Chapter 1

For four years, a neighborhood in Falmouth was exposed to swarms of mosquitos and snakes from a fetid, stagnant swimming pool. The Stafford County Board of Supervisors knew of the pool and did nothing to intervene on the neighbors behalf. The neighbors complained to Ms. Meg Bohmke and still nothing. Meanwhile the owner / developer of the property was dealing with Ms. Bohmke and the County to rezone the property and get three houses on the 1 + acre parcel. I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request and received a large stack of documents from the County. I have analyzed the documents and will be making them known here.

The story seems to involve proffers, County Government not aware of nor using use their enforcement powers, strategizing at the County to get the neighbors to go along with the proposed development and a tragic lack of empathy for and attention to people.

On August 24, 2017 Ms. Bohmke wrote to the Board of Supervisors and County staff:

 “After hearing from complaints last week from a nearby resident, I contacted the owner and asked him to take immediate action on treating the water or removing the water. A pool company dropped 50 pounds of “shock” into the pool yesterday. I cannot attest to the copperheads since I have not witnessed any when I have been standing outside the metal pool fence. Mr. (property owner) has owned the property for about two years. A rezoning will be in the PC in September and the matter will be before the BOS in October or January 2018.”

On August 24, 2017 Jack Cavalier wrote to the Board of Supervisors and County Staff:

“Without proper circulation and filtration, the shock, (which is just chlorine) won’t solve the problem. The pool needs to be drained immediately. It should be covered with a proper safety cover. We need an emergency ordinance to remedy the situation”

The files did not show that Ms. Bohmke took any specific action in response to the advice by Mr. Cavalier. To this day, the pool is not drained. A neighbor told me that one of her neighbors ran over a snake in the road. 

Chapter 2 

On August 24, 2017, a Stafford County staff person, wrote to the Board that:

“Amanda Vincinanzo of the FLS and Kevin Kenny and John Henry of the WUSA 9 have all contacted me regarding the condition of the Pleasant Valley Pool. The WUSA9 story will run in the evening”.

This e-mail precipitated activities relating to the fetid stagnant swimming pool.

Gary Snellings concurred with Mr. Cavalier’s assessment and wrote a blunt email on August 24, 2017 to other board members and County staff and said “drain the pool, we will consider you’re (builder) rezoning request, don’t drain it no consideration from me. This is a health hazard!”

It seems that no additional action was taken by Ms Bohmke or other Board members until August 29th.  At that time a County administrative staff person wrote an email to Ms. Bohmke and asked if she had an email address for [Property Owner].

“We are going to send him a letter requesting he drain the pool. It appears the main problem is the baby pool — sees the picture attached. State Code gives us authority due to the nuisance caused by the mosquitos which are a health hazard. We will send the letter via registered mail on Monday, but would like to get it to him via email to give him more notice.”

The staff person quoted state law Virginia Code § 15.2-900, which reads:

“In addition to the remedy provided by §48-5 and any other remedy provided by law, any locality may maintain an action to compel a responsible party to abate, raze, or remove a public nuisance. If the public nuisance presents an imminent and immediate threat to life or property, then the locality may abate, raze, or remove such public nuisance, and a locality may bring an action against the responsible party to recover the necessary costs incurred for the provision of public emergency services reasonably required to abate any such public nuisance.”

The Mosquito Files did not contain proof of an e-mail or letter being sent from the County to the property owner / developer.  Why did the County staff and Ms. Bohmke believe that the property owner should get advance notice. The message from me would have been clear – drain that pool now.

On August 24, 2017, a staff person of the Virginia Department of Health wrote to Stafford County staff and asked

“Wondering if there are any ordinances that Stafford County has concerning this nuisance/environmental problem with the stagnant water in this old abandoned swimming pool? Also asking if there is any likelihood that the owner can eventually get a permit to build houses which would also remedy this problem?”

On August 25, 2017 an administrator from the Department of Health wrote to a Stafford County staff person:

“I received the attached VM yesterday from {Redacted by County} who reported the complaint on 8/24/17 at 4:30om. I called {redacted by County} back and {redacted by County} indicated there is an abandoned pool full of mosquitoes and algae in the neighborhood. It was once a private community pool, zoned residential/recreation bought by a developer but he is now in a stalemate with the county on redeveloping the property. Meanwhile, the pool sits and stagnates. There is a fence around the pool, with brush around the edges. It’s been sitting for 4 years and the owner does little to maintain the property, occasionally dumping chlorine in the pool which {redacted} says is currently full to the top with water and is black. There’s {redacted by County} who is eaten up by mosquitoes claims the pool poses a public health risk and it is negligent to continue to let it sit there untreated.

I mentioned I would pass {redacted by County} complaint along to EHS staff in Stafford County. I indicated I did not see an urgent public health risk given the property is properly secured with fencing and there was low risk of public exposure, other than it being a source of mosquito breeding grounds. {What?? Bolding added by me for emphasis} When you’ve closed the loop on the complaint, please advise. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance. Thank you”.

On September 13, 2013, the Planning Commission approved the property owner’s / developer’s request to rezone and put three houses on the 1.03 parcel of land. The pool has not been drained and the threat of mosquitos and snakes remain. It seems that the Department of Health has deferred to Stafford County Government and even suggested the building of the three houses as a remedy.

The County seems to have been pursuing the same strategy; allowing the developer to put three houses on the parcel of land and not insisting that the pool be immediately drained for the health and safety of the neighborhood.

Chapter 3

The notes that I was given date back to October 1, 2014, and an email that County staff wrote to Steven Apicella of the Planning Commission relative to the Pleasant Valley pool rezoning.

“You are correct. The discussions had been clustering on one acre in order to e able to create one Additional lot. In my opinion, there would be limited benefit to the overall community or enhanced neighborhood design with such a small project. Spot zoning is not prohibited; but it is not good planning practice. Illegal spot zoning occurs when it has not been found to be in the general welfare of the public.”

On October 1, 2014, Steven Apicella wrote to Ms. Bohmke and a County Planning and Zoning staff person

“When you mention the CUP Option (conditional use permit) that would be for an R cluster … on an acre? That would be for the same issue we have been discussing for months, that the R open space in a cluster subdivision is largely turning out to be a boon to the adjacent homeowners(s) not necessarily the community or public writ large – All the more reason why we have to fix this issue soonest WRT providing bonus units where the tradeoff of higher density provides little or no public benefit. Also, when you mention “spot zone”, thought that was / is foreboden”

Spot zoning means the granting to a particular parcel of land a classification concerning its use that differs from the classification of other land in the immediate area. Spot zoning is invalid because it amount to an arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable treatment of a limited area within a particular district and is, therefore, a deviation from the comprehensive plan. I don’t know why how the topic has relevance here.

Ms. Bohmke wrote to the property owner and developer on Oct 17, 2014 and said

“I met with the Falmouth Principal and PTO President yesterday and we discussed the price tag of the playground equipment that is needed for the 3-5 grade students. They also have a need to refurbish and/or replace the current k-2 grade current play system that was installed 14 years ago so they definitely have needs that may fit with the proffer we discussed.

Before we make any decisions on the proffer we need to do a neighborhood meeting to determine if the neighbors would be in favor of 2 or 3 homes on the pool property and would they support a rezoning. I would hate to make any assumptions and then get to the public hearing and have 20 people show up and oppose the project. I have already talked with County staff about preparing the mailer to the two or three streets in the neighborhood that will be impacted. We need to select a date and time to host this meeting. 1 would like to have it at Falmouth elementary so citizens can see the inside of the newly renovated school. Any thoughts you have could be appreciated.

On November 6, 2014, staff from the Planning and Zoning Department wrote to Ms. Bohmke on the subject of the Pleasant Valley building

“I believe I suggested he have one more meeting with you in advance, as we had discussed. I suggested he have some illustrations ready for the meeting, showing how the lot will be split up with potential building footprints, as well as building elevations. When we met, he did not have any specific lot layout or building elevations. He showed me some building elevations, but I don’t believe he was locked into anything. If you still want to meet with him, 1 would suggest you ask him to bring what he plans to present to the community. Then we can see if he is ready. I talked to him about increased building setbacks and potential proffers too. I don’t think he needs to have proffers written in stone, but he should be thinking about this as it may be beneficial information at the community meeting”.

On Nov 6, 2014, Meg Bohmke wrote to the Builder / Developer and said that:

“I received your text and I communicated with {County Administrative staff person) regarding your meeting. {County Administrative staff person} indicated that we need to have another meeting that I can attend and at this point you can share with us exactly what the building footprints, elevations, and setbacks will be. While we do not have to have the proffers cast in stone we do have to have the above information identified and certain because the community will be relying on the specifics of the development you are proposing. Also the footprints should illustrate the design and picture of the property. After we meet with the community and if they agree on your proposal we will not be in a position to change the plans unless we hold another meeting.”Let me know once you have these items completed so we can meet and move forward. Thank you,”

Chapter 4

I found handwritten notes in the file of  a meeting on May 7, 2015, between the owner / developer and Ms. Bohmke with County staff present.  The hand written notes were difficult to read but it was clear that there was discussion of proffers for a playground and a picnic pavilion. The file goes dark for a while.

On February 16, 2017, there was a town hall meeting for the project . County staff told me that there were no notes from the Town Hall meeting and about five people showed up and spoke up about the project. The neighbors later told me that that the property owner / developer and Ms. Bohmke just presented facts relating to the proposed development and did not discuss nor respond to questions about the health and safety issue for the neighbor from the fetid stagnant swimming pool nor cleaning the area.

The rezoning application was actually filed on April 14, 2017. The packet contains a handwritten note on the proffer page:

“see attached photo of Pavilion. This will be te similar design approx. 15’x25-30’ dimensions located ate Falmouth Elementary – see Google Earth photos for placement.

Steven Apicella,  wrote to County staff on August 24, 2017, and copied Ms. Bohmke and said:

“Regarding the September 13, 2017 PC Hearing: Pleasant Valley rezoning — can/will the staff report indicate the proffer issue in this case? Beating a drum here, but I think it is instructive to BOS/PC/Developers/Community — since this is one of the first rezoning’s in front of us under the new proffer rules and -how’s there is really no work-around (e.g., even precludes non-monetary offsite improvements).

Also, will there be any discussion about possible rezoning benefits to the surrounding community? My understanding is that the parcel(s) involved includes a derelict (in disrepair) pool that has gone unused for some time. It remains a public  Health/issue in desperate need of a fix. This somewhat innovative proposal by the applicant would potentially improve the immediate and surrounding area and property values in trade for a very modest increase in DUs (from 1 to 3). (I bolded the previous sentence) No one else has come forward with a fix thus far and I suspect the previous pool club either no longer exists or can’t afford rectify situation. Offsite School Proffer or not, this is a solution, the absence of which would retain the current undesirable situation. Don’t recall if we get into this level of granularity, but proposal appears somewhat different/unique compared to other post July 2016 rezoning’s”.

County administrative staff  replied to Mr. Apicella on August 24, 2017, with copy to  Ms. Bohmke and said :

“ Re: September 13, 2017 PC Hearing: Pleasant Valley Rezoning, yes, we will point out the benefits to the surrounding community, including the current conditions of the site and how this proposed use will resolve a current problem and benefit the neighbors. In the past we have addressed how a proposed use improves current conditions or problems”

So, Mr. Apicella really wanted County to be able to sell the project to the Planning Commission and the community.

On August 24, 2017, County administrative staff again wrote to Steven Apicella and copied Meg Bohmke regarding Pleasant Valley and said:

“Not much has changed with the application. The application still proposes 3 single family homes. The addition of a proffer statement is new, which simply limits the use to 3 single family detached lots and includes other design details. Proffering the pavilion construction would be deemed unreasonable, according to the proffer guidelines in the state code. The applicant is still proposing to build the pavilion, but it would not be guaranteed in the proffers. Also, in reviewing the potential impacts and reasonable cash contributions as spelled out in the state code, staff determined the use would have a negative impact on one of the public facility types, Fire and Rescue. The basis is that closest fire station is not meeting their response time goals. We have estimated a reasonable cash contribution amount of $1,202 per unit to mitigate the impact. {Property owner / developer} has opted not to proffer that payment at this point. This will be noted in the staff report”.

I don’t understand why Ms. Bohmke was copied in the e-mail as the matter was not before the Board of Supervisors.

Clear that the pavilion was out and the property owner / declined even to pay a lawful proffer.

Summary

The proffer law changed in June 30, 2016 which makes it unlawful for a locality to suggest, request, require, or accept an unreasonable proffer. The property owner / development submitted his rezoning request in May 2017 which made him immune from the proffers that Ms. Bohmke and staff were suggesting and maybe expecting. Only two children were estimated to be attending local school from the proposed development and yet Ms. Bohmke was proposing a picnic area and pavilion at Falmouth Elementary.

Does Falmouth Elementary need a new playground? Is this a legitimate capital expense project for the school board to consider. Has the Stafford County Board of Supervisor extracted payments from from builders as proffers in lieu of using capital improvement monies? Has the County been relying on unreliable proffer dollars rather than the County budget?

There was little mention in the files of the health and safety concerns of the neighborhood from the fetid, stagnant swimming pool as a separate issue that required immediate intervention. It seems that approval of the development was seen as the remedy to the problem and not draining the pool, keeping the area dry, and removing snake hiding foliage as an immediate need. The response to the owner / developer should have been – drain the pool, keep it dry, or the County will have to act and you will be charged.

The files seem to show a tragic lack of leadership from the County Board of Supervisor that placed an entire community in jeopardy.

End of Mosquito Files – Not End of Story.