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

Letter to the County Board from John Seymour, Sept. 24

A letter to the County Board from John Seymour, a 20-year resident of N. 27th Street:

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 O’Connell High School)

Dear Board Members:

           My wife and I have lived, for more than 20 years, in our home at 6535 North 27th Street in Arlington.  Our property is located a hundred feet or so from the corner of Trinidad Street and North 27th Street, which abuts Bishop O’Connell High School.  Several days ago, a neighbor dropped by to advise us of the School’s application for a special use permit to reorient its playing fields, install field lights, and construct parking and related facilities.  Our neighbor received a written notice of the application from the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development because her home was identified on property tax records as the owner of property directly across the street from O’Connell.  I (and other neighbors) was unaware of the proposal and believe that written notice should be provided to all persons likely to be affected by the proposal.  At a minimum, written notice should be provided all residents of Sycamore Gardens, the small development bordering O’Connell, and very possibly all members of the two affected civic associations -- Williamsburg and Arlington/East Falls Church.  Despite the consistent characterization of the proposal in the application as “minor, the proposal clearly has profound implications for the quality of life of many persons living near the School.  Absent written notice, many Arlington residents may remain unaware of the proposal and thus unable to make their views heard.

           Second, the proposal is “minimalist” in the extreme.  I understand, and am pleased by, the Department’s decision to postpone the public meeting originally scheduled for September 25th to seek additional information.  The written materials I have reviewed at the Department provide virtually no information about the nature and scope of the work, or the degree to which the new uses of the athletic facilities may affect such difficult issues as traffic, parking, litter, noise, and light spillage (among others).  It nowhere describes the potential uses of the fields or the likely size of crowds.  The application also does not discuss an issue of particular concern to residents -- whether some uses will be for non-O’Connell events, or whether O’Connell will rent the field to other users or permit other schools to host events.  If, for example, O’Connell intends to sponsor evening events all-year long, neighbors would have no respite from the light pollution, the noise, the traffic and parking problems, or littering in any season.[1]

Certainly, the materials provided to date are wholly inadequate to enable the Board to determine whether the use (1) will adversely affect the health or safety of persons residing in the neighborhood of the proposed use; (2) will be detrimental to the public welfare or injurious to property or improvements in the neighborhood; (3) or will be in conflict with the purposes of the master plans of the County.  Arlington County Zoning Ordinance (Ordinance) 36G.  As you know, the burden is on the applicant to make these demonstrations to the satisfaction of the Board.

           I was particularly puzzled by the lack of an environmental checklist examining any of those issues.  The Arlington Zoning Ordinance dealing with use permits provides, at section 36.G.6, that “every applicant for a special use permit which would allow the construction of: (1) a new structure; or (2) a parking area for more than 10 automobiles, shall file with his application information as defined in Section 36, paragraph J.”  (“Structure,” as defined in the Ordinance, is “anything constructed or erected which requires location to the ground or attached to something having a location on the ground.”  (Section 1)).  The construction of the light poles clearly constitutes the erection of a structure and the construction of the additional 13 parking spaces contemplated by the application also triggers compliance with paragraph J requirements.  Paragraph J.e and J.f require the applicant to submit (1) a description of the project and potential activities within the project and (2) potential methods of minimizing adverse impacts, including their feasibility.

           The application contains no description of the project and the activities to be conducted, or any of the potential adverse impacts, or potential or planned mitigation measures.  Absent a full description of the project – including the patterns of use, the light spillage at the field boundaries, the noise impacts, traffic and parking impacts – the application cannot be sensibly reviewed by the Board.[2]  Although the materials are plainly insufficient to enable the Board to grant a special use, it is unlikely that any such showing could be made.  Below, I highlight a few of the issues of concern to me, and likely to other residents.

1.      Traffic Issues

The O’Connell proposal would, I believe, clearly have adverse effects on our health and safety, and that of our neighbors.  Many of the residents of Sycamore Gardens are small children.  We have expressed repeatedly our concerns, to both O’Connell and to the Arlington Police, about students speeding through our neighborhood after school.  The problem has ebbed and flowed with time, but persists.  The Williamsburg Civic Association Neighborhood Conservation Plan surveyed residents in 2001 and found “growing concerns regarding the safety of both pedestrians and neighborhood drivers.”  (Williamsburg Neighborhood Conservation Plan, at B19).   The Neighborhood Plan expressed its “strong support for measures which will discourage or minimize the use of neighborhood streets as major thoroughfares to reduce the disruption and threat of through traffic to residents and their children.”

Evening athletic events, ending at 10:00 and with students and guests mingling in the neighborhood for substantial periods thereafter, will only aggravate the traffic problem.  Because young students will be driving at night, moreover, the potential for accidents is even greater – particularly in warm weather when children stay up later.  The materials do not contain any discussion of this issue, or discussions between O’Connell and the Arlington County Police to provide augmented policing, traffic patrols, or other protection.

2.     Noise

Night sporting events could affect neighbors’ health in other ways as well.  Night sporting events, with noise generated by crowds and by the public address system, will impede our, and our neighbors’, ability to quietly enjoy the ordinary noises of the nights – crickets, birds, children at play.  As you know, there is an ineffable pleasure to be taken in the quiet of a neighborhood.  The Williamsburg Civic Association Plan noted for example that its neighborhoods represented a “pleasant, attractive and safe urban community in which privacy and a safe environment and an agreeable atmosphere are highly prized.”  (Williamsburg Neighborhood Conservation Plan, at B13).  It expressed a concern, however, about development pressure and a trend toward overbuilding.

The proposal represents a continuation of the unfortunate trend toward increasing development and intensified use of properties in Arlington residential neighborhoods.  With respect to noise, for example, the application does not contain any analysis of potential noise impacts, describe the location and size of public address systems, or estimate noise volumes at the field boundaries.  It does not discuss the construction of bleachers, their size, or their effects on noise levels (concrete versus metal).  I note, parenthetically, that the zoning for O’Connell School and other “special districts,” was granted to “encourage the retention of certain property in a relatively undeveloped state.” Ordinance section 3.  It would be ironic, at best, to approve a proposal that would not only substantially enhance the development of a special district site, but also impair neighborhood values in a contiguous low density residential area.  Certainly, nothing in Arlington’s Land Use Plans or those of the relevant Civic Associations would support such a proposed use.

3.     Light Pollution.

Light pollution has become a more serious problem in close-in suburban neighborhoods such as Arlington.  The materials do not discuss, in any meaningful way, the potential light spillage from the poles, or the expected illumination (in foot candles) at the field boundaries for the various athletic events.  They do not discuss the size, mass, or height of the poles, or even their number (although a map shows, I believe, 13 poles associated with the baseball and football fields).  They do not discuss the number of days per year of expected use.  The materials also do not contain any discussion of mitigation measures to reduce spillage.  Absent full analysis of these issues, neighbors are unable to review the application or comment appropriately.  The very cursory treatment given to this issue in the materials, however, suggests that O’Connell has not given serious thought to light spillage and its compatibility with a quiet residential community.[3]

4.      Parking

Parking on North 27th street and other streets bordering O’Connell has been a persistent problem, particularly during school events.  The Williamsburg Civic Association reported, for example, a growing concern about “on-street parking problems around neighborhood schools.”  (Williamsburg Neighborhood Conservation Plan, at B19).  With the overwhelming support of neighbors, several streets bordering O’Connell (including North 27th Street) were granted zone parking, restricted for non-residents between the hours of 8 and 5, weekdays.  Zone parking had an immediate and dramatic impact on neighborhood congestion, and on child safety.  In many respects, the introduction of zone parking returned the neighborhood streets to their inhabitants – at least during school hours.  Those restrictions do not apply, however, after 5:00 p.m. or on weekends.  If O’Connell scheduled evening athletic events drawing significant crowds, the parking problem would continue and worsen.  Neighborhood residents and their friends would frequently be unable to park near their homes.  The risk to neighborhood children from traffic congestion, as noted above, would only increase.

I note that Arlington has frequently expressed concern about uses that result in increased demands for parking.  Its zoning ordinance provides generally that an applicant for a new land use is responsible for ensuring adequate parking.  Ordinance section 33.  Arlington County has been responsive to neighborhood concerns regarding parking problems in the past, and we ask that our joint efforts to enhance community safety and parking availability in the neighborhood not be lost through a permit to enhance recreation for persons who are not residents of the neighborhood and are not, in some cases, even residents of Arlington.

5.      Aesthetic Issues

Arlington has long enforced height limitations for both special and residential zoning districts.  Such limitations preserve vistas and help preserve general architectural harmony in a neighborhood.  Although the application does not contain any photographs or other depictions of the light poles, it is clear that the numerous tall light poles will take away from the residential nature of the setting and impair the views across the O’Connell fields.  Significantly, in its application, O’Connell did not propose landscaping or other efforts to reduce the visual impact of the changes, or to compensate the County or neighbors for the additional visual clutter.  O’Connell also did not discuss whether any trees will be affected by the proposal.

For the reasons set forth above, the O’Connell application is plainly deficient and provides no basis for the Board to grant a permit.  Moreover, I do not believe that O’Connell can supplement its application to make the required showings.  The proposed structures and new uses would profoundly change our neighborhood, cause or aggravate parking and traffic problems, impair our quality of life, and significantly interfere with our right to quiet enjoyment in our homes.

Please feel free to call me at (703) 534-9132 if you have any questions about the matters raised herein.

                                               John F. Seymour

Ccs:              Marco Rivero

[1]             I understand from the Department’s Planning Office that O’Connell recently advised that the permit sought permission to illuminate the playing fields until 11:00 p.m. all year long.
[2]             It is also unclear to me why O’Connell’s request is not subject to Ordinance Section 36H., dealing with procedures for site plan approvals.  Yorktown High School’s similar proposal to reorient its athletic fields and install lighting was subject to full site plan approval procedures, including requirements for environmental assessments.
[3]             O’Connell’s application notes that Yorktown, Wakefield, and Washington & Lee have made similar upgrades to their sport facilities.  In contrast to O’Connell, however, the public high school facilities are available for public use.  Neighborhood residents can, and frequently do, use the lighted sports fields for recreation, walking, and jogging.  O’Connell permits absolutely no neighborhood use of its facilities.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Letter to the Neighborhood

Dear Neighbors,

As you probably know, Bishop O’Connell High School is proposing to install lights on the school’s athletic fields. The school is seeking a use permit that would allow the lights to remain on until 10 or 10:30 p.m. every night of the year.

Many of us have serious concerns about the impact the lights will have on our neighborhood and have been talking with the county and Bishop O’Connell about the proposal. Our two civic associations, the Williamsburg Civic Association and the Arlington East Falls Church Civic Association, have formed a working group to meet with O’Connell and county officials and discuss our concerns. Bill Adair, a member of our working group, has started this blog to keep the community updated about the proposal.

O’Connell tried to get the county to approve the lights very quickly and gave very little notice to our community. Many of us found out about the proposal just 10 days before it was scheduled to be voted on. But the county delayed it. The proposal is now likely to come before the County Board on Dec. 11.

County zoning laws require that the County Board determine that the lights will not have an adverse impact on our community. The Arlington East Falls Church Association has taken a vote that showed strong opposition to the lights.

You can find the documents about the proposal on the Yahoo Group pages for the AEFCA and the WCA.

Bishop O’Connell has proposed a Memorandum of Understanding about the proposal that spells out what O’Connell will do. We’ll post that memo on the blog.

We need you to speak up. We encourage you to get familiar with the proposal and then let the County Board and the county zoning office know how you feel about it. We’ve heard that many of our neighbors are concerned about it, but the county has received relatively few comments about the proposal. So we encourage you to write them IMMEDIATELY.

Our working group met on Oct. 31 and found we have some serious concerns about the proposal:
  • Neither Bishop O’Connell nor Arlington County has done much to explore the impact on our neighborhood, particularly from traffic.
  • There has been talk about use by college students from Marymount University, as well as unspecified -- and possibly extensive -- uses by the county, but the details of partnership have not been spelled out.
  • Noise from nighttime events has not been quantified or thoroughly studied.
  • Hundreds of cars will be parking on our neighborhood streets, but the impact has not been explored.
  • The lighting impacts of the proposal -- the extent of light spillage onto neighboring properties and sky glare -- are not known at this time.
  • We’ve gotten very sketchy answers from O’Connell (and the county) about how it will be used, frequency of use, size of crowds.

So we encourage you to:
  • Stay up to date by checking this blog every few days. Feel free to e-mail postings to your neighbors by clicking the e-mail button at the bottom of each post.
  • If you’re interested in helping our petition drive against the proposal, contact Ruth Shearer at
  • If you’re interested in supporting the lights, contact Liz McGonigle at or 703-237-4790.
  • Contact county board members with your feelings about the proposal. ( Jay Fisette,; Chris Zimmerman,, Barbara A. Favola,, Mary Hynes,, Walter Tejada,
  • Let us know your thoughts about the proposal and if you’d like to help. We interested in finding volunteers with experience in land-use issues, lobbying and public relations.


The AEFCA-WCA Working Group

AEFCA Panel Members:
- Jayne Bultena -
- Anne Collins -
- Liz McGonigle -
- Dennis Price -
- David Swiger -
- Marcia Tremaine –  

WCA Panel Members:
- Bill Adair –  
- John Seymour –