It was March 1, 1943 and 24 acres which, according to county land records, had been owned by Harley Wilson, prior to the execution of his will, dated July 30, 1941, were subdivided. The land would become the Hollin Hall neighborhood in Mt. Vernon.
The lots were 6,000-7,000 square feet, more than the 5,000 square foot minimum required by the zoning ordinance at the time. Around 1950, houses sprung up in the development, dozens of which straddled the line between two lots. The resulting neighborhood ended up being houses of 1,100 to 1,600 square feet on lots of just over 12,000 square feet. Some houses, however were built on single lots.
In 1978, the current zoning ordinance was enacted. The Hollin Hall area, according to the current ordinance, is zoned as residential at a density of three houses per acre. The minimum lot size in this zone is 10,500 square feet.
The neighborhood remained relatively stable until recently.
DEVELOPMENT INTERESTS have bought at least four houses in the neighborhood, in one case paying nearly double the assessed value. In at least one of those cases they intend to rip down the existing house and put up two houses, one on each of the 1943 lots. R.C. Fields, Jr. & Associates, a design and surveying company, has filed for various plans and waivers related to at least the four sites, according to county records. A representative of R.C. Fields could not be reached for comment.
Some neighbors in the area are upset at the prospect. If the development is allowed to occur, dozens of houses in Hollin Hall would be subject to this kind of redevelopment. “The developer can do a tear down and double the density,” said Catherine Voorhees, who lives next to one of the four lots.
Residents would not be obliged to sell, but those who stand to be most impacted are those who do not sell and instead stay in the neighborhood.
Even though the lots are smaller than that permitted in the zone (the minimum lot is 10,500 square feet and lots are 7,000 and under), they are allowed since these lots are grandfathered under the previous zoning code, according to an Opinion form the Office of the County Attorney. “The lots in Hollin Hall complied with the Zoning Ordinance in effect at the time they were created in 1943,” states the opinion dated July 22. It further states “If one house is built on two lots in Hollin Hall, that house may be taken down and replaced with one house on each of the two lots.”
“You still have a right to put a house on each of those lots,” said Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mt. Vernon). “I’m not happy with this result.”
Hyland said the issue is still ongoing, however, in the case of a by-right development, there is little that government can do.
THE FOUR LOTS in question, located at 8059 and 8063 Fairfax Road, and 8033 and 8037 Washington Road, may only be the beginning.
“I have a buyer who has put out offers to everyone out there with a double lot,” said Debbi Gorham of Jobin Realty in Kingstowne. Gorham has been asked by her client to keep his identity confidential.
Gorham said that there are over a half dozen houses that have already been sold, that she knows of. More properties are under contract and still more are in negotiations. The total number of houses is in the double digits, she said. Some closing dates, she said, are set for as far off as January.
She did not disclose the exact numbers, nor did she want to disclose who is taking the deals. The sellers, she said, sometimes fear upsetting their neighbors, and some are continuing to live in the houses, renting them back from the new owner.
Gorham did not know and could not comment about the redevelopment issues surrounding the properties.
At least one more possibility remains, however, to neighbors fighting the development. Voorhees contends that when the houses were built across the lot lines, in the late 1940s they effectively consolidated the two lots into one. A house, she says, can not be built on two lots “You can’t build half a house,” she said.
Hyland said that he has requested another opinion from the Office of the County Attorney regarding that issue; he expects the opinion within the next week or so.