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Building on Bachman Farm?

Historic cabin may be casualty in construction on 115-acre property which was part of Hunter Mill Study Area.

In an unusual twist, neighbors are happy about potential new construction on Hunter Mill Road. At the same time, however, they are upset about what appears to be the loss of a potentially historic building.

The Bachman Farm is about 115 acres of rolling hills dotted with trees along Hunter Mill Road, abutting Lake Fairfax Park. Controversy has swirled around the farm for years as developers have tried to increase the permitted density on the land.

The farm is subdivided for 52 houses on roughly two-acre lots. But the current owner, developer WCI/Renaissance, has been asking for permission to put more buildings on the land.

Most recently, it was part of a 2004 proposal to change the Comprehensive Plan to allow up to eight houses per acre on the land, about 16 times the current density. That proposal was rejected by the Hunter Mill Road Special Study Group in 2005, whose findings were confirmed by the Board of Supervisors.

The housing market today isn’t what it was in 2004. Like many developers, Florida-based WCI (the parent company of WCI/Renaissance) has seen declining revenue. Although it still made a profit, WCI reported a 73 percent drop in net income during the third quarter of 2006, compared to the third quarter 2005.

WCI, apparently, decided it’s time to build on the empty property, whose 52 empty lots are each assessed at about $250,000. The developer has filed for at least two building permits for single-family detached houses (with finished basements, wet bars and three car garages) on lots on the Bachman Farm. WCI/Renaissance President Albert “Sonny” Small declined to comment for this story.

Nearby residents were happy to hear the property may soon be developed at its currently permitted density. “We’ve always told [Small] that we’d be the first to shovel the dirt,” said Jody Bennett, who lives across Hunter Mill from the property.

The reason is simple: once the houses are built, the pressure will be off to build a more dense development. Additionally, it will make large projects, such as the 2004 proposal, more difficult. There will be less available land in the area and, potentially, 52 new households who may not like the idea of a scaled-down town center on their doorstep.

BUT THE NEW construction is not without its price. Neighbors in the area fear that a cabin — which might have been historic — has been destroyed. While the cabin is not visible from the public right-of-way, Jeannette Twomey and others say it has been torn down.

Fairfax County issued a demolition permit for the building in March 2001. It was valid through Jan. 31, 2007.

Twomey, president of the Hunter Mill Defense League, said that in discussions with past owners of the property, she had been told that the cabin dated to 1780.

However, Twomey and other interested residents have been stymied in their efforts to study the potential historic significance. “We couldn’t get permission to do an historic survey to find if it was original,” she said.

Even if the property did have historic value, it could have been razed. Under Virginia law, even properties on the National Register of Historic Places may be torn down by the owner.

Twomey sees this as symptomatic of a major weakness in Virginia law. Virginia does not mandate an inventory of potential historic sites, something which she advocates. “The community has a legitimate interest in its past,” Twomey said.

Hunter Mill Road itself has been deemed eligible for inclusion on both the national and state registers of historic places. Twomey and other have documented more than 50 potentially historic sites along the 7.2-mile road. The cabin was one of those.