The fate of a mostly-untouched 14-acre parcel in Vienna is still uncertain after the Fairfax County Planning Commission announced that it will delay its decision on whether to allow two developers to build on the site. Planning commissioners were set to vote on the development Wednesday evening but Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence) said the vote has been deferred at least until the fall because of a "need for more information."
The plan to put 29 single-family houses on the site has stirred up the ire of neighborhood activists who have coalesced in a loose-knit group to preserve the land as an open-space preserve.
David Levy, who lives near where the development would be, called the Planning Commission's decision "a great victory for the people of Providence District."
"This property is an absolute jewel," he said. "It's the secret garden. It's magical."
THE PROPERTY, nestled off Wedderburn Lane near the intersection of Cedar Lane and the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, has been owned by the Wedderburn family since 1892. It is covered with mature trees and dotted with 12 small houses that have earned the area the nickname of "Midgetville." Wedderburn descendants still live on the property along with their tenants.
But now the family has decided to sell the land, to the dismay of people in the neighborhood who have grown attached to the densely wooded site. Residents claim that 29 new homes would destroy the community's character.
"My vision is a wildlife refuge with nonmotorized access," said Levy, adding that he also wanted to protect the existing houses.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will make the final decision on the proposal after the Planning Commission votes.
"We simply would like to take some additional time to evaluate and respond to the concerns that have been raised and the current schedule just doesn't simply facilitate that happening," said Greg Riegle, an attorney with McGuire Woods which is representing Elm Street Development, one of two developers who have filed applications with the county to build on the site.
SMYTH SAID the developers may have to make changes to their application to reflect new state rules on cluster developments that will kick in July 1. She said she has not made up her mind on the development proposal yet but said she thought the houses were "really in bad shape."
"I don't know what sort of care they've been taking of their property," she said.
Levy disagreed, saying the houses were salvageable.
Smyth also said she did not think the idea of putting a park on the site was realistic.
"Keeping it for a park means that we've got to come up with the money and our resources are limited," she said.
But last month, Smyth urged her fellow board members and the county's Park Authority to focus on preserving as much land as possible.
"We need to save [land] now before prices go up," she said at the May 24 board meeting. "I'd like to see as much as we can spent on acquisition."
LAST THURSDAY, residents of the area gathered at Cunningham Park Elementary School to voice their opposition to the project. Many said that 29 new single-family homes would not fit in with the character of the established neighborhood and would generate too much traffic.
"We saved for 15 years to come into that house, and I'm so disturbed that you're going to change that neighborhood," said Nancy Williams, who lives near the site. "The reason why we live in that neighborhood is because of the way it looks. It's a pocket of loveliness."
Residents also said the new homes would encroach on the W&OD Trail, one of Northern Virginia's most popular parks. They said they wanted to see a wider buffer between the edge of the planned houses and the trail to make sure the houses would not be visible from the trail.
"We're really concerned about preserving the integrity of the trail itself and the park and not make it a trail through people's back yards," said Karen Sheffield, who lives on Reflection Lane in Vienna."