The April 19 meeting of the Reston Design Review Board raised serious ethical questions.
A group of neighbors who have lived on the same cul-de-sac for 30 years are opposing a proposal to tear down an existing home and build an oversized replacement at 2004 Cutwater Court.
We are not against the concept of a rebuild; we object to the size and mass of the rebuild proposed for this site. The proposed structure would be nearly twice as big as the current house, all above grade, on a small 11,000-square-foot lot. It seriously would infringe upon the privacy of close neighbors, as well as some neighbors across the inlet. Several huge trees will also be destroyed.
The proposal is out of scale and not in harmony with the neighborhood.
On April 19, the third DRB meeting on this matter, Richard Newlon, one of nine listed DRB members, announced he now is advising the applicant, the owners at 2004 Cutwater Court, on their project and would therefore recuse himself from voting.
We were shocked to hear this without any prior notification.
The architect for the 2004 Cutwater Court applicant then made his presentation before the DRB.
Newlon, from his DRB chair, spoke in support of revisions. He questioned an affected party when she voiced her concerns. Newlon sat like a DRB member, but he talked and acted like an advocate and lobbyist for the applicant.
When asked, DRB Chairwoman Barbara Byron said what Newlon is doing was something that was done all the time. She was dismissive about any possible unethical implications.
At one point, Newlon even left his seat with the other DRB members, moved around to the front of the table, presented arguments in favor of the applicant, and quipped that perhaps he belonged on this side. He then returned to his seat next to the other DRB members, engaged in discussion with the other members when the merits were deliberated, argued forcefully for the applicant, and recused himself only from the actual vote.
Was Newlon acting as a DRB member or a consultant to the 2004 Cutwater Court applicant? And, more importantly, was Newlon advising the owners of 2004 Cutwater Court on a friendly basis or was he being compensated?
He is listed in directories as Richard Newlon Associates Architects and presumably charges for his services. Paid or not paid, it is influence peddling. Were there no other consultants available, or was this a calculated pick?
The official DRB letter that followed said the owners of 2004 Cutwater Court now only need to make some architectural fixes on the proposed structure, and we, the affected parties, can no longer bring up the primary issue, which is the size and massing of the proposed structure.
Although a number of DRB members also expressed concern about the size and massing, this arbitrarily shuts off debate. It is impulsive and subjective. Newlon's new role was not mentioned.
Building "McMansions" on small lots is not in keeping with the character of Reston. It is precedent setting. It should be fully debated. The entire proceeding is tainted by Newlon’s clear conflict of interest and should be rejected. A new hearing should be scheduled with a group of nonencumbered, untainted DRB members.
A community entity as powerful as the DRB should adhere to a strict ethical code that prohibits the cutting of deals between DRB members and those who appear before them.
Recusing oneself from a vote is not enough, particularly when a DRB member remains on the board and participates in active deliberation. It is naďve to argue that such a tainted board can render an impartial decision.
The practice should be banned altogether.
Carol and Carl Grant, Susanne and Nelson Joyner, Cora and Barry Rudolph, Jeremy Novak, Carole and Neil Medoff and Jan and Tony Thompson, Reston