Zoning Board Says Vote Wasn't Tainted

The Board of Zoning Adjustment yesterday rebuffed allegations that an "undisclosed personal relationship" between the board's chairman and a supporter of a nursery school expansion in Cleveland Park had tainted the board's approval of the expansion.

The board voted 3 to 0 to deny a motion by neighborhood opponents of the National Child Research Center's $3.5 million plan to double the size of its facilities on Highland Place NW. The opponents argued that because of an alleged relationship between Chairman Geoffrey Griffis and Claire Bloch -- who until late April was on the nursery school's board of trustees -- the board's April 13 approval of the expansion should be vacated and Griffis should be disqualified from a new vote on the question. Griffis had been part of the 3 to 1 majority supporting the expansion.

The opponents, who say the project is too large for the site and will increase congestion, produced photos and an affidavit from a private detective who said Bloch and Griffis entered Griffis's residence on a Friday evening in June and departed the next morning.

Members of the board objected to the opponents' tactics and said there was insufficient evidence of any relationship at the time of the vote. Griffis, who recused himself from yesterday's vote, said he would recuse himself from future deliberations involving the nursery school.


Court Clerk Opposes Same-Sex Suit

Anne Arundel County's clerk of the court asked a Baltimore judge yesterday to throw out an American Civil Liberties Union suit contending that same-sex couples should have the right to marry.

County Clerk Robert Duckworth said a courtroom victory for the ACLU would put him in an untenable position.

Duckworth, a GOP candidate for Congress who opposes gay marriage, argued in a motion that he would find it difficult to uphold state law if the courts sided with the ACLU.

This month, the group filed suit contending that Maryland's law holding that marriage must be between a man and a woman is unconstitutional.

Duckworth says any change to the existing law would "have a profound impact on society."

Boy, 13, Killed in Crash Is Identified

Prince George's County police yesterday identified a 13-year-old boy killed Monday night in a two-car collision as Joel Gildersleve of Upper Marlboro.

Cpl. Diane Richardson, a police spokeswoman, said Joel was pronounced dead at the scene, on Church Road near Mount Oak Road in the Mitchellville area. She said two of the boy's relatives, ages 11 and 20, were taken to a hospital with serious injuries.

Richardson said investigators were looking into the possibility that the car in which Joel was a passenger, a Toyota Corolla, crossed the center line and collided with an oncoming Isuzu Axiom. The Isuzu's driver and a passenger, an elementary school-age child, were treated at a hospital for injuries deemed not life-threatening, she said.

State Police Leader Responds to Audit

Col. Thomas E. Hutchins, superintendent of the Maryland State Police, said yesterday that he agrees with much of a legislative audit that blasted his beleaguered agency's shortcomings.

"Not only do I intend to fix the problems, but I intend to sustain the fix," Hutchins told members of the legislature.

Those problems were highlighted in detail in a 56-page audit released last month for the period of May 2000 through May 2003. Hutchins took over permanently in March.

He said he requested the audit, which was already underway, the day after he took over as top law enforcement officer.

What he immediately learned stunned him. "I had no idea," Hutchins said.

Among the findings were sloppy record-keeping, dismal fiscal management and a backlog of DNA samples that had yet to be collected, as required by law.

Hutchins said changes in policies and procedures were underway to address the 28 findings.


Lincolnia Area Man, 22, Killed in Crash

A Lincolnia area man was killed yesterday morning when the vehicle in which he was riding struck a tree, Fairfax County police said.

Adnan S. Chughtai, 22, of the 4600 block of Southland Avenue, was riding in a Honda Element about 6:30 a.m. Police said the Element was driven by Maleeha Raryad, 19, of the 3300 block of Woodburn Road in Annandale, and that Raryad lost control of the vehicle as he headed north on Coffer Woods Road near Wards Grove Circle.

Investigators did not know why the Element swerved off the road. The vehicle hit a tree on the driver's side, police said, and Chughtai died at the scene. Raryad was taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where he was in critical condition, police said.

Investigators found no indication that either man was wearing a seat belt and no sign that alcohol was a factor in the crash. Chughtai's death was the 32nd traffic fatality in Fairfax this year.

Colleges Costs Rise an Average of 9%

In-state undergraduates will pay an average of 9 percent more for tuition and fees this school year than they did last year, a report by the State Council of Higher Education shows.

The average cost of annual tuition and mandatory fees at Virginia's four-year schools is $5,612, according to the report, which lists figures from the state's 15 four-year institutions, the community college system and two-year Richard Bland College.

The General Assembly has provided $278 million more to higher education over the next two years, helping to offset tuition increases for 2004-05, the council said. In each of the last two school years, tuition and fees rose by 15 percent.

Here is the total cost of full-time tuition, fees, and room and board at Virginia's public four-year colleges and universities for the 2004-05 school year:

Virginia Military Institute, $13,528; College of William and Mary, $13,162; University of Virginia, $12,560; Christopher Newport University $12,514; Virginia Commonwealth University, $12,058; Longwood University, $11,836; James Madison University, $11,592; George Mason University, $11,489; Old Dominion University, $10,974; University of Mary Washington, $10,871; Virginia State University, $10,804; Radford University, $10,648; Norfolk State University, $10,531; University of Virginia-Wise, $10,390; Virginia Tech, $10,126.

"We like Doug Duncan in Montgomery County, but we recognize Martin O'Malley is like a movie star."

-- Louise Gallun, vice chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, comparing the county executive and the Baltimore mayor, who are attending the Democratic National Convention in Boston. -- Page A26

Compiled from reports by staff writers Tom Jackman, David Montgomery and Jamie Stockwell and the Associated Press.