[Open letter to Prince William chief County Attorney Michelle Robl and county leadership and mass email to county citizens]
Rapacious residential developers — We have lived in Prince William County for 20 years. For the last 15 years we have been working to defend our district, and other districts of the county as well, from rapacious residential developers who: overcrowd our roads and schools, increase our taxes through mostly tax-negative residential development, damage the environment, and corrupt our politics. As residents of the county, in recent years we have watched the quality of education decrease while our taxes have greatly increased, much faster than inflation and than in Loudoun, for example, where we used to live. We have experienced the traffic gridlock caused by inadequately planned residential development. In short, we live with the reduced quality of life caused by out-of-control residential development.
Parroting: Developer “project denial would mean a winnable lawsuit” — So often, when asked, members of the Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) say they have voted for residential development because “the county attorney tells us that project denial would mean a winnable lawsuit.” Would you please let us know why this is so? If a county comprehensive plan — which is heavily influenced by developers and into which ordinary citizens have little or no input, and which changes frequently and is not legally binding — gives developers the right to build wherever residential development has been indicated, why do we even bother with the charade of a rezoning hearing? Why does zoning and zoning law exist in the first place if it is trumped by the county’s comprehensive plan, which is developer controlled, ever-changing (without item-by-item public hearings, unlike zoning changes), and not legally binding? Why do we bother with zoning if the county doesn’t really have the power to decide where residential developments will be built?
Why the lack of legal concern for these, many of which could, and maybe should, result in lawsuits against the county? — Why are you so concerned about possibly, hypothetically winnable developer lawsuits, but not about potential lawsuits arising from Chair Wheeler’s 31 March BOCS public meeting to increase her power and, before the citizen outcry became too loud to be ignored, reduce citizens’ First Amendment rights? (See BOCS attachment, items 4A-D.) Are you unaware that that public meeting, despite preposterous county implications that it can completely successfully quarantine people in place at the meeting, is likely to contribute to the spread of the coronavirus in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, about which we receive almost daily county warnings and updates, including from Chair Wheeler herself? No concern about liability lawsuits against the county arising from people getting Covid-19 from the 31 March public hearing?
Why are you apparently unconcerned about Doug Widener and the Citizens Alliance of Prince William’s itemization of BOCS legal irregularities at the 10 March Devlin rezoning hearing? (See Doug’s 24 March message at the bottom of the following link: https://pwcbg.org/2020/03/chair-wheeler-holding-semi-public-31-mar-bocs-meeting-to-implement-greatly-increased-emergency-powers-suspension-of-public-comment/ Also see: https://pwcbg.org/2020/03/second-chance-for-5-new-bocs-members-deceived-by-developers-on-devlin2-pwcbg-suggests-tax-relief-for-local-employers-employees-facing-layoffs/
Why are you apparently unconcerned about the following abusive flooding and eminent domain issues left unresolved at the 10 March Devlin rezoning decision by the BOCS and lawsuits that will likely arise from them? (See bullets 1 and 2 below.) Why are you unconcerned that bullets 1-3 are not in the formal written proffers from the developer — despite what some BOCS members evidently believe, per their repeated comments at the 10 Mar Devlin hearing — and thus will not happen because they are not legally valid or enforceable upon the developer, just like a complex contract is not defensible in court unless it is clear and in writing?
- Flooding and drainage issues must be resolved to the highest legal standard, not to the low standard that has existed since the watershed was removed by clearcutting of the forest by the landowner.
- Eminent domain to take land for road widening/improvement should come from the residential developer/property owner’s side of the road (the ~west side) where no houses yet exist, not the Lanier Farms/Sheffield Manor side (the ~east side) where many new houses have been built within the last 20-30 years, and where children in backyards, especially after eminent domain takings along the windy road, could be greatly endangered by speeding cars, especially at the turns in the road. Or does the BOCS intend to condemn these relatively new homes along the east side of Devlin and forcibly evict residents using eminent domain powers?
- Timing of the developer build-out must be carefully limited to and only allowed after promised a) flood, b) road (i.e. Devlin widened from Wellington to Linton Hall), c) school (i.e., impacted elementary and middle schools are expanded with permanent additions, not just more trailers, so no school will be over capacity), and d) any other relevant infrastructure is in place.
County Attorney’s extreme risk aversion — We are very concerned that you seemingly: a) see your role only in terms of developer interests, not citizens’ and homeowner’s interests, b) are afraid of residential developer threats (explicit or implicit) and thus are allowing the county to be extorted by residential developers, and c) lack confidence in yourself and your staff’s ability to stand up to residential developers in court, even in relatively easy-to-win cases.
But with so many highly-paid lawyers in your employ and your own salary of almost $300K, how can that be? (See county attorneys’ names, salary table, and totals below. Also, see Excel attachment.)
Rather than hiding behind the phrase ” project denial would mean a [hypothetically] winnable lawsuit” to avoid getting your hands dirty or taking even a moderate legal risk, could you please: a) work for the people for a change and b) give us case law examples that prove your theory that residential developers would win every case, or even most cases, where the BOCS voted against a zoning change request that was in line with the county’s developer-inspired Comp Plan?
Please respond to all the questions above and below (both Doug Widener’s and ours) in layman’s terms, with an executive summary that can be read and understood by all county citizens. We will report publicly on whether you respond and how you respond.
(Here’s the table mentioned above with county attorneys’ names, salaries, and salary totals.)
|Name||Job title||Total pay 2019|
|MICHELLE ROBL||COUNTY ATTORNEY||277,162.39|
|PAUL EBERT||COMMONWEALTH ATTORNEY||249,200.04|
|RICHARD CONWAY||CHIEF DEP COMMNWLTH ATTORNEY||215,441.23|
|ROBERT DICKERSON||DEPUTY COUNTY ATTORNEY||195,172.70|
|MEGAN KELLY||ASSISTANT COUNTY ATTORNEY IV||176,748.09|
|BERNADETTE PEELE||ASSISTANT COUNTY ATTORNEY IV||175,590.02|
|CURT SPEAR||ASSISTANT COUNTY ATTORNEY IV||161,351.14|
|WILLIAM PHIPPS||DEPUTY COMMNWLTH ATTORNEY||153,397.26|
|CHERYL WALTON||ASSISTANT COUNTY ATTORNEY III||145,614.65|
|ROBERT SKOFF||ASSISTANT COUNTY ATTORNEY III||145,611.94|
|JEFFREY NOTZ||ASSISTANT COUNTY ATTORNEY III||143,847.70|
|CLAIBORNE RICHARDSON||SR ASSIST COMMONWEALTH ATTORNY||138,552.37|
|JACQUELINE LUCAS||ASSISTANT COUNTY ATTORNEY III||135,526.16|
|DEBORAH SIEGEL||ASSISTANT COUNTY ATTORNEY III||135,526.16|
|J REGAN KLINE||DEPUTY COMMNWLTH ATTORNEY||134,340.49|
|ALAN SMITH||ASSISTANT COUNTY ATTORNEY III||131,858.47|
|TERESA POLINSKE||SR ASSIST COMMONWEALTH ATTORNY||129,905.28|
|JERROLD NEGIN||ASSISTANT COMMONWEALTH ATTORNY||124,122.09|
|BRIAN BOYLE||DEPUTY COMMONWEALTH ATTORNY||123,855.36|
|PETER GRASIS||ASSISTANT COUNTY ATTORNEY III||122,068.11|
|BARRY ZWEIG||ASSISTANT COMMONWEALTH ATTORNY||118,332.99|
|MATTHEW LOWERY||ASSISTANT COMMONWEALTH ATTORNY||117,437.45|
|KRISTINA ROBINSON||ASSISTANT COMMONWEALTH ATTORNY||113,730.70|
|SAMUEL FLOURNOY||ASSISTANT COMMONWEALTH ATTORNY||100,977.20|
Kathy and Ralph Stephenson
Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth
Only in the bright light of public scrutiny can the common good be secured,
while in darkness and obscurity the interests of the powerful and affluent prevail.