Home » Columns »View From the Ridge » Currently Reading:

Keeping Citizens at Arm’s Length

March 6, 2013 by Andrea Gaines filed under Columns, View From the Ridge 1 Comment
blueridge2

Purcellville, arguably the single most powerful governmental force in western Loudoun, has made significant changes in the way it makes decisions on the major development and zoning issues of the day, including decisions relating to annexations and the town’s comprehensive plan.

In earlier times, the developer for a particular project would present his or her idea to a town committee tasked with reviewing the developer’s plan. Important committees included Infrastructure and Ways and Means, recently disbanded by the town. Once in committee, key documents and ideas would be shared with citizens in open meetings on the specific proposal. Citizens could also follow the issue as it made its way through the decision making process – by attending future committee meetings, accessing minutes from meetings, following press reports, and reviewing documents put forth by the developer.

As the process was drawing to a close, citizens would have been involved in all stages of the town›s decision-making process, all the way through Planning Commission deliberations and the ultimate vote by the Town Council. And, their input would have been meaningful.

Today, under the guise of “streamlining” and “saving taxpayers money” developer proposals enter the process at the staff level of various town departments (such as Economic Development), effectively bypassing the open and deliberative process characteristic of the committee system. Various committees track the proposal made by the developer, but, often, that amounts to nothing more than a one-line summary or staff report on where the proposal is at any one time, and does not include any input from the public or any level of detail – unless a citizen went to the trouble and expense of submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

This is exactly what has been happening to the proposal for the 176 unit (and up to 205) Catoctin Creek Apartments. In this case, a one-line reference to the project, in committee, was picked up by the Blue Ridge Leader. Our newspaper submitted a FOIA request for documents related to the project, and, miraculously … approximately four days later documents related to the project appeared on the town website. These documents included …the comprehensive plan amendment and zoning amendment.

The Catoctin Creek Apartments development is the largest residential development proposal to come before the town council in over six years. This application is 176 (and up to 205) units of one, two and three bedroom apartments, approximately the size of the Locust Grove development.

There is significant concern about the size and scope of this apartment complex. Yet, if not for the FOIA request citizens – including the project’s closest neighbors – would have been hard pressed to understand what was happening at the staff level and where the Town Council was in their decision-making process. As it is, the town will vote on this project shortly, and, some say, quietly – without real meaningful citizen participation in the process.

The effect of all of this is that the town holds citizens at arms length – ostensibly inviting public comment, but actually making meaningful public participation really difficult. Once a month town council work session meetings, open to the public, were intended to replace the public sessions once managed by the Infrastructure and Ways and Means Committees. But, the town has cancelled three work session in recent months – once-a-month meetings, open to the public, that let citizens in on the nitty-gritty of how small town government works.

The town council also votes on major projects on the same night as the formal public hearing, rather than stepping back, carefully taking stock of what everyone has to say, and making a final decision at the appropriate time. As former councilwoman Beverly MacDonald Chaisson recently commented, Purcellville is one of the few localities that casts their vote up or down on the same night as the public hearing. Citizens are allowed to speak their piece … but only at the last minute. Most localities wait a month after the public hearing to give consideration to the public comment before casting their final vote.  Not to delay the process, but to carefully make sure all points of view are understood and applied.

Citizen participation is critical to a democracy.  And, there is no more effective way to effect participation as a citizen than by attending the town hall meetings and committee deliberations that occur in every small town.  In a fast-growing town like Purcellville, the increasing number of changes impact more and more citizens and in more and more drastic ways.  But, if small towns in transition are abandoned to special interests they will all go the way Purcellville is going.  They will become another Anywhere, USA, and that means so many of the places that the shifting population would love to live in will become unrecognizable.  The town you or your neighbor might have loved to move into will have been transformed through the indifference of its population, to a place you or they no longer want to live.  It can happen surprisingly fast.

In “streamlining” the process of how the town goes about making it’s decisions – sending the deliberations to the staff level and out of the purview of the public, where the only people in the room are often the developer and town staff – the town is keeping the public at arms length and grinding democracy into the ground.

Two recent comments by councilwoman Joan Lehr and Mayor Robert Lazaro – with Ms. Lehr urging citizens to stick to the town’s “processes and procedures” and Mr. Lazaro saying: “I’ve seen an email that this was a done deal. I’ve seen another email that says we’re going into secret sessions …” highlight the gap between what due diligence to democracy means to many citizens and what it means to the town. Because, while the mayor and select members of the town council see nothing wrong with how they do things, and even seem to be saying opponents are spreading false rumors about their procedures, there is a tremendous amount of discontent out there. Citizens really do fell left out of the process. Held at arms length as decisions are being made.

1 comment

  1. P'Ville Resident says:

    PAINT TOWN HALL RED
    Wear RED to March12th’s Town Council Meeting to show our Town Leaders that they speak for residents, not developers!!

    Purcellville doesn’t NEED Apartments!!

    Get the facts! http://tinyurl.com/bhob5pg

Comment on this article


By commenting, you agree to abide by our Terms of Service.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Columns

2016 in the Books

noerpel_new

(Presented to the Board of Supervisors February, 2017) “The last three years have demonstrated abundantly clearly that there is no change in the long-term trends since 1998. A prediction from 1997 merely continuing the linear trends would significantly under-predict the …

A Rainy Romance

moore-sobelnewmug

By Samuel Moore-Sobel “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” – a simple phrase uttered in an acclaimed musical that helped birth a star. The movie’s Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) catches his attention so completely that Don Lockwood (Gene …

Concerned Parents

drmikenewpic

By Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D. Dr. Mike, Our 15-year-old son is out of control and we don’t know what to do anymore. He smokes pot and drinks, disobeys us left and right, is truant from school often, comes home whenever he …

It’s Time To Review Your Estate Planning Basics

Smith0035

Beginners and billionaires alike should refresh their knowledge of these basic estate planning terms and concepts. The word “estate” tends to conjure up images of billionaires and aristocrats, but estate planning is not just for the wealthy. It’s widely believed …

Just Like Nothing (Else) on Earth: George Marshall Center

George Marshall Center

I used to wonder why – after an assignment to visit the interior of this place, I’d return feeling exhausted – both mentally and physically worn out – as if I’d been carrying an extra couple hundred pounds or so …

Meeting the “Other America”

blueridge2

By Nicholas Reid Ever since the presidential election last November, there has been a lot of talk about the “two Americas”: coastal and continental America. The many differences between these two sections of the United States are numerous and oftentimes …

The Trump Effect

noerpel_new

“Corals are marine magicians. As colonies of the tiny ocean organisms grow, they transform the calcium that circulates in seawater into enormous limestone reefs. These reefs—which can extend for more than 1,000 miles and provide homes for crabs, eels, sea …

Student News

Congratulations, Class of 2016

6 Jul 2016

grads_woodgrove

Woodgrove High School’s Class Of 2016 Graduation – By Amanda Clark On June 16, Woodgrove’s Class of 2016 was the 5th graduating class to walk the stage and accept their diploma. The ceremony was filled with anticipation as the chorus, …

(Be the first to comment)

Buckland Earns Degree In Medicine

6 Jul 2016

buckland

Molly Buckland, D.O., graduated from the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine with a degree of Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine on May 28. While at WVSOM, Dr. Buckland received the Dr. Roland P. Sharp President’s Award and the James R. …

(Be the first to comment)

Adams Promoted To Lieutenant

6 Jul 2016

adamspromoted

Lt. James Adams, from Sterling and a Potomac Falls Halls Graduate, earned the promotion to the rank of Lieutenant. Adams is a Navy Week and Executive Outreach Planner for the Navy Office of Community Outreach in Millington, Tennessee. U.S. Navy …

(Be the first to comment)

Calendar

February 2017
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
January 30, 2017 January 31, 2017 February 1, 2017 February 2, 2017

Chair Yoga

Yoga for Men

February 3, 2017 February 4, 2017

CHINESE NEW YEAR EVENT

GALLERY COFFEEHOUSE: Readers Theater

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event

February 5, 2017
February 6, 2017 February 7, 2017 February 8, 2017 February 9, 2017

Chair Yoga

Yoga for Men

February 10, 2017 February 11, 2017

Valentine's Pizza & Champagne

Sweetheart’s Soirée- A Night of Dinner & Dancing

February 12, 2017

Candlelight Concert Fundraiser

GALLERY COFFEEHOUSE: Writers’ Night Out

February 13, 2017 February 14, 2017 February 15, 2017

Bob Brown Puppets: Dragon Feathers

February 16, 2017 February 17, 2017

ARTSPOWER: RAINBOW FISH

February 18, 2017

Wine & Chili Weekend

BALLET THEATRE OF ASHBURN AND EDGE PERFORMANCE COMPANY: MALONE BENEFIT CONCERT

Comedy Night feat. Tyrone Davis

February 19, 2017
February 20, 2017 February 21, 2017 February 22, 2017 February 23, 2017 February 24, 2017

February Fourth Friday

February 25, 2017

Samedi Gras Celebration

February 26, 2017
February 27, 2017 February 28, 2017 March 1, 2017 March 2, 2017 March 3, 2017

LAST HAM STANDING COMEDY IMPROV

March 4, 2017

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event

March 5, 2017
Current Print Issue:
Sign up for our email newsletter:

Recent Comments

Steady and NoBull

Lifestyle

Four Young Historians Discuss Civil War Turning Points

2 Feb 2017

younghistorians

The Mosby Heritage Area Association will hold a talk featuring a panel of four young historians who will discuss turning points in the Civil War. The talk will be held at Unison Methodist Church, 21148 Unison Road, Middleburg, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, February 12. Tickets will be sold at the door or online at www.mosbyheritagearea.org/events for $15 …

(Be the first to comment)

Love In All of Its Forms … Ain’t It Grand

2 Feb 2017

valentinesday

Americans exchange hundreds of millions of cards on Valentine’s Day, February 14. The National Retail Federation estimates that we will spend some $20 billion to mark the day and demonstrate to friends and family how much we love them – on what marketers call “Love’s Holiday.” Love. It’s a big deal.

(Be the first to comment)

Music with a Cause Continues

1 Feb 2017

music note

February 26, 4:00 p.m. A Taste of Spring! Beethoven’s “Spring Sonata” for violin and piano forms the heart of a recital by Venezuelan violinist Marjory Serrano and Taiwanese pianist Hsin-Yi Chen, featuring additional classics by Mozart, Coleridge-Taylor and Albeniz. The 7th concert in the Music with a Cause series at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Purcellville, will benefit Mobile Hope of Loudoun. …

(Be the first to comment)

Editorial

Priscilla Nabs Plum Planning Commission Post

Loudoun County Seal Color

Appointment Shocks Many On January 3 Supervisor Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge) nominated Tom Priscilla for the Loudoun County Planning Commission to represent the Blue Ridge District. Priscilla was …

Op-ed

Opinion: Terrorism, Debt, and China: Oh My!

blueridge2.jpg

– By Nick Reid world can be a very dangerous place sometimes, especially for a nation state such as the United States. Although danger is always present, the number and …

Metro Money Mess Pushing West

blueridge2.jpg

– By Delegate Dave LaRock (R-33rd) A local paper recently quoted Loudoun Board Chair Phyllis Randall as saying that in her observation “some of the concerns raised by the people …

Dear Editor

Why Williams Gap Road Should Not Be Paved

blueridge2

Today, most residents of Loudoun County know nothing about Williams Gap, even those living on Williams Gap Road (Route 711). Knowing who “Williams” was, why a gap in the Blue …

Vote No To the Minor Special Exception

catesbyproposal

We are a group of Loudoun County citizens who will be adversely affected if the board grants a special exception for the Catesby Farm property at your upcoming meeting. You …

View From the Ridge

Broken Promises, Hidden by a Six-Foot Berm

blueridge2

By Andrea Gaines On August 9, 1825 at the age of 69, French military officer the Marquis de Lafayette was honored in Leesburg by former President James Monroe. The French-born …

Around Virginia

Office Building on Capitol Square To Be Named After Civil Rights Pioneer Barbara Johns

image002

Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that the newly renovated state building located at 202 N. 9th Street on Capitol Square in Richmond (currently known as the 9th Street Office Building) will bear the name of civil rights pioneer Barbara Johns. The building, which reopened last year, houses the Virginia Attorney General’s …

(Be the first to comment)

Rep. Comstock’s Key Top Priority Legislation Initiatives

barbaracomstock

Signed into Law in Her First Term Rep. Barbara Comstock, who serves the 10th congressional district in Virginia, recently reviewed the achievements of her first term in office, identifying 17 legislative initiatives that she supported that were adopted. She said: “My staff and I have met with stakeholders, local elected …

(Be the first to comment)

Man Killed Walking To Gas Station on I-95

police_tape

Virginia State Police Trooper M.J. Kryznefski is investigating a fatal pedestrian crash in Prince William County. The crash occurred at approximately 4:10 a.m., on Monday, December 26, on Interstate 95 near Exit 158B. Three males were traveling south on Interstate 95 when their Honda CRV ran out of gas. They …

(Be the first to comment)

Sports

Woodgrove Gymnasts Advance To States

15 Feb 2017

gymnastics Snare

Two Woodgrove High School gymnasts have qualified to advance to the Virginia State Championships Saturday, February 18, at Patriot High School in Nokesville. Sophomore River Stone placed fourth in the all-around competition at the 1A-5A North Regional Gymnastics Championships at Park View High School on Wednesday, February 8, which earns …

(Be the first to comment)

Woodgrove Gymnastics Team Places First

1 Feb 2017

woodgrove

The Woodgrove High School Gymnastics team for placed first at their home meet. The team competed against squads from Loudoun Valley, Park View and Riverside high schools. Seniors Kaycee Delitta and Sarah Snare were honored at the event for their contributions to the team. The Wolverines excelled in individual competition …

(Be the first to comment)

Archives

  • +2017
  • +2016
  • +2015
  • +2014
  • +2013
  • +2012
  • +2011
  • +2010
  • +2009