Fort Scott Drive is fast becoming the street Arlington County would like you forget.
A comfortable neighborhood of $200,000 homes and ultra-green lawns, the street has all the markings of a quiet retreat from the bustle of nearby Crystal City high-rises. But rueful Arlington officials say they know differently.
"I wish we'd never gotten involved," says one weary county employe, pondering a series of clashes among several Fort Scott Drive households, some reaching the highest level of local government, the Arlington County Board.
In traditional fashion, the feuding has pitted neighbor against neighbor over the most fiercely fought-over suburban issue: property rights.
Angry words have been traded over such questions as whether the neighborhood needed -- or even wanted -- high-intensity, anticrime street lights (it got them), and whether one homeowner was right to have an elderly neighbor arrested for trespassing when she stepped on his driveway (the charge was later dismissed). And there were the persistent complaints against one resident by another about how he treated his dog (the pooch eventually disappeared).
But by far the most vexing fray, in the county's eyes, has been the great no-parking sign controversy.
The signs were posted last fall at the request of Margaret Steele, a Capitol Hill secretary, whose property abuts the busy Crystal City area permit parking zone. Commuter vehicles were spilling over into the neighborhood, so following an inspection, an Arlington crew erected no-parking signs at Steele's driveway.
Soon afterward, Steele asked that the county move the signs to cover the entire 90-foot curb. This enraged her neighbor, Ike Seekford, a District tax assessor, who complained to county officials that church groups and relatives visiting his house would have nowhere to park.
"What right has she got to say other people can't park there?" Seekford demanded.
After considering Seekford's persistent complaints, the county staff engineered a compromise. On March 12, the Public Works Department sent Steele a letter saying the "No Parking Anytime" signs would be replaced with signs permitting parking at night and on weekends.
Steele, a $21,000-a-year Democratic appointee of Rep. Robert H. Mollohan of Fairmont, W.Va., her hometown congressman, phoned County Board Vice Chairman Dorothy Grotos. Grotos dashed off a memo to County Manager Vernon Ford and Public Works Director H.S. Hulme asking about the change. On March 17, Grotos followed the memo with a phone call to Tony Griffin -- sitting in for the vacationing Ford -- who relayed to Hulme the powerful Republican board member's request not to change the signs.
Hulme walked downstairs to the office of traffic division chief W.C. Scruggs 15 minutes after the crew had been sent to execute the original order. The crew was dispatched the next day to put them back up.
"The whole thing is so out of proportion to the time it deserves, it's unbelievable," says Grotos, whose outspoken bitterness over past staff actions is legend in county offices. "I think the signs should be how you originally put them."
"It's my impression that the signs cover a much larger distance than they need to," counters Scruggs. "I guess it's unfortunate she [Grotos] got involved. But I really don't care. I've been involved in too many of these things."
Some county officials were leery of any involvement after the protracted street-light dispute of four years ago, which also was initiated by Steele. And then there was the trespassing case.
In July 1978, Steele's husband swore out an arrest warrant on criminal trespassing charges against their 80-year-old neighbor Lydia McCalip, a partial invalid with a bad hip, saying she had stepped on their driveway. The charges were dismissed, but not before McCalip had been booked, fingerprinted and photographed by Arlington police.
Last year, Steele, who did not respond to requests for an interview, complained to the Animal Legal Association of America that Seekford was mistreating his dog by leaving it in the backyard doghouse during the winter. "She was calling me constantly," said Bettijane Mackal, head of the Fairfax County-based organization. "I became a little bit annoyed that she didn't do something herself."
Seekford, who later was visited by the county dog warden on the complaint, says the dog disappeared after a church picnic in his yard last summer.
"It used to be the most peaceful, friendly, quiet neighborhood," says McCalip, who moved to the neighborhood 33 years ago. "It was just the most pleasant place to live." Now she's planning to move to Florida.