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Votes

Signs for the Times

“Well-intentioned effort” aggravates residents.

NIMBY, the acronym for “Not In My Backyard,” usually comes into play when some use of land is proposed in a neighborhood that draws the ire of existing residents. At the Jan. 23 meeting of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, it took on a whole new application. It was not a controversial development decision that community members’ didn’t want in their backyards — it was signs.

Specifically, the problem are signs that say “No Swimming, No Ice Skating, No Boating, No Fishing — When Water Is Present.” The implied corollary is that when water is not present, people may enjoy those activities.

What drew the attention of Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland was Section 6-0303.6 of the Public Facilities Manual being applied to several of his constituents and their backyards which lie well outside the channel of the Potomac River. It discusses safety measures to be taken on properties with storm drains.

The county has placed signs with the admonitions on approximately 1,100 properties, much to the disapproval of the property owners, according to a board initiative introduced last week by Hyland.

“ALTHOUGH A WELL-INTENTIONED effort, in some cases the placement of these signs seems to warn against a problem that has never happened or is unlikely to happen,” Hyland told his fellow supervisors.

“Also, in some cases the signs warn users of the property to not engage in activity that could never be undertaken on the property, e.g., ‘no boating, no fishing’ in a back yard. It is also my understanding the county has received a number of phone calls from constituents in response to the signs,” Hyland said.

In order to cut down on such telephone traffic, Hyland moved that “the Board of Supervisors direct the County Executive to establish a procedure for property owners to request removal of these signs.”

Hyland also requested that the board direct the County Executive “to explore less obtrusive ways to announce the presence of storm drains.”

IN ANOTHER MATTER, Hyland moved that the board “direct the zoning administrator to review” a proposed zoning ordinance amendment designed to halt the practice of building two homes where one exists as a result of straddling property lines. It applies to Hollin Hall Village.

Hyland noted that Jan. 31, the Board of Zoning Appeals was scheduled to hear a case that “will have a profound effect on the over half-century old community of Hollin Hall Village.” Real estate developers, “savvy with section 4-205 of the Zoning Ordinance, have been buying single family homes that straddle two lots so they can demolish them and double the unit density,” he stated.

The problem originated from a county-approved plan for Sections One and Two of the Hollin Hall Village Subdivision on March 31, 1943. At that time, the land was zoned Urban Residential District which required a minimum lot area of 5,000 square feet with a minimum width of 50 feet. This is smaller than minimum lot area and width in current R-3 designations.

“For reasons we do not currently know, many of the homes in Hollin Hall Village have one house straddling two lots,” he noted. “This type of infill development, that destroys the quality of life of its residents, should not be allowed.”

To support his request, Hyland submitted a letter dated Jan. 16, 2006 from Jane Edwin, a 30-year resident of Washington Road in Hollin Hall Village, to the BZA requesting that the board deny the request of developers. She maintained that if approved, such developer plans would “destroy the character” of the area and “place an undue burden on the entire infrastructure.”

Edwin maintained that if the present plan is approved it would only be “a matter of time before homes in other parts of Hollin Hall and along the entire Fort Hunt corridor will also be subject to such development. The result will be overcrowding, traffic congestion, packed schools, wall-to-wall houses, a mall-size shopping area, loss of trees, and a greater citizen tax liability.”

She also questioned the legality of such infill proposals. “Hollin Hall was developed over 50 years ago with some people buying two contiguous lots. The 1978 Zoning Ordinance regulated this area R-3 which does not allow such infill development,” Edwin stated in her letter to the BZA.

She insisted that developers were “requesting that the Fairfax County Zoning Commission deregulate what has been a regulation for 27 years.” Her appeal is supported by the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens’ Association in a resolution published in their January newsletter.

In an Oct. 19, 2005 letter from Fairfax County Zoning Administrator William E. Shoup to the Concerned Citizens of Hollin Hall Village, he upheld the legitimacy of developers’ rights to expand the unit density by building two homes where one had previously existed.

“The referenced lots are considered to be valid lots under the Subdivision Ordinance and, if a structure that is located on two lots is removed, Building Permits may be issued for the development of a single family detached dwelling on each of the originally platted lots if all county and applicable Zoning Ordinance regulations are met,” Shoup stated. Hyland was copied on that letter at that time.