Monday, December 8, 2014

Working For You, Is Getting to Them

I was very disappointed to see this hypercritical Purcellville Gazette Staff Editorial in the December 6, 2014 Issue.  

The assertion that this council has not moved forward on its initiative toward transparency is dishonest and the criticism of the Crooked Run Orchard Settlement was misguided.

With regards to transparency:

Three months ago this town council voted 4-3 to interview candidates for committees and assignments in open session.  The previous council(s) had done all interviewing in closed session. Our goal with this initiative is that the public be able to witness first hand whether the candidates are qualified and since they are an extension of government and the elected council makes these selections on behalf of the citizens, part of that selection process should be open much like the election process.    

This council also made a huge leap forward with making all audio of public meetings available within 24 hours after meetings. This allows members of the public who can not attend meetings to listen and still be informed.  It holds myself and my colleagues accountable to what is said and done at our meetings and ultimately brings more clarity to the business being conducted on behalf of the citizens.   

Mayor Fraser has brought forward as business the option to institute the Open.Gov platform for our town financials.  Open.Gov allows residents and town staff to see trends, details, and spending.  It enables the town to share our financial data to improve communication and build trust with the public.  Mayor Fraser is exploring options and there are still plans to bring it forward so we can bring the town business to the public.  

With regards to the Crooked Run Orchard Settlement, I have previously written about why I voted to end the legal conflict with the Browns.  With the guidance and advice from our town attorney, outside legal counsel, the town manager, and the two attorneys on our town council as well as the other members of council, I feel we made an informed and rational decision.  

To counter the other "concerns" voiced by the Purcellville Gazette, I have these additional comments.

1) Public Input: As elected members of the public, we are charged with making decisions on behalf of the public.  The process of any settlement must be done in private executive session so that negotiations with the Browns would not be compromised. I have not seen nor heard any negative commentary regarding the settlement and have only been approached by residents with overwhelming support of our effort to close this chapter in our town's history.  

2) The Gazette opined that the Town Council "agreed to change the Town Plan and rezone the property to a more intensive use with no fees or proffers to offset the impact to taxpayers."  The ACC (Agricultural Conservancy/Commercial District) zoning was developed specifically with Crooked Run Orchard in mind and this zoning designation is consistent with the Town Plan. The property is currently zoned Transitional, which is a intended to be a temporary zoning district designation assigned to newly-annexed land. The Brown's at one time had zoning for 300 Townhouses on a portion of their property, but it now is in permanent conservation easement and preserved as farmland. 

The total property in question is eight acres and the property could possibly accommodate one animal hospital, one restaurant, one small country inn, and only eight homes, if developed with residences.  The Town predicts that the surrounding road network will have the capacity to accommodate these uses, in which case we would not expect to receive a large transportation proffer.  With any redevelopment, the developer would be required to prepare a traffic study to analyze the traffic impacts and the road capacity. If a turn lane was warranted off the Southern Collector Road by the development, a turn lane can be required even under a by-right development scenario and the town does not expect that this development would require much more than a turn lane on the SCR.  In addition to a transportation analysis, there would be an analysis of the water and sewer services necessary to serve the site.  If the site could be adequately served with no upgrades to the current system, then no proffered improvements would be expected.  If developed with non-residential rezoning, the town would not seek a proffer for schools, since no school children are generated by the other by-right uses. The upside, is that the commercial uses that become available under the ACC zoning district will generate greater tax revenues for the Town than both the existing agricultural use in place and the by-right uses under the existing Transition X zoning district. 

3) This Settlement eliminates the Town’s risk of having to pay more than $1 million for the land taken for the SCR, which could occur as a result of an unfavorable jury verdict.

4) The proposed compensation of $1 million is about 25% of the Brown’s $4 million appraisal, and is more than twice as much as the Town’s original $432,000 appraisal. 

5) Settlement saves money otherwise spent on legal fees, expert fees, and ancillary expenses of both a trial and a subsequent appeal. Legal fees for a trial of this scope could exceed $250,000.  If we went to trial and won, we would have spent $1 million regardless and still risk future appeals and its associated costs. In this instance, we eliminate that risk altogether.  

6) The settlement agreement seeks to reduce traffic conflicts between the SCR and Mr. Brown’s farm equipment by adding a crossing across the SCR. 

7) The Town will retain needed rights for SCR right-of-way maintenance and utility extensions.

8) The Gazette Editorial stated they had concern because "two successful candidates for Town office had their political campaign signs all over the property in question" and the fact that we voted for this settlement "further fuels the public cynicism."  Again, there has been no negative public input via email, commentary at subsequent town meetings, or via social media.  The vote to settle was 5-2; those voting in favor to settle included myself, Mayor Fraser, Ben Packard, Doug McCollum, and John Nave. Doug McCollum and Ben Packard were successful candidates for election this year and did not have their signs on Crooked Run Orchard property and their yes vote along with John Nave's destroys the Gazette's logic that political sway garnered favor.  

There is clearly something larger at play here other than this settlement and transparency for the Purcellville Gazette and it is up to the town residents to decide what that is. But rest assured, I will never leave blank, empty claims such as this unanswered. I was elected by the people of this town to work on their behalf, and I will continue to do so regardless if the Gazette or any publication chooses to post accusatory editorials. It will not slow my resolve to do what is right for the citizens of Purcellville.  

Furthermore, I encourage all interested citizens to be present participants in our open, transparent processes.  There is an opportunity bi-weekly to participate at the town council meetings and only by attending will you truly see, hear, and understand the true business of the town.   Conforming to other people's vitriol is caving to the most foolish part of their nature.  

John Lydon said, If you are pissing people off, you know you are doing something right." Apparently working for you, the citizens of Purcellville, is getting to them.