Thursday, December 30, 2010

NewsChannel 8/TBD segment on O'Connell controversy

NewsChannel 8, now known as TBD, aired a segment on the O'Connell controversy Wednesday night.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Realtors expect decline in home values

One question mark about O'Connell's proposal has been its impact on our home values. We've all generally assumed it wouldn't increase the values, but we didn't have any data. So we turned to the group that would know best: Arlington real estate agents.

We recently conducted a survey of Arlington real estate agents (46 responded to our survey) and asked them if the O'Connell proposal for lights and stadium expansion would increase, decrease or have no effect on our home values.

The results surprised us. Not only did an overwhelming majority of agents (80 percent) say the values would decline for the first row of homes that are adjacent to the private school, but a strong majority (65 percent) said the values will decline for all homes in the first block.

And a substantial number of agents believe the impact will be even broader. Thirty-five percent said homes within three blocks will decline.

The agents expect significant declines in home prices. On average, they expect that prices for the first row homes will decline by 11 percent, which works out to about $72,000 for a typical home.

Homes in the first block will decline by 9 percent, or slightly more than $60,000.

A copy of the full study is attached below.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Petition drive shows strong opposition to O'Connell plan

A petition drive shows strong opposition to Bishop O’Connell’s proposal from residents of the Williamsburg and Arlington East Falls Church neighborhoods.

A preliminary count indicates volunteers have collected well over 250 signatures on petitions that oppose the lights and stadium expansion. Volunteers have been going door-to-door in the past two weeks and have found a large percentage of residents opposed to the proposal, including many who live outside the immediate streets around O’Connell.

If you haven’t signed the petition and would like to, please contact Ruth Shearer at

Monday, December 13, 2010

Board delays vote on O'Connell proposal

The Arlington County Board has delayed its consideration of O’Connell’s proposal for lights and a stadium expansion until January.

At its meeting Saturday, the board included the O’Connell proposal with other items it was deferring to later meetings. The issue is likely to be considered at the Jan. 22 meeting.

Board members did not discuss the issue, although Member Barbara Favola signed a “declaration of personal interest” in the issue because her employer Marymount University "may indirectly benefit" from the use permit. Favola said that Virginia law permits her to vote because she is a member of a group, the members of which are affected by the proposal, and that she can participate in the proposal fairly, objectively, and in the public interest.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Study shows O'Connell plan will cause severe parking shortage on neighborhood streets

As part of its plan to install lights and create a larger sports complex to host NCAA events with Marymount University, Bishop O’Connell High School plans to enlarge its stadium and shrink its parking lot. But surprisingly, Arlington County has not required the school to conduct a study on the impact in the neighborhood -- particularly on parking.

So residents of the neighborhood have recently conducted a study that calculates the parking impact. The study finds that the expanded stadium will bring hundreds of cars to nighttime events, overwhelming the school’s limited parking lots and forcing more than 400 cars to seek parking on our streets.

With O’Connell expanding the stadium, the study finds that 850 cars will come to the school for a typical nighttime football game. But O’Connell’s lots -- which will lose about 50 spaces because of the expansion -- will only hold 447 cars. So the remaining 403 cars will seek parking on neighborhood streets.

The study shows that even if people attending O’Connell events take every available parking space on the streets near the school, there will still be such a shortage that they will have to park in the outer ring of streets far from the school.

The parking shortage could have a serious domino effect. As O'Connell events clog neighborhood streets, many residents will be unable to find a place to park near their home. That could make them likely to seek further parking restrictions (the current zone protections end at 5 p.m.). But that in turn could cause attendees for the O’Connell events to park on streets farther and farther away.

We are sending a copy of the study to the County Board today. 
A copy of it is after the link.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

County Board still likely to consider O'Connell proposal in January

Many residents received notices Saturday that the County Board meeting to consider O'Connell's plan will be held next Saturday, Dec. 11. And indeed, the agenda shows that item. But it indicates the staff recommendation is to "Defer the use permit amendment request for expanding the use of the site by lighting the existing athletic fields to the January 22, 2011 County Board meeting."

The link indicates the county is waiting for (1) updated photometrics; (2) a revised site plan showing light pole locations; (3) proposed parking plan; (4) landscaping plan "particularly showing light spillage on North 26th Street and Trinidad."  The staff recommendation also notes O'Connell's request for 70-80 foot light poles and additional setbacks and states that those requests would not be in compliance with Arlington ordinance requirements.

We'll update the blog as soon as we have confirmation of the date. But in the meantime, residents are encouraged to write and call County Board members in the next few days, since they will be seeing the item on their agenda.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Other private schools don't have lights

Bishop O’Connell High School has requested the Arlington County Board approve its permit to re-construct, re-orient, expand, and light its sports fields.  In support of its request, Bishop O’Connell has repeatedly stated that Arlington public high schools have undertaken similar upgrades in recent years and that it should have “parity” with those schools.

In response to those statements, the neighborhood has examined whether and to what extent other local high schools have lighted sports fields.  The results of our survey, summarized below, reveal quite plainly that very few private high schools within Bishop O’Connell’s athletic conference -- the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) – have lighted fields.

Although some local public high schools have field lights for sporting events, those schools are not situated similarly to O’Connell.  Schools like Yorktown High School and Washington-Lee High School have had lighted fields for decades, are not located in zoning districts for single family homes, and are sited and landscaped so as to minimize adverse effects of night-time sports usage.

The WCAC consists of eight schools, and six of them do not have field lights. Like O’Connell, these schools have made a tradition of daytime football and baseball games. They have found it’s not critical to have lights. For example, St Johns High School in Chevy Chase recently upgraded its fields with field turf, improved seating, landscaping, and new fencing – but the school did not install night field lighting.

Only two of these WCAC schools have fields with lights: Good Counsel Catholic High School in Olney, MD and Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, VA.  Neither of these two schools is located in a neighborhood similar to the Williamsburg/East Falls Church neighborhood -- Bishop O’Connell’s dense residential setting.

Good Counsel High School in Olney has no homes within one mile of the school.

Paul VI Catholic High School is located along a busy, commercial stretch of Lee Highway in Fairfax, across from the Fairfax Outlet Mall. But there are homes adjacent to its football field, and the Fairfax City Council has been responsive to the homeowners when the school sought to expand its athletic facilities.   In late October 2009, the Diocese of Arlington applied for permits to allow Paul VI to expand its athletic facilities. After protests from neighbors about excessive light and noise and stray foul balls landing in their yards, the Fairfax City Council on September 14, 2010  voted 4-1 to grant historical preservation protection to the property and thus prevent its development for expanded athletic facilities

In voting to preserve the property as residential, Councilman Greenfield stated he sought to “protect the residential neighborhood,” and that “last night he could hear the football game from Paul VI and couldn’t imagine what it would be like to live across the street from the stadium.”  Councilman Meyer noted Paul VI’s wish to expand its facilities but stated that “its footprint is what it is and they [Paul VI] will need to work within it.”  

O’Connell’s discussions of parity have been selective. School officials have often cited Yorktown and other public schools for comparison but neglected to point out that as a private school, it locks its fields and does not allow residents of the neighborhood to use its facilities. It’s also important to note these public schools have significant differences from O’Connell:

1.    Wakefield High School, Arlington, VA – Football and baseball fields have night lighting.
  •  Lights have been in place for over 30 years – residents who purchased near the school were aware of the night athletic field lighting; thus the lighting does not diminish property values.
  •  Homes are farther away.
  •  Four homes located to the east of Wakefield’s football field.
  •  Fields are surrounded by significant tree/shrubbery walls.

2.    Washington-Lee High School, Arlington, VA – Football field has night lighting.
  • Lights have been in place for at least 40 years – residents who purchased near the school were aware of the night athletic field lighting; thus the lighting does not diminish property values
  • The two fields along Quincy St do not have athletic lights
  • Residences are located only along one side of football field, Stafford St.

3.    Yorktown High School, Arlington, VA – Greenbrier Field has night lighting.
  • Lights have been in place for 40 years– residents who purchased near the school were aware of the night athletic field lighting; thus the lighting does not diminish property values
  • Residences located adjacent to fields along N. Greenbrier St. and N. 27th St.
  • Yorktown Civic Association residents very involved in recent YHS renovations which resulted in:
a.    parking improvements
b.    mitigation of light spillage and loudspeaker noise pollution
c.    significant tree barriers between field and residences and
d.    lowering football field to mitigate sound disturbance to nearby residents.

4.    TC Williams High School, Alexandria, VA – has no athletic field lighting
  • School is located along busy King St. corridor with athletic fields abutting residences of Seminary Hills Civic Association
  • Agreement with residents of Seminary Hills Civic Association dating to school’s initial construction does not allow school to have permanent night lighting on its athletic fields – the school continues to honor this agreement
  •  Despite lack of lights, the school is famous for its football team. The film “Remember the Titans” was made about the TC Williams football team!
-- Julie Bruns

Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) School Athletic Field Comparables
Lights on School’s Athletic Fields?
Fields Adjacent to Residential Properties?
Additional Pertinent Information on School’s Athletic Fields
DeMatha High School Hyattsville, MD

Games played at Prince George's Sports and Learning Complex, adjacent to Fedex Field
Good Counsel High School
Olney, MD
No residences near Dancel Field (football/ baseball) –see photo below
Gonzaga High School Washington DC NW

St. John's High School
Washington DC – Chevy Chase
Fields recently redone with field turf, landscaping, improved seating –but no night field lighting (field on Oregon Ave adjacent to Rock Creek Parkway).
Archbishop Carroll High School
Washington DC NE
Field adjacent to North Capitol St NE

Paul VI Catholic High School
Fairfax, VA
School located along Lee Highway across the street from The Outlet Mall at Fairfax Shopping Center.  Athletic fields perpendicular to Lee Hwy along McLean Ave.  See photo below.

 * 5 homes on other side of McLean Ave from football field.  Trees/shrubbery separate these homes from  McLean Ave and East side of football field.  Athletic field lights conveyed with the fields when Diocese of Arlington purchased the school property from George Mason U. in 1982 (school was originally Fairfax High School).  In late October 2009, the Diocese of Arlington applied for several permits to allow Paul VI to expand its athletic facilities. After hearing testimony from neighbors about too much light and noise and stray foul balls from sports activities , the Fairfax City Council  Recently voted 4-1 to prevent expansion of the athletic fields.
Bishop O'Connell High School
Arlington, VA
Completely surrounded by residential community (Arlington East Falls Church Civic Association and Williamsburg Civic Association)
Bishop McNamara High School
District Heights, MD
Heavy tree/shrubbery separate residences located adjacent to east and north sides of athletic field.
***Bishop Ireton High School
Alexandria, VA
School located along Cambridge Rd off of Duke St.   ** 8 homes with back yards directly adjacent to north side of football field. In 2006- 2007, due to BI renting out its fields to other schools and resultant continuous daytime activity on fields, Clover-College Park Civic Association initiated 9-month investigation of BI’s compliance with use permit. School was forced to agree to cease renting its fields for non-BI team use and to restrict play-time to reasonable day-time hours, no Sunday games, etc.
***St Mary’s Ryken High School
Leonardtown, MD
School located in secluded area due north of Breton Bay.  No residences near St Mary’s Ryken Field with night lighting.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Should Arlington involve the community before continuing partnership discussions?

Letter to Arlington Parks and Recreation from Ruth Shearer

Nov. 17, 2010

I am following up on a letter sent to you regarding the involvement of your department with Bishop O’Connell High School and their Special Use Application U-1159-55-1 and U-2110-77-2.  The Board of Governors of the school has cited the school’s “partnership” with Arlington County, including their plans to renovate their fields and their contribution to the renovation of the Tuckahoe fields.  A recent article in the Gazette newspaper included the Principle of the high school also citing the ‘partnership” with the County.

As I stated in my letter, I do not believe that such a “partnership” should be negotiated without the participation of the residents that are impacted by the proposed changes.  The County administrators and department employees are agents of the residents.  While I understand that your department sees this arrangement with the school as a means to renovate the fields at Tuckahoe, it is clear that your department has not considered the impact or consequences of this massive project to our community.

Numerous residents of the Williams/East Falls Church community have asked for an explanation of this partnership and any agreements between Arlington County Parks and Recreation and Bishop O'Connell High School.  In addition, the residents request an explanation of the County’s plans for Tuckahoe fields, since the County’s Parks and Recreation Master Plan does not address the Tuckahoe fields. The residents request information regarding the process that was used by your Department to determine feasibility of the Bishop O'Connell proposed plan, as well as the results such an evaluation.

The residents also request an explanation regarding the “partnership”, as cited by Bishop O’Connell High School officials, between Arlington County Parks and Recreation and Marymount University.  The school officials have stated that Marymount University is “paying for half” of this proposed renovation.  Although the school officials cite these partnerships in various public forums, no detailed information has been provided to the community.

Please feel free to contact me at 703.298.8716.


Ruth Shearer

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

County Board to consider O'Connell proposal on Jan. 22

Bishop O'Connell said Tuesday night that it was delaying the County Board's consideration of its proposal to renovate, enlarge and light its sports fields.  O'Connell's proposal will be heard on January 22, 2011.

At a meeting of representatives of the two civic associations (Williamsburg and Arlington/East Falls Church), school officials indicated that they are continuing to work with the County Planning Department on a number of issues, including the location of the light poles, landscaping, and parking management.

O'Connell rejected requests by the representatives to (1) limit the use of the sports field to O'Connell students (and exclude County youth and adult leagues and Marymount college students); and (2) adopt an 8:00 p.m., curfew on weeknights.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

New questions raised about O'Connell proposal

One thing that has disappointed many of us in the Williamsburg-East Falls Church neighborhood is the hurried way that Bishop O’Connell has handled its proposal without input from its neighbors, and the way O’Connell has characterized it as “field lighting on existing fields” for “high school uses.”

That is not an accurate description.

The plan actually calls for a major reconstruction of the fields and a much larger football stadium -- far more than just “field lighting.” Also, the fields are not just to be used for “high school uses” because there may be extensive use by collegiate teams from Marymount University.

John Seymour has just written a very thoughtful letter to county officials that explains the problems with the application and how the county apparently failed to follow Virginia law in notifying the neighborhood. He also highlights a number of unanswered questions about the proposal, and asks the county to defer hearing the application until those issues are resolved. The letter is summarized here and the full text is posted below.

The highlights:

  • The county and O'Connell may not have complied with requirements for giving sufficient notice of the project to property owners and to neighboring communities.
  • In characterizing the project as merely the installation of "field lighting on their existing fields" for use by "high school students," O'Connell may not have included in its application an accurate  "descriptive summary” of the project.
  • Numerous unresolved questions remain relating to parking, traffic, light pollution, and noise arising from the night-time sports events.  No Board hearing should be scheduled until those issues have been resolved.

John’s letter:

November 12, 2010

                                                                                               John F. Seymour
                                                                                               6535 North 27th Street
                                                                                               Arlington, Virginia 22213

Jay Fisette
Arlington County Board
2100 Clarendon Boulevard, Suite 300
Arlington, Virginia 22201

           Re:             Special Use Application U-1159-55-1 and U-2110-77-2
                       (Bishop Denis O’Connell High School)

Dear Mr. Fisette:

           I am writing to express my continuing concern about Bishop Denis O’Connell High School’s (O’Connell) pending application for a special use permit to re-orient and light its sports fields for evening sporting events.  In my initial letter dated September 24, 2010, I expressed concern about the adequacy of the notice provided by O’Connell to neighborhood residents.  I stated that, although I lived only a few hundred feet from O’Connell, I had no notice of the permit application until mid-September when a neighbor dropped off a copy of a letter from the Arlington County Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development.  That letter, dated, September 8, 2010, advised him of a hearing before the County Board scheduled for September 28, 2010.  (The hearing is currently scheduled for December 11th).

           After reviewing Arlington law applicable to notice requirements for special use permits, I am even more concerned that O’Connell’s letter and associated application fail to provide notice to affected persons such that they are afforded an opportunity to oppose the measure if they desire.  The notice provisions are “mandatory conditions precedent to the exercise by the governing body of zoning powers.”  Davis v. Stafford County Board of Supervisors, 20 Va. Cir. 122, 124 (1990).  Absent compliance with the statutory notice requirements, the Board cannot act on a special use permit.  Because of deficiencies in the notice requirement, as well as the many unresolved substantive issues relating to the project’s impact on the neighborhood, the County Board should continue to defer the hearing date until O’Connell’s application complies with applicable law.

           Non-Compliance with Notice Requirements:   Virginia law provides, in pertinent part, that proposed changes in ordinances, plans and uses must be published in a newspaper having general circulation in the area, and that “written notice” be provided at least 5 days before the hearing to owners of all abutting property and owners of property immediately across the street from the property affected.  Va. Code Ann. Sections 15.2-2204, 15.2-2309(6).  In addition, where a proposed application for special exception for a change in use involves “any property within one-half mile of a boundary of an adjoining locality of the Commonwealth, then in addition to the advertising and written notification as above required, written notice shall also be given by the local commission, or its representative, at least 10 days before the hearing, to the chief administrative officer, or his designee, of such adjoining locality.”  Va. Code Ann. Section 15.2-2204(C).  

           The applicable Arlington County zoning ordinance underscores these requirements by stating that “all required advertising will be done in accordance with applicable law.”  Arlington County Zoning Ordinance section 36.I.1.  Arlington County also requires that notice of proposed use permits “shall be given by posting (1) placard on the property for which said application has been filed and posting the surrounding area with no less than four (4) placards showing the designation of the property together with the time and place of the hearing.”  Arlington County Zoning Ordinance section 36.I.2.  With respect to the contents of any notice or advertisement, state law requires that “every such advertisement shall contain a descriptive summary of the proposed action.”  Va. Code Ann. Section 15.2-2204(A).   

           I do not believe that the Department or O’Connell have complied to date with these requirements.

           Although abutting property owners may have received written notice of the application, it is unclear to me whether the Department has provided the adequate notice through advertisement in local papers,[1] proper placarding on the property and in the surrounding area, and providing notice to the City of Falls Church – a neighboring locality located within one-half mile of the O’Connell boundary.  In particular, I have not seen advertisements for the proposed use in local papers, and – although I live very near O’Connell – I did not see placards in the neighborhood.  It is also unclear to me whether the City of Falls Church – whose residents will also be affected by the proposal – has received notice of the proposal.  Absent confirmation that the application complies with all of these requirements, the hearing must be postponed until adequate notice is provided.

           Even if O’Connell and the Department have complied with the procedures for notice, however, the notices themselves fail to comply with substantive requirements.  As noted above, the Virginia Code requires that notices “contain a descriptive summary of the proposed action.”  Virginia courts have held that, “[t]hough notice need not be exact or precise and some disparity between the notice and the legislative act is permissible, nonetheless notice in a zoning matter requires ‘that parties in interest and citizens . . . be apprised of the proposed changes to be acted on so they can be present to state their views.’”   Davis v. Stafford Board of Supervisors, supra at 122;  Ciaffone v. Community Shopping Corp., 77 S.E.2d 817, 833 (Va. 1953).  More recently, in construing the phrase “descriptive summary” for purpose of the notice requirement, the Virginia Supreme Court concluded that a descriptive summary is “a statement that covers all the main points concisely, but without detailed explanation, in a manner that serves to describe an object for the knowledge and understanding of others.”  Glazebrook v. Board of Supervisors of Spotsylvania County, 587 S.E.2d 589, 591 (Va. 2003).    The Court emphasized that the intent of the statute was to “generate informed public participation by providing citizens with information about the content of the [proposal] and the forum for debate concerning [the proposal].”  Id.[2]             

           Applying these standards to the notices at issue shows that they are plainly deficient.   The written notice provided by the Department states only that Bishop O’Connell is seeking a permit for the “installation of field lights on existing fields.”[3]  The notice refers the reader to the application at the Arlington County Zoning Office.  The application itself, which consists entirely of a form application, a two-paragraph narrative, and a few design schematics, also notes only that O’Connell “requests the installation of field lighting on existing fields.”[4]  Neither notice makes any reference to the very significant re-engineering and re-construction of the two ball fields, the expansion of the stadium with enlarged bleachers, the installation of powerful public address systems, the removal of a large number of parking spaces, or a host of other issues that bear significantly on the proposal’s implications for the character of the neighborhood, and the numerous adverse effects arising from the proposal.

           The notices are not only deficient, but affirmatively misleading.  O’Connell is not installing field lights on “existing fields” but on completely reconstructed and reoriented fields with new supporting infrastructure.  Perhaps most important, the notices state that O’Connell is installing the field lights solely to benefit high school athletic events.  Thus, for example, O’Connell’s application states that it is seeking a special use permit “for the purpose of operating/conducting high school uses.”  (Exhibit 2, Emphasis added).  More recently, O’Connell repeated this representation when it said, in a recent letter to alumni, that it was seeking a permit to light its fields to enhance the high school sports experience for its students.  O’Connell recently has acknowledged in discussions with certain members of the affected Civic Associations, however, that it is “partnering” with Marymount University and the County of Arlington for shared use of the new fields.  Many neighborhood residents are understandably confused about the scope of the project, the nature and extent of uses in the evenings, among other critical aspects of the proposal.  By any measure, the notices – by referencing only its existing fields and high school uses – do not constitute a “descriptive summary” of the project.  Most important, they will not generate – nor were they intended to generate, in my view – informed debate on the proposal and its implications for the neighborhood.

           Many Critical Questions Remain Unanswered.  The hearing also should be postponed for reasons unrelated to the deficient notice.  As I understand from recent discussions between O’Connell and members of the affected Civic Associations, the design work on the proposal is still undeveloped.  At this week’s meeting with several neighbors, O’Connell represented that it was still modifying its lighting design.  Among other things, O’Connell is considering requesting from the County a variance from already minimal set-back requirements to locate one 70-90’ high light pole within the 10 foot right-of-way near the intersection of Trinidad and North 26th street.  Thus, O’Connell’s proposal could lead to even more visual clutter than was provided in its original design, and an even greater intrusion into the residential neighborhood.  O’Connell is considering this change because alternative designs cause significant light trespass on to neighboring properties – at levels well above those recommended by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America and other standard-setting groups.  It became clear that O’Connell is attempting to shoehorn a sports complex into a very small acreage and that O’Connell’s tinkering with alternative designs and lighting scenarios is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

           Other significant issues are also pending and will require careful attention by the Planning Department and the Board.  For example, O’Connell’s performance specifications for its fields include NCAA-level lighting – standards for illuminance well above those established for high school sports.  The lighting proposal is not only inconsistent with the notice provided to residents (which, as noted above, clearly signaled a limitation for high school use), but is intended to attract an entirely new user population to our neighborhood – adult leagues and college age students.  The Department and the Board should consider whether to approve a permit that seeks not, as O’Connell represents, to improve sports facilities for its students, but to serve as an inducement for partnerships with other public and private entities.

           A host of other technical and engineering issues remain unresolved at this time, including O’Connell’s ability to accommodate on-site the potentially hundreds of additional automobiles during night-time events,[5] O’Connell’s ability to provide traffic safety, compliance with ordinance requirements relating to crowd and noise control, among others,[6] and its ability to mitigate light pollution. A deferral will permit the Department and O’Connell to provide adequate notice to the affected neighborhood and additional study and review of the many adverse effects arising from the proposal.  Careful and deliberate Department and Board review of the application will also, I believe, lead to the conclusion that the proposal does not satisfy the conditions for granting a special use permit.
Please feel free to call me at (703) 534-9132 if you have any questions about the matters raised herein.  Thank you very much.

                                               John F. Seymour

Ccs:              Marco Rivero

[1]             Even if a notice was published in a newspaper having general circulation, it is likely that such notice has expired.  Virginia law requires that the public hearing be held no more than 21 days after the second publication.  Va. Code Ann. Sections 15.2-2204; 15.2-2309(6).
[2]             As noted by one commentator in summarizing the notice requirements typically applicable to zoning matters, “[s]tatutes requiring notice . . . are generally construed as requiring a notice, the contents of which reasonably apprise those interested that the contemplated action is pending.  The courts approach the notice from the point of view of the layman and hold that while it need not be complete and perfect in every respect, it must be such as will afford him an opportunity to oppose the measure if he desires.”  832 Am. Jur. 2d section 53, Zoning and Planning, at 473.

[3]             A copy of this letter is attached as Exhibit 1.

[4]             A copy of the relevant page from the application is attached as Exhibit 2.
[5]             The Arlington County Zoning Ordinance requires that, “[f]or the purposes of reducing and avoiding congestion of streets and providing a more suitable living and working environment, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the County that: For every land use hereafter established, there shall be provided sufficient space for access by, and for the off-street standing and parking of, all motor vehicles that may be expected to come to the establishment at any time under normal conditions for any person. . .”.  Section 33.  O’Connell’s proposal will attract many more guests to its new complex and O’Connell has not provided data to suggest that it can accommodate reasonably expected crowds.

[6]             Arlington County Code section 15-7(d) provides, for example, that it shall be unlawful for any person to operate a “sound amplifier or similar device which produces, reproduces, or amplifies sound in a manner such as to create a noise disturbance within any nearby dwelling unit or across a real property boundary.”  It is unclear to many residents how O’Connell’s proposed public address system can be operated in compliance with Code requirements.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Facts about Bishop O'Connell's Lighting Proposal

Bishop O’Connell High School is seeking a permit to install lights on its athletic fields, a change that would have a profound and negative impact on our quiet community. The lights could bring hundreds of additional cars to our neighborhood, taking our parking and blasting noise from loudspeakers until 11 p.m. every night of the year.

Facts about the request

•    O’Connell is seeking to install 13 light poles -- each pole 70 to 90 feet high -- to light its athletic fields and hold events late at night.
•    Many residents were unaware of this major proposal until we received a form letter from Arlington County in September, just days before it was to be voted on by the County Board.  And even today, many of our neighbors know little, if anything, about it. (The County Board has delayed the vote until Dec. 11).
•    These are not just “Friday Night Lights.” The use permit would allow O’Connell to have events as late as 11 p.m. every night, 365 days a year.
•    Other high schools in our area have strong and successful athletic programs without having lights, including T.C. Williams in Alexandria. The schools and local governments have respected the wishes of their neighbors who do not want lights.
•    O’Connell plans to increase the capacity of its football stadium from 1,100 to 1,400, potentially bringing more people to our neighborhood for every event.
•    The lights would bring hundreds of additional cars to our neighborhood at a time when our kids are often playing outside.
•    O'Connell is removing 50 parking spaces to make room for the larger stadium and plans to have 6 loudspeakers closer to neighboring homes.
•    Hundreds of outsiders will end up parking in our neighborhoods, taking our parking and creating commotion in nighttime hours.
•    The biggest impact of the lights will be the additional traffic and commotion around our homes, potentially every night of the year.

We know very little about O’Connell’s plans

Many of us are troubled by the inadequate information that O’Connell has provided to the county and the neighborhood about the plans.

•    O’Connell has not said how many nighttime events will be held each year.
•    O'Connell has an agreement with Marymount University and is pursuing one with the county Department of Parks and Recreation, but has not revealed details of how often Marymount or the county will have events at the school, potentially bringing hundreds of college kids to our neighborhood.
•    There’s been little detail about the additional noise or light pollution on our neighborhood -- from events that could go as late as 11 p.m.
•    There’s been no study about the impact of hundreds of additional cars in our neighborhood, particularly the impact it will have on parking. It’s possible that cars from O’Connell events could make it difficult for us to find parking . . . many nights a week.

If you are as concerned as we are...

We need your help!

•    Stay informed through our blog, No Adverse Impact (named after the county standard for use permits):
•    Write the County planning department and tell them you are opposed to the lights because they will harm our wonderful neighborhoods and affect the safety of our families.
•    Send an e-mail, letter or call your County Board members (Board Chairman Jay 
Fisette, Vice-Chairman Chris Zimmerman, Barbara A. Favola, J. Walter Tejada, and Mary Hughes Hynes and tell them you are opposed to the lights!

The following email will reach all board members:

Or write to them at: 
Arlington County Board

2100 Clarendon Blvd. Suite 300

Arlington, VA 22201

TEL 703-228-3130
FAX 703-228-7430

•    Write or call the Arlington County Planning Division:

Arlington County Planning Division
2100 Clarendon Boulevard,
Suite 700
Arlington, VA 22201
(703) 228-3525

Or email to Tom Miller, planing coordinator (

* Volunteer to help us distribute information. Contact Ruth Shearer at

Helps us preserve our neighborhood!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Letter to the County Board from Ellen Jones, Oct. 6

A letter to the County Board from Ellen Jones, who lives on Little Falls Road near Nottingham School. Ellen's letter indicates that neighborhood concern about the lights goes beyond the immediate area around the Bishop O'Connell.

I live at 6052 Little Falls Road in the Williamsburg neighborhood.  I am writing this email to express my concern about the Bishop O’Connell High School proposal to install lights on the school’s athletic fields.  This move has serious implications for our neighborhood in terms of light pollution, traffic, and noise.  While I support the high school's efforts to improve the educational experience for its students, I believe that the school's needs should be balanced against neighborhood needs.

It seems to me that Arlington County is preparing to make a decision on whether to allow the school to go ahead with their plans in an overly-hasty matter.  A decision which has such significant impact on the neighborhood should not be made without (1) adequate measures to alert residents who are both directly and indirectly affected by the move and (2) careful study of the potential impact on neighborhood traffic, parking problems, lighting, and noise.

For these reasons, I urge the County Board to postpone action on Bishop O'Connell's proposal until the above measures are taken.  I understand that the proposal is now scheduled to come up for County Board consideration on 11 December.  At that time, I urge you to postpone a decision on the proposal and map out a strategy to (1) undertake a study to determine exactly how the school intends to use the renovated fields (2) commission studies of the potential impact of these uses on light pollution, traffic, parking and noise in the neighborhood; (3) inform residents in the Williamsburg and Arlington/East Falls Church neighborhoods of the proposal and potential impacts; (4) get informed feedback on the school proposal by eliciting email response from residents and holding neighborhood meetings with open discussions of the proposal.

Please let me know what you intend to do on this issue.
Thank you very much.

Ellen Jones
6052 Little Falls Road
Arlington, VA 22207