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Votes

Shared Driveways One Builder's Option

Pipestem driveway residents like the privacy.

On a pipestem in Burke Centre, it's a Labrador Retriever fest. All four of the houses have that breed of dog, which illustrates the sense of attachment the residents have by sharing a common driveway.

"I love it back here," said Cameron Smith, 16. "We all know each other really well. At Christmas, we bring each other cookies. We had a Christmas party."

Sherri Nickles, Smith's neighbor, loves the privacy and communal arrangement as well.

"This is the only place I would live, off the main street. People fly on Oak Leather," she said about the public street at the end of the driveway.

"I feel safe up here, nobody comes up here we don't know," Nickles said.

Not everyone likes houses on pipestem driveways though, according to Carolyn Lindahl, a real estate agent for Avery Hess Realty in Springfield. A pipestem driveway is a shared driveway for several houses that technically have a street front lot. The driveway is a private stem off a street or cul-de-sac that the homeowners are jointly responsible for.

"Your pipestem lots are usually not desirable," Lindahl said. The majority of buyers don't like a pipestem," she said, and has seen the enthusiasm dwindle when she shows the property. Sometimes she doesn't advertise it up front on the Keystone Profile, the document that describes a property for sale.

"It's not a required entry," Lindahl said. "They'll just drive up and say 'no I don't want that.'"

Factors affecting pipestem driveways include maintenance, entertaining guests and "curb appeal." If the homeowner is the type that fixes up the house and is proud to show it off, a pipestem lot may not be desirable.

"People want other people to see the house," Lindahl said.

Builders choose to build on a pipestem driveway in order to squeeze many houses into a limited space. Now that Fairfax County is approaching build-out status, with virtually no new developments going in, the pipestem is an option. The Fairfax County Public Facility Manual, 2-0102 entitled "Lot Frontage and Layout," states "all lots for single family detached dwellings shall have frontage on existing VDOT maintained public streets or standard streets." The pipestem is a way around that requirement.

The next set of rules, 2-0103 addresses pipestem lots directly, including legal terms such as "double stacking," parallel configuration and cluster development. There are 13 rules under 2-0103. Pipestem lots must be limited to no more than 20 percent of the total number of lots within a given subdivision without a special exception under article nine of the zoning ordinance.

RESTON RESIDENT Sherry Wauber lives on a pipestem shared by three houses and she likes the privacy, especially for her children. Wauber has lived in Reston for over 10 years.

"We find it more desirable, if you have small children, you can't have traffic," Wauber said.

In February 2003, with all the snow, Wauber and her neighbors did miss VDOT's plows, but it wasn't that important. The Wauber's had a snow blower and the neighbors hired a private plowing service for the common driveway.

"One of our neighbors had a service that plowed, we split the cost," she said.

In Burke, Nickles said their pipestem driveway was plowed by the Burke Centre Conservancy, but houses on a pipestem pay more in their quarterly fees than residents on the public streets. While the houses on the streets pay $75 a quarter, a pipestem resident pays over $100 according to Nickles.

Springfield resident Nick Stames lives on a pipestem in Orange Hunt that was added after the community was established. Four lots are on his pipestem and the lots were a little more expensive than the other lots in the neighborhood. They were also all-electric instead of part gas, like the other houses in Orange Hunt. Stames has hooked up to the gas line since then at his own expense.

Privacy is a big factor for Stames as well. His children made a baseball field out of the driveway.

"These two were premier lots," Stames said. "It was a couple of thousand more, but it was well worth the cost."

Karen Washburn, an agent in Great Falls with Weichert, had a pipestem house in Reston sell in two days, which is common in the current seller's market. Although Washburn defined the house location as a cul-de-sac rather than a pipestem, it was a shared driveway off a main road with all the mailboxes grouped together at the entrance to the main road.

"I think it sold in three days, it was very quick," she said.

Lindahl has experienced the same thing in today's market. In a buyer's market, the buyer might get choosy and not opt for a pipestem house but with low inventories, she's had no opposition.

"Probably in this market it doesn't matter," Lindahl said. "If we were in a buyer's market, it might."