Post #318: Motion to rescind

Posted on July 14, 2019

Tomorrow (7/15/2019) the Town Council and Planning Commission will hold a joint hearing on a motion to rescind the approval of 380 Maple West (37 condos plus retail, Wade Hampton and Maple).

I have discussed the background for this in several posts but my best explanation for how we got here is Post #309.

I have just three things to add at this point.

1:  It’s just theater.

Having sat through dozens of such meetings over the past year, and having seen the Town Council approve 444 Maple West despite massive public opposition, I’m pretty sure that the “public hearing” portion of this meeting is purely for show.   It’s a legal requirement, so they have to do it.  But Town Council members already know how they will vote on this, and nothing that the public has to say will change those positions one bit.

By contrast, I have seen the Planning Commission modify its position in response to public comment.  But Town Council?  On this issue?  Nah.  Not gonna happen.

So, by all means, show up and speak.  Be heard.  Sit through the hours (?) of discussion.  Listen to our elected representatives give their speeches.  But realize that, absent the legal requirements, they could have gotten this piece of business over with in about five minutes.   Call the roll, vote, and leave.

Why am I so sanguine about that?  Because …

2:  The game is rigged.

In order to approve 380 West, in the presence of a protest petition, at least five Town Council members had to vote in favor of it.  (It used to be six, but Town Council changed that after the initial defeat of the Marco Polo proposal, one of the many times they doubled-down on MAC zoning (Post #227).

So, logically, anything under five “yes” votes for 380 — i.e., anything over two votes to rescind 380 — ought to result in rescinding the decision,.  They are revisiting a decision that required five “yes” votes.  Anything under five, now, means that the original motion would not have passed.

Under that interpretation (undoing the original decision), three or move voting to rescind would result in rescinding the original decision.  Three or more would have been enough to block the original approval.  Logically, three should be adequate to rescind the approval.

But wait, maybe that’s not fair.  Maybe this needs to be treated like any other motion before Town Council, and should require a majority of Town Council members voting in favor of it.

Under that interpretation (treat as any other motion), four or more voting to rescind would result in rescinding the original decision.  That’s a simple majority of the Town Council, that’s the way business is normally conducted.  And that’s consistent with why this is being revisited in the first place — three-quarters of votes cast in the May election were for anti-MAC candidates, and those now account for a majority of the members of the Town Council.

Under either of those interpretations, the motion to rescind would pass.  Which is precisely why the Mayor and Town Attorney aren’t going to do either of those things.   The rumor I have heard is that they are going to require a super-majority of “yes” votes in order to pass the motion to rescind the 380 approval. 

Because …. ?

Because they win, in that case.  Under that interpretation, five people would have to vote to rescind the decision.  Absent a miracle, that will not occur, as Council members DiRocco, Colbert, and Noble can be counted to vote against rescinding the 380 approval.   I’m sure there will be some legalese solemly spoken in order to bless this decision.  But the reality of it is, the remaining pro-MAC Town Council members would not win in any sort of fair fight.  But only idiots opt for a fair fight when they control the rules.  So they have taken the last two weeks to gin up a rationale that lets them win.

Which merely underscores that ….

3:  We need to vote the three remaining pro-MAC Town Council members out of office next year.  (Or, at the least, give it a good try).

Up to now, when challenged, the pro-MAC Town Council and Town employees have simply doubled-down on every objectionable aspect of MAC zoning (Post #227).  And this next meeting will NOT be the last of that of that doubling-down strategy that we have seen so far.


Because this latest episode shows that if you control the rules, and have Town staff working for you, it doesn’t really much matter that you are in the minority.  It doesn’t much matter that the most recent election should have sent a fairly strong signal about what the majority of Vienna citizens want, with three-quarters of votes case for anti-MAC candidates.

If you hold the reins of power, you can use them to ignore the results of the last election, in the hope that the next election will turn things around for you.  Given that attitude, the only option for people who oppose the current MAC setup is to prevent that from happening.  The only option is to try to vote the rest of them out, if we can.

I don’t say that lightly.  I’m pretty much sick of this issue.  But there hasn’t been the slightest indication that the pro-MAC forces are willing to consider material changes to the existing law.  I.e., Almost nobody wants to get rid of MAC entirely, but a large fraction of the population appears to want smaller buildings and more green space (as outlined in this post based on a survey of Vienna residents).  But all we have seen so far is more sleight-of-hand, such as the offer to replace the useless 15% “open space” requirement with what would in all likelihood be an equally useless 10% “gathering space” requirement.

In summary, for those who have been following this issue closely, it’s absolutely no surprise that those in power would bend the rules in their favor.  Recall that after the original Marco Polo proposal was turned down, those in power changed the voting rules to try to ensure that would not happen again.  This latest twist is just more of the same.