By a unanimous vote, the Fairfax County Planning Commission approved the controversial proposal to build 24 houses in the property known as “Midgetville” at its July 28 meeting. The 13-acre property is located south of the Washington & Old Dominion Trail and west of Cedar Lane.
The area is developed with a handful of small houses, giving rise to local lore that the area was home to retired circus midgets.
In reality, the property is owned by the Wedderburn family, which has owned the land for over 100 years. Until last month, the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan had called for the area to be developed at a density of 3-4 houses per acre.
The land was the subject of two competing processes. While one group submitted a proposal to amend the Comprehensive Plan to reduce the allowable density, the property owner had submitted a rezoning request to increase the number of houses that could be build.
A nearby resident, Alison Dyer, and a group of her neighbors, submitted a proposal to change the Comprehensive Plan which would reduce the allowable density to 1-2 houses per acre. The proposal also included language that would restrict any new development by forcing such things as a 50-foot buffer along the W&OD Trail.
The proposal also asked for a 100-foot buffer on either side of an intermittent stream on the property (see sidebar), and protection for a large number of trees. This proposal was accepted by a citizen task force that studied the area, along with many other proposals to change the plan.
THE PROPOSAL to change the Comprehensive Plan to reduce the density was moving through the county process at the same time as a rezoning application which requested an increase in density.
As the plans went through the two separate processes, they reached a point where they essentially matched. The Planning Commission unanimously voted to remove the restrictive language about buffers and tree saves in favor of more vague language which still called for preserving the areas, without specific numbers.
The developer, Elm Street, lowered the number of houses it was requesting from the rezoning application to bring the density down under two.
The change to the Comprehensive Plan was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors on July 11.
The rezoning request approved by the Planning Commission, while not including everything the residents had asked for in terms of buffers and protections, does provide for some of them. The tree buffer along the W&OD trail will be 40 feet, said Planning Commissioner Ken Lawrence (Providence), and there will be an easement on it so that the new homeowners cannot remove the trees.
The houses along the trail, said Lawrence, will also have height and other restrictions placed on them. Lawrence showed a picture of what two houses will look like from the trail after 10 years of tree growth, and the artist’s drawing showed that little of the houses will be visible.
The developer will also provide a 50-foot buffer on either side of the disputed stream along with an easement along it. The developer is also going to provide a tree save area that is designed to protect many of the old growth trees on the property.
Additionally, Elm Street will place a water fountain on the W&OD trail and add a traffic signal where the trail crosses Cedar Lane.
“The applicant has, in my judgment, addressed all key issues in the case,” Lawrence said.
Now that the Planning Commission has approved the plan, it will go before the Board of Supervisors for a pubic hearing. A date for that hearing has not been set.