County only wanted driving range compliance
Dear Editor: It is a shame the Editor’s Viewpoint, “County’s actions create an international hero” (July 2001), seems to have been written without any fact-checking or consultation with Fairfax County.
You state that the county approved Thoburn’s driving range and only later imposed certain conditions. That assertion is wrong. The approval of the driving range had attached to it a number of conditions at the outset — they were not imposed as an afterthought.
You also make no mention of the fact that citizens living near the driving range filed suit against the county and Thoburn to challenge the approval of the range. The county and Thoburn defended the approval of the driving range, basing the defense on the existence of the conditions that assured that the use would be compatible with the residential neighborhood. Thoburn made a business decision to place his business on the site, with full knowledge beforehand of the attendant financial burden of meeting the conditions he had voluntarily accepted.
You state that Thoburn planted “the county-mandated trees” and then suggest that the county insisted that he spend $30,000 to move what it considered “misplaced trees.” That is also wrong.
First, Thoburn did not install all the plantings required by the landscaping plan that his engineers prepared and the county approved. The Fairfax County Circuit Court decided in April 2000 that Thoburn had failed to comply with the landscaping plan and ordered him to do so. Thoburn refused. Second, the county never demanded that Thoburn “move what it considered ‘misplaced trees.’” The claim that Thoburn was required to move any trees from one place to another is simply a bogus statement that Thoburn has convinced many people, including you, to be true. The county has always insisted on compliance with the landscaping plan — where Thoburn got his trees from was his business.
You concede that the planting of trees was one of the “reasonable measures” required by the county. We agree; the requirement was reasonable, and it was certainly reasonable to take Thoburn to court when he refused to comply with it.
You make it sound like the county initiated the lawsuit in order to have Thoburn thrown in jail. Not so. It was only after Thoburn refused to comply with the county’s April 2000 order to plant the trees that the county initiated contempt proceedings against him and his company. Thoburn was first held in contempt on Sept. 1, 2000, for not planting the required landscaping, and the court gave him four months to comply or lose his business.
Once again, Thoburn refused to comply. He did not lift a finger to plant anything during the four-month grace period that was generously given to him by the court. He was held in contempt a second time on Jan. 26, 2001, and this time the court gave him three additional weeks to comply. It was only after he was held in contempt a third time on Feb. 16, 2001, that Judge McWeeny finally sent Thoburn to jail.
The fact that Thoburn was in flagrant violation of court orders is not mentioned in your column. It is true that Thoburn sat in jail for 97 days, but you have neglected to mention that his incarceration was his choice. He could have walked out of jail at any time if he had agreed to plant the required landscaping.
Our system of justice requires that citizens not place themselves above the law. The courts have ruled against Thoburn in this matter time and again after hearing all the evidence and applying the law to that evidence. Neither the court nor the county has a bias against Thoburn. The point is that his arguments — that he planted all the required trees, that the county demanded that he spend money to move trees, and that he was being required to uproot good trees for the trees required by the county — have all been repeatedly rejected by the courts.
Thoburn went to jail because he repeatedly thumbed his nose at the court. As far as he was concerned, only John Thoburn, not the county and not the courts, could decide whether and when the required “reasonable” landscaping would be planted. It is simply not up to John Thoburn or any other individual to decide that he can comply with some laws but not others.
Finally, you exit with a gratuitous potshot that suggests that Thoburn’s problems with the county were the result of a “nearby, county-owned golf course.” First of all, the golf course to which you refer is many miles away from Thoburn’s driving range. Second, there are at least two other private driving ranges much closer to the course than is Thoburn’s, and they have never had the legal problems encountered by Thoburn. Perhaps that is because they have complied with the development conditions.
The development conditions have finally been met, and, after many years, Mr. Thoburn’s driving range in is compliance with the law — Fairfax County’s only goal throughout this prolonged period. We appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight.
— Merni Fitzgerald
Director of Public Affairs
Fairfax County, Va.
More solutions to the graffiti problem
Dear Editor: I wanted to pass on an excellent anti-graffiti education program. The program, “Graffiti Hurts,” was developed by Keep America Beautiful. It consists of a program manual and community education kit, which includes a video, teacher guide and brochure that can be customized with local information and public service announcements.
Information in the program manual states that, “The manual and kit address the two most common types of graffiti found in communities — ‘tagging,’ or the marking of a surface with a street name or pseudonym, and the generic messages and scrawls expressing everything from love to social commentary. Gang graffiti and hate/racial graffiti, whose presence indicate social or behavioral concerns beyond the educational scope of this kit, are not addressed.”
For more information, contact www.graffitihurts.org.
— Harry Heafer
Keep Lincoln & Lancaster County
Dear Editor: I read your June editorial (“The writing’s on the wall, and we want it off”) with interest. Our city experienced an increase in graffiti until representatives from our Parks and Police departments met with some of the “offenders” and came up with a solution — a legal place to paint.
Our Hip Hop Art Wall has been extremely successful in curtailing other forms of graffiti. Within a few months of its 1994 construction, instances of illegal graffiti were down by 60 percent to 70 percent. Within a year, those instances dropped by 80 percent to 90 percent. They have remained at those low levels since. Graffiti elsewhere in the city is immediately removed, thus discouraging the acts.
I am very proud of the innovative and successful approach Redmond has taken. It has proved to be a winning solution for all concerned.
— Rosemarie Ives
Infrastructure is government’s responsibility
Dear Editor: I agree with your statement that we need to rebuild our infrastructure (“It’s Public Works Week. Rebuild a bridge,” May 2001). In the 1960s, we began to shift our resource spending away from doing for people what they could not do for themselves to doing for people what they ought to do for themselves. We transferred trillions of dollars of wealth and let our roads, bridges and other public systems go.
Yes, I need the tax reduction so I can do for my family what I ought to do: i.e., buy prescription medicine, pay doctor bills, educate my children and grandchildren, buy my food, etc. Congress needs to confine its spending to the general good of the people, not the specific good of individuals.
We have forgotten what our founders declared to be the responsibility of the federal government and, in an effort to make themselves feel good, recent politicians have take the attitude that my money is really theirs, that they earned it and should spend it for me because I’m too ignorant to use it wisely.
Government should give us roads, bridges, waterways, water and sewer and let the free enterprise system work to provide the prosperity we all seek.
— William Stevens
Letters may be mailed to 6151 Powers Ferry Rd., N.W., Atlanta GA 30339; faxed to (770) 618-0349; or e-mailed to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for purposes of style, clarity and length.