Disclosure of permit infractions irks Bishop Ireton’s neighbors

By Derrick Perkins (File photo)

Plans to let a church congregation use Bishop Ireton’s auditorium for Sunday services have led to revelations that the private school has violated its special-use permit — much to the annoyance of several neighbors.

The transgressions came to light earlier this summer, when officials representing the Catholic school and Arlington Archdiocese met with the Clover-College Park Civic Association about amending the permit to make room for the congregation. The document, approved by city council in 1996, only authorizes school functions for auditorium use.

But as the discussion wore on, it became clear Ireton had hosted auditorium events unrelated to the school during the intervening 17 years, said neighbor Jim Roberts.

“This outraged the audience, including me,” he said.

A longtime resident of the neighborhood, Roberts had little trouble with the nearby institution until the campus expanded in the mid-1990s, he said. Even then, he accepted the extra noise, traffic and trash, as well as the increased parking problems, because Roberts believed it was for the good of the school.

“I tolerated it because I’m thinking, ‘My goodness, they’re educating all these youngsters to be good citizens and good taxpayers’ … and now I realize I’ve been cheated,” Roberts said. “That wasn’t the students. All this activity, all this traffic and trash and street congestion is not due to students — it’s due to the afterhours leasing program.”

City staff on Tuesday confirmed Ireton’s past permit violations. At least two upcoming events — one involving the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic Association — will proceed as scheduled, said Karl Moritz of the planning and zoning department.

It’s a level of leniency that regulators have given other entities in the past. Moritz compared it to the department’s handling of a permit violation at Del Ray Pizzeria last year. At the time, officials let the restaurant operate at status quo until the planning commission and city council could talk about the infractions and an amended permit.

But the repeated transgressions at Bishop Ireton will factor into the department’s analysis of its request to formally open the auditorium to nonschool functions, Moritz said. To amend the permit and make room for the church congregation, the school will need planning commission and city council approval.

Officials with the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, which oversees the school, did not respond to media inquiries before the Times’ deadline.

Not all neighbors of the school are as outraged as Roberts, though. Another longtime resident — and member of the Clover-College Civic Association board — Tom Walczykowski said it’s reasonable to expect a level of inconvenience living near a school.

“When I moved here, I drove around and said, ‘Oh, they’ve got a Catholic high school here and there’s a football field.’ So you’re a damn fool if you don’t accept there’s going to be some action, like on a Saturday afternoon,” Walczykowski said, admitting he lives far enough away from Ireton to avoid many of his neighbors’ frustrations. “I’m much more pragmatic about it given the fact that it is a high school.”

There is no one set opinion about the transgressions in the neighborhood, Walczykowski said. Some are willing to forgive Ireton since the truth has been revealed; others worry it’s indicative of the school’s attitude toward nearby homeowners.

Though Roberts wants Ireton taken to task for violating its permit, he worries the revelation — and subsequent outcry — will prevent the church congregation from finding a new home.

“Nobody wants to deprive people of having a chance to worship … and no one wants to be regarded as somehow frustrating the practice of their faith, but Bishop Ireton used that as the entree to open this can of worms, this Pandora’s box, and man, now that it’s all being revealed, people are upset and angry,” Roberts said.

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