a list of candidates, to ensure candidates that the playing field is level and to have a defensible process to refer to, should any officer find the results unfair.

Councilmember George Lovelace said he had not been aware of this process being used before and did not object to it on principle, "but when I think of spending $10,000 to do this, it kind of bothers me a little bit that it's something we probably could do in-house, but apparently there've been some decisions made that we can't do it in-house."

Questioned by Mayor Seeman about the length of the contract, Carlisle said it is a one-time purchase for an eligibility list that is valid for up to three years. He also said police departments in all Vienna's peer jurisdictions use outside consultants in the process of promotion, and he went on to say that when the process is kept completely in-house, there is often a feeling among some candidates that not all of them are on an even footing.

"It just seems to me that in three years we ought to be able to identify what we want in these gentlemen to promote them. We have as good a knowledge of their capabilities, experience, background as anyone else," said Lovelace.

The approval was granted by a vote of 5-1, with Lovelace dissenting.

The council also set a date of Jan. 30 for a public hearing on the official town map.