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Votes

Double Density

BZA finds developers can replace one house with two in parts of Hollin Hall.

Gretchen Walzl does not want to find herself suddenly in a new neighborhood. The Hollin Hall resident, however, may do just that if a developer's plan is realized.

When her neighborhood was developed in the 1940s some of the houses were built on two lots, straddling the boundary. Now developers PFK, LLC and Hollin Hall, LLC, have come forward with a plan to tear down some of those houses and build two new houses. On county tax records, a single lot is shown, with a dotted line running down the middle. The developer would build a house on either side of that dotted line.

"This was not merely a request to build a new house, but a major request to change the dynamics of the neighborhood," Walzl told the Board of Zoning Appeals on Jan. 31.

Walzl and a group of her neighbors are fighting the proposal which they note will effectively double the density of their neighborhood, without any public process. The county's Department of Planning and Zoning has determined that the developer has the right to do so.

Any new development however will still have to comply with current regulations with regard to such factors as setbacks and building height.

The new lots will be smaller than would normally be permitted in the neighborhood under the zoning ordinance. However, they met the requirements of the ordinance when they were created in the '40s, therefore, the county must allow the developers to build.

The neighbors presented a series of arguments to the Board of Zoning Appeals on Jan. 31. Catherine Voorhees took the lead and argued that the lots had sat unused for so long that they could no longer be considered two lots. "There is no vested right in the original, small lots," she said.

Board member Nancy Gibb rejected this argument. "It still shows in the land records these lots," she said. The fact that they have not been used, she said, does not matter, since lot lines do not disappear. "That's just not a legal concept I know of," Gibb said.

"Just because something is old doesn't mean something is wrong with it," said Jim Hart, a board member.

Some neighbors said the development will increase stormwater runoff. Others said that the development will violate the Comprehensive Plan, which calls for maintaining stable, residential neighborhoods.

HOWEVER, BOARD MEMBERS said that these concerns are outside of what they may consider. The board may issue judgments about whether or not county staff correctly interpreted the law, not about the impact that decision may have on neighborhoods. "We're here to call balls and strikes," Hart said.

He noted that this case could set a precedent. "We have many situations in Fairfax County where there are houses constructed on two or more lots," he said. He suggested that the only remedy could come through a change to current law.

While they too supported county staff, some members of the board were sympathetic toward the neighbors. "It's happening not only in your neighborhood, but in other neighborhoods," said Paul Hammack, a board member.

Board Member V. Max Beard said that he lives in Mount Vernon, and that he was voting in favor of the determination "with a heavy heart."

The board unanimously upheld the county staff determination that the developer can build.

Voorhees said that she and her neighbors plan to appeal.