Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Once a Jolly Bagman

Mayor William D. Euille is one of the biggest boosters for dense development in Parker-Gray and Braddock Road (though not for Del Ray or Potomac Yard). But who’s boosting him?

The Growler decided to take a closer look at Mr. Euille’s campaign finance disclosure forms for the 2006 election. Since Mr. Euille ran unopposed for Mayor, those who gave him cash must have alternative reasons for wanting to support him when his election was virtually assured.

It comes as no surprise that the Growler found that many of the Mayor’s largest contributions come from those who profit from development, ranging from the developers themselves to prominent zoning attorneys, construction companies, subcontractors, and realtors.

Often the links to developers are obvious. Sometimes, though, more sleuthing is required.

For example, a Euille contribution from the Chantilly-based "Affordable Shelter PAC," may seem like a noble bid to press Alexandria for more affordable housing. But the Curmudgeonly One discovered that "Affordable Shelter PAC" is actually the 527 political arm of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association (NVBIA), which represents the development and construction trade.

Oh.

The perpetually Cranky One found other interesting nuggets hidden in the paperwork. First, the treasurer of Friends of Bill Euille is none other than our friend Justin Wilson. As the Growler noted earlier this year, Mr. Wilson recently served as president of the Del Ray Citizens Association and is currently treasurer of the Alexandria Democratic Committee. He is same person who criticized Councilman Andrew Macdonald in the Alexandria Times for daring to imply that inner city residents had serious concerns about staff’s proposed Braddock Road plan.

Second, Mayor Euille seems to have few qualms about accepting money before, during and after Planning Commission and Council deliberations on his buddies' development projects. Examples abound.

Among political fundraisers there's a phrase: "early money is like yeast. That's the case with Lane Development, which after coughing up $1,000 in 2005 received approval from Council right after the 2006 election to redevelop the old American Trucking Association site on Mill Road. Mr. Euille received money from the Hoffman family the day before a scheduled Planning Commission hearing on their latest Eisenhower Valley developments (which ultimately received a separate hearing a week later). Then there's the Brandt brothers, who both donated in March 2006 and whose condo project at 900 N. Washington St. is working its way through the City approval processes, though not without some pushback from citizens.

But the most interesting contributions relate to our neighborhood and are directly linked to the Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan.

Many of Mr. Euille’s donations are from the developer clients of the Mayor's good friend Harry P. "Bud" Hart. Besides rustling up campaign contributors, Mr. Hart also steers his clients to contribute by proxy, donating to local charities that are favored by Mr. Euille.

A notable example is Hopkins House, whose board is packed with development-friendly trustees. Mr. Hart is chairman of the Hopkins House Board, his daughter (zoning attorney M. Catherine Gibbs) is also a trustee, and the secretary treasurer is Richard G. Cole, a life director of NVBIA and treasurer of NVBIA’s Outreach Committee. At various times over the years, Mayor Euille has served as a trustee and is currently listed as a major donor himself.

BTW, the Growler yesterday received a letter from the Community Services Board (CSB) mentioning that an attorney from Mr. Hart's law firm Hart, Calley, Gibbs & Karp "moderated" the February 20 community meeting about the explosive Safe Haven project which was the subject of a successful lawsuit brought by neighbors. Seems they are representing CSB in the SUP process for Safe Haven.

Back to Braddock Road, though. One of Bud's “neighborhood” clients is Diamond Properties, the developer of the Monarch. The developer received approval for the now-controversial project in November 2004. Among the speakers who supported the project both before Planning Commission and City Council was J. Glenn Hopkins, executive director of Hopkins House.

For this Diamond Properties rewarded Hopkins House with a donation in the amount of $10,000 which was announced on February 7, 2005. Three days later, Diamond contributed $1,000 to Mayor Euille's campaign, and another $555 on May 18, 2005.

Diamond then went on to reap additional victories. On September 20, 2005 the City Council approved Diamond's development at 6100 and 6110 Lincolnia Road. On November 12 Council also passed zoning ordinances that would make it possible for Diamond to build a multi-family project at 800 and 810 Slater's Lane.

So happy was Diamond with this turn of events that the company thanked Mr. Euille with four campaign contributions of $500 each on February 6, February 8, March 7 and March 29.

In all, Diamond contributed a grand total of $3,555 to the Mayor’s 2006 campaign, making it one of his biggest individual contributors.

Then there's Mr. Hart's client K. Hovnanian Homes, developer of the recently approved 621 N. Payne Street condominiums. Hovnanian's director of land acquisition John Pellerito made a modest but timely contribution to Mayor Euille's campaign in March 2006. He got quite the bargain: nine months later the condo project was allowed to go forward prior to the approval of the Braddock Road Metro area plan.

The Growler also notes that Jaguar Development has invested in pre-election contributions as well. Their project at Braddock Gateway has not yet been heard by Planning Commission or City Council, but will be up soon.

Mr. Hart's clients are by no means the only players in the Braddock Road game. The developer of The Madison, Capital Associates, made significant contributions as well. C. Meade Rhodes, the local representative for the North Carolina-based company, contributed $250 on March 29, 2006. Less than a month later, on April 26, Mr. Rhoades threw in another $500, as did his wife Janie and his North Carolina partners Frank P. Baird and Hugh D. Little for a total of $2,250.

Small-time investors and developers are quick to step up to the plate too. Remember Steve Stylianoudis and his wife Vallery Vandergrift? They are investors who own properties at Braddock Place as well as two homes on N. Columbus Street. Mr. Stylianoudis made four contributions to the Mayor’s campaign in the weeks leading up to the 2006 election. They are the only residents of our neighborhod who have made contributions over $100.

Why should we care? Well, at the Council hearing on February 24, Mrs. Stylianoudis testified against dedicating 1261 Madison Street Braddock Place as open space and also in favor of the Hovnanian condo project at 621 N. Payne Street. In reply Mayor Euille referred warmly to "my friend Steve."

So the Stylianoudises are big supporters of the Braddock Place Condominiums, which some residents are fighting to keep as open space. The developer for Braddock Place is — you guessed it — a Bud Hart client.

Interestingly, the Stylianoudises ran into some trouble when renovating the houses at 508 and 510 N. Columbus in 2004-2005. The historic roof of one structure and the rear of another were torn off during the restoration, which made members of the Old & Historic BAR most unhappy.

When BAR member Michael Wheeler asked angrily how this could have happened, P&Z staff members Lee Webb and now-retired chief Hal Phipps fell on their swords and claimed it was not the applicants' fault but staff miscommunication. The Stylianoudises were not fined for their actions, although other homeowners who demolished historic material have faced penalties ranging from $7,500 to $25,000.

At the hearing, which the Growler watched on cable TV, a relieved Mr. Stylianoudis talked about inviting Mr. Euille to visit his properties and burbled about the Mayor congratulating him on the work that he had done, stating that he wanted to see more people doing what the Stylianoudises were doing.

So the Mayor makes housecalls? Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.....

What are we to conclude from all this?

First, it's clear that the Mayor has a financial interest in listening to developers, not citizens.

Second, it's apparent that although the Mayor's support can be bought directly, it's also possible to buy his heart and ear by contributing to charities to which he contributes or on whose board he sits.

Finally, Mr. Euille uses the money to buy his colleagues' loyalties. He's a much better fundraiser than most (except Tim Lovain) and his campaign chest made donations to dozens of other candidates, including significant last minute contributions in late April 2006 to each of his fellow Democratic candidates for City Council.

The Growler wants to know just one thing: does this City Council like Loudoun County have the political courage and integrity to pass legislation banning campaign donations from developers 24 months before and after regulatory approvals?