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Developer Appeals Stop Work Order

Work will continue as case heads to Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals

A stop work order at the Goat Farm has been appealed to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

The Goat Farm, or Corbin Property, is a 7-acre parcel at the corner of Gallows and Idylwood roads in Dunn Loring. The developer of the property, John Batal, was granted an increase in zoning on the property, which would allow the construction of 14 homes on the land.

As part of the zoning agreement, the developer was supposed to preserve two separate stands of trees, among several other conditions. Trees in the tree-save areas were cut down, and as a result, Barbara Byron, of Fairfax County’s Department of Planning and Zoning, issued a finding on Jan. 24 that the site was not in “substantial conformance” with the terms of the rezoning.

Even though the property was found not to be in conformance, the rezoning could not be rescinded, said Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence). Smyth has said that the issue of what is happening at the Goat Farm is unprecedented.

This case, therefore, raises larger issues said Mike Cavin. Cavin lives nearby and has been involved with the rezoning of the property from the beginning of the process.

As an unprecedented case, what decisions are made may set precedents for future developments. "I think that what's at stake is whether or not the county can enforce its zoning," Cavin said.

Byron directed that no further permits be issued for the property and that Batal would have to bring the development before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors for review.

On Feb. 10, Susan Epstein, senior zoning inspector, issued a Notice of Violation to Batal. “It has been determined that you are not in substantial conformance,” Epstein wrote.

The notice mandated that Batal “immediately cease all development activities on the subject property.” Additionally, the notice required Batal to add vegetation and some mulch to help stabilize the land that had been exposed during the process of preparing the site for construction. “Failure to comply with this notice will result in legal action being taken against you to gain compliance with the Zoning Ordinance,” wrote Epstein.

THAT ORDER has been appealed by Batal. Stopping work, argues Batal’s attorney, Francis McDermott, won’t stop any past violations that may have occurred. “Stopping all development activity will not remedy the alleged zoning violation in this case,” McDermott wrote in the Feb. 16 appeal. “Batal will have to address the alleged violation with the appropriate county officials, but Batal cannot and should not be ordered to cease all work while it pursues that dialogue.”

Further, McDermott argues that stopping work “will not address the alleged zoning violation and will not result in bringing the subject property into compliance with the Zoning Ordinance and therefore should be overturned.”

The appeal has not been formally accepted, said Suzanne Gilbert. Gilbert reviews applications for the Board of Zoning Appeals, to ensure that the proper paperwork has been submitted prior to accepting the appeal and scheduling a hearing with the Board.

The Board may also determine that it does not wish to hear the appeal, Smyth said.

Ideally, hearings are scheduled for within 90 days of the date an appeal has been filed, Gilbert said. While the appeal is pending, appellants are usually allowed to continue with their work. “Typically, it puts a stay on enforcement [of the Notice of Violation],” she said.

Developers who continue to build during that period do so at their own risk, since actions taken by the Board may require past activity to be undone.

Cavin is also concerned that if development continues it may reach a point that the developer can claim that removing what had been done would be too great of a hardship. "My concern is that they would build all of the infrastructure and then limit the remedies as a result of the construction," Cavin said.

Smyth would likely reject such an argument, should it be made. "It does not sound feasible to me," she said.