Neighbors Split over 'Midgetville'

Neighbors Split over 'Midgetville'

Supervisors approve downplanning; rezoning application still pending.

Tempers flared at the Board of Supervisors meeting on July 11 when discussion turned to the Wedderburn property, commonly known as “Midgetville.”

Three separate issues are swirling around the redevelopment of the property, and the board resolved two of them during its series of public hearings which stretched close to midnight.

The third, a rezoning application, was addressed during a public hearing before the Planning Commission, which is scheduled to make its decision on July 28.

The 12-acre property, which has been owned by the Wedderburn family for over a century, is currently developed with a handful of small houses. It is located south of the Washington and Old Dominion Trail near Cedar Lane. Some of the family members, led by Jane Leppin, have been working to redevelop the property, with the most recent plan calling for building 24 houses on the land.

The area has also been the subject of a proposal to change the Comprehensive Plan. The plan had called for allowing houses at a density of 2-3 per acre, and the proposal would take that down to 1-2 per acre and add some restrictive language.

A stream also traverses the property, and its status has been a major point of contention. [See sidebar.]

The restrictive language included specific references to the stream and created a 100-foot buffer on either side of it — giving it the protection of a perennial stream although the county has determined that it is not one. The proposal also mandated a 50-foot buffer from the W&OD Trail and several other specific restrictions.

WHILE THE PROPOSAL to reduce the density was approved by the Planning Commission during its April 21 meeting, the specific language was removed in favor of more general recommendations, such as “respecting” the stream, and a “substantial” buffer along the trail.

The version of the Comprehensive Plan change approved by the Planning Commission will allow the pending rezoning application to proceed without modifications.

This upset some residents. “The [plan change] was retrofitted to the rezoning,” said David Levy, a nearby resident. Levy was also upset about the change in the status of the stream classification, which he had testified about earlier in the night.

Levy grew so upset during his remarks and subsequent questioning by the board that he began shouting. “Why does the Board of Supervisors continue to ignore the community?” he said.

His shouts drew the attention of the two Fairfax County police officers in the auditorium. They did not attempt to interfere with him as he spoke, but they did leave their seats in the back row and moved to the middle of the auditorium, closer to the podium.

“The stream language should be restored,” said Deborah Reyher, a nearby resident and environmental attorney. Reyher presented the board with testimony from several stream experts who disagreed on stream declassification.

Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence) asked if any of them had visited the stream.

Reyher said they had not, but “They are weighing in on the policy wrongheadedness,” she said, her voice rising. “They are the people qualified to make the decision. Not people with a law degree like me. Not people with a history degree, like you.”

Others objected to the density of the pending rezoning application. The restrictive language would have the effect of reducing the density. The new development, they say, will create "McMansion" style houses on small lots. “They [the houses] will be herded together with their backsides pointed toward the W&OD,” said David Knapp, who lives opposite the trail from the property.

Smyth pointed out that the new development will be about half the density of Knapp’s.

“I can’t change how my neighborhood was built,” Knapp replied. “This is looking to the future.”

“I understand that,” Smyth said.

SOME NEARBY RESIDENTS came to speak in favor of the proposal. “We believe the development as proposed … would be a net gain for the neighborhood, not a loss,” said Edward Blum, a nearby resident.

Philip Bosco another nearby resident said he approved the reduction of density, but not the restrictive language.

Ultimately, that is what was approved. Smyth said that the goal of the Comprehensive Plan is to provide general guidance, but that the restrictive language which had been removed was too specific. “It is trying to impose a specific vision,” Smyth said. “That’s not really what the Comprehensive Plan is supposed to do.”

The specifics, Smyth said, should be decided during the rezoning process.

Board of Supervisors chair Gerry Connolly (D) also cautioned against using such specific language in the Comprehensive Plan, as had been recommended. “I think we have to be careful that we not make land use a theology,” he said. “We draw lines that are very rigid, and I don’t know that works very well.”

The board voted unanimously to accept the proposed reduced density and not to include the restrictive language.