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