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F.C. Council Returns Only 1 to Planning Commission







Rodgers Re’d Up, 3 Other Seats Go to Newcomers

Only one of four members of the current Falls Church Planning Commission whose seats were up for reappointment this month was voted back to another four-year term by the F.C. City Council at a special meeting Tuesday night.

Ruth Rodgers, a former chair of the Planning Commission, was voted back on by a unanimous 6-0 vote of the Council. But current chair Maureen Budetti received only one vote and two other current members, Christine Sanders and Suzanne Fauber, did not put their names forward for additional terms.

Vice Mayor Hal Lippman delivered a scathing denunciation of the current Planning Commission’s conduct of its Dec. 1 meeting when it voted to reject the site plan of the City Center South affordable housing project that the Council had twice approved by solid margins. Lippman’s remarks reflected wider sentiment on the Council that the Planning Commission had acted to “veto” the Council, rather than implement a site plan approval process, and that its action caused the project to miss a deadline for state tax benefits.

Because of such sentiments held by a majority on the Council, it was widely believed that none of the four Planning Commission seats would be given back to incumbents (even though, as it turned out, Rodgers was), and citizen reaction to the Planners’ actions at that meeting also helped lead to 11 volunteer citizen candidates stepping forward to be considered for appointment.

Voted onto the seven-member Planning Commission Tuesday, in addition to Rodgers, were Michael Kearney, Robert Meeks and Russell Wodiska.

The four who were voted on were all recommended to their Council colleagues by the body’s two-member appointments committee of Dan Sze and Lawrence Webb.

The newly-constituted Planning Commission will hold its first organizational meeting on Monday, Jan. 5, as required by its own rules. At that time, a new chair and vice-chair will be elected. The City Council was compelled to hold the special meeting Tuesday in order to enable the Planning Commission to comply with its rules, even though Councilman Nader Baroukh was unable to attend.

Those citizens who applied for consideration by the Council, but were not appointed, included Nigel Yates, whose name was placed in nomination by Councilman David Snyder and received one vote from Snyder, Phil Duncan, Charles Langalis, Stuart Rubin, Greg Resnake and Thomas Devlin. Snyder provided Budetti with her only vote.

There were no comments from the public at the meeting, whose public component to consider the Planning Commission appointments took only 25 minutes.

All Council members congratulated the 11 applicants and urged them all to consider appointments to other volunteer boards and commissions in the City. They also praised the qualifications of them all.

Sze explained the criteria that was established for the interviews with all the candidates that took place on Dec. 17, each taking about 15 minutes. A number of members of the Council were present to observe the interviews, although they were conducted by Sze and Webb.

“We began the interviews by outlining the functions of the Planning Commission,” Sze explained. “The three main functions were explained. The first is helping with the right kind of economic development as the City of Falls Church transitions to an urban village, including helping to navigate through the evolving transition. The second is to help with the first major revision of the City’s zoning code since the 1950s. The third is to be stewards of the City’s Comprehensive Plan and Capital Improvement Projects.

He said all candidates were asked the same four questions. The appointment committee recommendations were based on factors of previous service to the City and a background in the areas of expertise with which the Planning Commission works.

After the vote, Vice Mayor Lippman said that it came in what was known to be a
“tumultuous time” in relations between the City Council and Planning Commission. He singled out the Dec. 1 Planning Commission meeting, saying he was “ashamed of what I saw” regarding the “tenor, demeanor, bitter, acerbic comments and sarcasm” he witnessed as it voted against the affordable housing project. “I was ashamed of the way the Planning Commission comported itself, and I hope the new commission will be mindful of civility and demeanor.”

Of the new members elected Tuesday, two are husbands of current School Board members, including Kearney, who is employed by the JBG Properties company, and Wodiska, who is a consultant for Capital Structures helping minority businesses earn contracts with the federal government. Meeks, who has served on the City’s Recreation and Parks Advisory Committee, is a commercial real estate broker.

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