Friday, May 27, 2011

Statement from the neighbors of Bishop O’Connell High School regarding the Diocese’s lawsuit

On April 12, the Catholic Diocese of Arlington filed a lawsuit against the County Board in Circuit Court to reverse the board’s March decision rejecting Bishop O’Connell’s use permit to light its athletic fields.   The lawsuit asks the court to have the board reconsider the application within 60 days and, if the board won’t, prevent the county from stopping O’Connell from installing the lights.

We believe the lawsuit is without merit and we are confident that the Circuit Court will uphold the Board’s decision.   County Board members were thorough and fair in considering the application. They met repeatedly with representatives of the school and neighborhood and visited the area to get a first-hand view of the facility and the impact the lights would have. County staff members and Board members heard from hundreds of citizens, pro and con. At the school’s request, its application was deferred five times over a 6-month period, which gave school officials ample opportunity to resolve questions raised by the neighbors and county staff.

Although the Diocese argues that Bishop O’Connell was treated differently than other schools, there is no evidence of any discrimination against O’Connell.  The record for the decision demonstrates that O’Connell is not similarly situated to other schools with lighted athletic fields and that, in fact, the Arlington public schools with lighted athletic fields are markedly different from O’Connell in every respect relevant to the issuance of a special use permit.

Board members at the March 15 meeting indicated they opposed the lights because O’Connell could not satisfy the statutory requirements for issuing a permit. Board Member Mary Hynes said lights would be an "unsettling disruption" to the neighborhood. Chairman Chris Zimmerman said although the county had elected to install synthetic turf on some of its lighted athletic fields, there will also be county synthetic fields "where it would not be appropriate to have lights."  Chairman Zimmerman noted, “the whole point of zoning and land use is to provide for different intensities of use in different locations.”  Bishop O’Connell High School is zoned R-6/R-8 single-family residential.  Acknowledging this reality, Zimmerman said “lights by nature do have inherently intrusive impact” and that “all property owners benefit when our use of property is restricted. This gives us reasonable expectations of what goes on next to us.”

After a thorough consideration, the County Board rejected the application. So we find O'Connell's appeal to be groundless, and we are confident that the Circuit Court will agree.

BACKGROUND: The Most Reverend Paul S. Loverde, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, whose Diocese oversees Bishop O’Connell, has filed a lawsuit against the County Board in Arlington Circuit Court seeking to overturn the Board’s decision rejecting O’Connell’s application for a special use permit to light its athletic fields. The complaint was filed on April 12, although it appears county officials have not been formally served with the suit.

The Diocese asserts that the Board's decision was "arbitrary, capricious, discriminatory and unreasonable, and in violation of Virginia law."  It argues that O'Connell is being treated differently than similarly situated public schools, and that the denial of the use permit violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.  The Bishop asks that the court "grant the Board 60 days within which to reconsider the application" and if it is not approved, permanently enjoin the Board from interfering with installing or using the athletic field lights.

John Seymour
Julie and Dennis Bruns
David Swiger
Eleanor Smith and Sean Tyler
Bill and Katherine Adair
Anne Collins
Jayne Bultena

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


The Arlington County Board on Tuesday rejected Bishop O'Connell's request for stadium lights, telling the school that lights aren't appropriate for the school's residential setting.

By a surprise 3-1 margin, the board opted against County Manager Barbara Donnellan's recommendation for a fifth deferral of the issue and instead voted to deny the school's use permit.

Board member Mary Hynes said lights would be an "unsettling disruption" to the neighborhood. Chairman Chris Zimmerman said that although the county had a policy of lighting synthetic fields at county parks, there are places "where it would not be appropriate to have lights."

Hynes, Zimmerman and Walter Tejada voted to deny the permit. Board member Jay Fisette voted against the motion, but made clear it was based not on the merits of the decision but because the county staff had failed to do sufficient analysis of the proposal. Board member Barbara Favola recused herself because she works for Marymount University, which was going to underwrite much of the cost of the lights.

A major factor in the decision was O'Connell's failure to submit traffic and lighting studies that had been due six weeks ago. Although O'Connell officials said in their testimony that the studies had just been completed -- and, surprisingly, were favorable to O'Connell -- they were not available at the meeting.

County board members made clear that O'Connell is still free to renovate its fields.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

County Board to hear O'Connell proposal on March 15

The Arlington County Board has announced it will hold a hearing on the O’Connell light proposal on Tuesday, March 15, at 6:30 p.m.

The discussion had been scheduled for the meeting on Saturday, but it has been moved to the Tuesday night meeting. So far, it is the only item on the agenda.

The County Manager has not yet made her recommendation on the matter and it is not clear when the County Board will vote on it. Some county officials had indicated the vote could be delayed, possibly  until June. But the Board will hear comments about it on Tuesday night.

Residents of the neighborhood impacted by the proposal are encouraged to attend.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Favola will recuse herself; another delay likely

Barbara Favola, an Arlington County board member who works for Marymount University, has decided to recuse herself from the O'Connell vote.

Favola told us Tuesday that she realized Marymount's involvement was more extensive than she initially believed and that she felt she should recuse herself from the vote. She said she believed she could legally participate but that she felt it would be best to avoid the appearance of a conflict.

With Favola not participating, the lighting decision will be made by the remaining four board members, Mary Hynes, Walter Tejada, Jay Fisette and Chris Zimmerman.

Meanwhile, county staffers have indicated to us that it's likely the vote on the O'Connell matter, currently scheduled for March 12, will be delayed again. They say the private school has failed to meet deadlines to provide new studies on traffic and other issues. 

We'll know more details on Friday or Monday.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Petition drive hits 500 signatures!

The petition drive against the lights has reached a major milestone -- 500 signatures!

The petitions, signed by Arlington taxpayers, indicate strong opposition to Bishop O’Connell’s application for stadium lights. In addition, the Williamsburg and Arlington East Falls Church Civic Association have both  voted overwhelmingly against the lights.

The petitions will be presented to the Arlington County Board when the private school’s application is considered. That is currently scheduled for March 12.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hey, O'Connell! Follow the precedent set by Kevin Fay!

We found something interesting the other day: a Sun Gazette article from 2007 about how the Fairfax County Park Authority had reached an agreement with McLean Youth Soccer to install synthetic fields at Spring Hill Park.

Kevin Fay, of McLean
The article caught our eye because the county agreed to build the fields without lights because of neighborhood opposition. No lights can be built for at least eight years, according to the agreement.

The article had a picture of several people “celebrating” the agreement to build the fields without lights -- including Kevin Fay, a member of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Fay, a Washington lobbyist who lives in McLean, also happens to be the head of Bishop O’Connell’s board and has been the school’s primary spokesman for the campaign to install stadium lights in our neighborhood.

We like the way Fay respects the wishes of his neighbors in McLean!

So we have a simple request for O’Connell: Follow Kevin Fay’s precedent! Respect the neighbors!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Neighbors appeal O'Connell zoning decision

Neighbors of Bishop O'Connell have filed an appeal with Arlington County over the zoning decision last summer that said O'Connell could renovate and expand its athletic fields without needing a use permit. The decision allowed O’Connell to undertake a major renovation of its facilities while needing only a use permit for lights.

The appeal, which was filed with the Board of Zoning Appeals this week, says that O'Connell misled the county and the neighborhood about the scope of the renovation and expansion project and that the neighbors weren't properly notified. The appeal says that the County decision was "based on incomplete and inaccurate information" provided by O'Connell.

The appeal says that the increased hours of usage of the new fields, together with new users such as Marymount University and others, should have triggered the need for a special use permit.

"It defies reason to exempt O'Connell from such requirements for one of the largest construction projects to be conducted in our residential neighborhood in its history," the neighbors say in the appeal.

The neighbors’ new filing challenges a Feb. 2 decision by County Zoning Administrator Melinda Artman, who rejected the claim because it was not made within 30 days of the zoning decision last summer. In the appeal, the neighbors say they were not notified of that decision and that they did not receive proper notice until Jan. 10, when the earlier determination of the Zoning Administrator was posted on the County’s website.

The appeal says that O’Connell has repeatedly misled the county and the neighborhood about the scope of the project. “In its one-paragraph June submittal, the school said only that it was seeking ‘the installation of synthetic turf on their existing field surfaces.” This submittal constituted the entirety of the information available to the Zoning Administrator when he made his determination,” the appeal says.

The school has since said that it was seeking major improvements to its fields including redevelopment and expansion of the soccer field, the relocation of the baseball field, the elimination of 60 parking spaces, the demolition of the existing track and its expansion,  and the construction of major ancillary structures such as new bleachers, press box, storage, concession building and restrooms.

But “none of this information was available to the Deputy Zoning Administrator when he made his decision,” the appeal says.

You can read the appeal on the next page.