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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

The wonderful world of neighborhood associations: this one will surprise you

Kaid Benfield

Posted February 21, 2011 in Living Sustainably

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I really shouldn’t get started and, if this post weren’t leading to such a wildly amusing place, I wouldn’t.  Neighborhood associations do some wonderful things in distressed communities, pursuing economic development and other progressive neighborhood improvements.  But, in more affluent locations, as far as I can tell they exist mainly to stand in the way of any evolutionary change, no matter how incremental or benign.

Take the case of the Hillbrook – Tall Oaks Civic Association, representing 266 homes in the northern Virginia suburb of Annandale, which spent several years fighting the addition of 7,000 square feet and 44 – yes, 44 – students to the Montessori School pictured below.  (The neighborhood’s other school, Poe Middle two blocks away, serves between 1200 and 1300 kids; the Montessori school was proposing to add about three percent to the neighborhood’s student population.) 

  Hillbrook campus, Montessori School of Northern Virginia (by: MSNV)  Hillbrook campus, Montessori School of Northern Virginia (by: MSNV)

Silly me, I think of schools as community assets, not menace, especially when they practice and teach a wonderful program of environmental stewardship from early childhood forward, as this one does.  The association lost, thank goodness for the kids.  (For more about how I feel about NIMBYs challenging facilities for kids in their neighborhoods, go here.)

But I digress from the real story.  Last year, the same Hillbrook – Tall Oaks Civic Association elected Beatha Lee as its new president.  I heartily approve.  In a wonderfully written story in The Washington Post, Brigid Schulte describes the process:

“This past election, to make the meeting move faster, only the names and qualifications of the candidates were announced. Running for president, Ms. Beatha Lee was described as a relatively new resident, interested in neighborhood activities and the outdoors, and who had experience in Maine overseeing an estate of 26 acres.

“Though unfamiliar with Lee's name, the crowd of about 50 raised their hands, assuming that the candidate was a civic-minded newcomer. These days, it's hard to get anyone to volunteer to devote the time needed to serve as an officer. The slate that Lee headed was unanimously elected. Everyone ate ice cream, watched a karate demonstration and went home.”

Sounds typical, no?  The punch line:

Beatha Lee, in Hillbrook-Tall Oaks Civic Assn newsletter“Only weeks later did many discover that their new president was, in fact, a dog.  Ms. Beatha Lee is a shaggy, dirty-white Wheaten terrier.

Turns out the association’s new president was, and remains, the pet of the old president.  The old president, Mark Crawford, apparently begged and pleaded for someone to step up and take over, since he was term-limited.  When no one did, he in effect thought, what the hell, I’ll just put up Beatha for the office.  His neighbors figured it out when the next newsletter (which I have been unable to find online) surfaced.  Crawford is now vice president, and says the association’s president delegates a lot.  Not everyone is happy.

Me, I’m hoping the Montessori kids and Beatha adopt each other and have a splendid time of it learning about their environment together.  For the whole story, go here.

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  His wife grew up in Annandale.  For more posts, see his blog's home page. 

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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