The Virginia State Board of Elections certified this week a referendum question for the May 6 ballot in the City of Falls Church that would, if passed, change the City’s charter by imposing a strict limit on the ratio of commercial to residential square feet in any new mixed use development project.
Acting in accordance with the unanimous backing of the Falls Church City Council during a closed session on March 3, F.C. City Attorney Roy Thorpe appeared with City Councilman Hal Lippman in the Arlington Circuit Court on March 5 to seek a delay in the decision to place the referendum question on the May ballot, but was overruled by Judge Benjamin Kendrick. Thorpe argued there were some unclear matters that needed to be resolved in the language of the proposed resolution.
But when the matter went to the Virginia State Board of Elections, they initially ruled against the referendum on grounds of ambiguous language, reflecting some of Thorpe’s concerns. However, in subsequent consultations with legal counsel of the proponents of the referendum, a minor modification to the language was permitted by the Board of Elections, which then approved the referendum for the ballot.
At this Monday’s public City Council meeting, Thorpe explained what happened, insisting that “it was never the intention block a vote, but to ensure that what was voted on is consistent with the Code of Virginia.”
Councilman David Snyder took exception, however, stating the City’s role, “was a transparent attempt to stop voters from expressing a point of view.”
“The politics of this are evident,” he said, noting that he’d been absent from the March 3 meeting authorizing Thorpe’s petition for a delay, and that had he been there he would not have supported it.
Thorpe rejoined, saying, “Despite accusations of partisanship, I presented a legal issue of importance, only. There was a clear issue of potential vested rights of property owners that I hoped to have more time to consider.”
He noted that a spokesman in favor of the referendum effectively conceded this when he said that any “potential conflicts” in the referendum, “should be left to another day.”
Lippman confirmed that what Thorpe did was, “consistent with the will of the City Council,” adding, “We were in court to do what was in the best interest of the City, and it was not partisan.”
Snyder urged that the transcript of the court hearing be made available.
Thorpe reminded the Council that, if approved by voters, the referendum question would require approval by the Virginia General Assembly, which would not take it up until next January, and if passed, would not go into effect until July 1, 2009.
That suggested that if the matter were delayed until the November ballot, it would have had no effect on the time it would become law.
As it is, the referendum question will join eight candidates running for three City Council seats and four candidates running for three School Board seats on the May 6 City of Falls Church ballot.