Last month at a special meeting of the Hollin Hall Village Association, Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland told the 25 members assembled at the Hollin Hall Senior Center, "There is no issue more contentious than this. I would like for us to find a way to fix this."
Last Friday a development company did just that. It began demolition of homes in Hollin Hall Village.
While a petition to get a temporary restraining order against the demolition of homes was wending its way through the Fairfax County Circuit Court, the developer proceeded to demolish three homes in the Hollin Hall Village community in preparation for either building new larger homes on the double lot sites or two homes, one on each lot.
But, the court case, brought by the Concerned Citizens of Hollin Hall Village, became moot when Judge Dennis Smith denied their petition. The suit was brought against the decision of the Board of Zoning Appeals challenging the Zoning Administrator's decision that some 60 lots in Hollin Hall Village were legitimate double lots that could support two houses instead of the one that had been erected over the center line since the 1940s.
Central to the dispute is the issuance of demolition permits to the potential developer by the County. Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland last Friday questioned why the permits were issued in light of the pending court action.
"They were issued because the County Attorney saw no grounds for denying them," said Merni Fitzgerald, public information, Fairfax County. "Whatever permits were needed for the demolition were properly obtained," she said.
What provoked Hyland was the fact that County Attorney David P. Bobzien, had authorized the issuance of the demolition permits prior to the court decision.
"Pending that litigation the county should have taken no action," he said.
But, the demolition of the homes on Washington and Fairfax roads may only be the beginning. "If you want to build two homes you need grading permits, storm improvement permits and a public improvement plan," Hyland said.
A CLASSIC EXAMPLE of old values butting up against rising real estate values, the Hollin Hall Village controversy is somewhat unusual in that it involves a group of home, many built in the 1940s, that straddle two lots. The center line of the lots has remained over the years, thereby presenting the possibility of the eventual construction of two houses where one has existed.
Recently developers have been buying the homes and indicating they intend to demolish them to build a house on each lot. Long time residents of the area have expressed alarm that that will alter the character of the neighborhood leading either to increased density or, what has come to be known as "mansionization." Most of the older homes in the area are single-story "ranchers."
In April Hyland introduced a Board Matter during a regular meeting of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors proposing a zoning ordinance prohibiting "the replacement of one single-family home constructed on two contiguous lots with two single family homes, one on each lot."
As he stated at that time, "I am concerned that this type of infill development can adversely impact the character of our existing neighborhoods, worsen existing storm drainage problems, and increase the burden on our transportation network and schools."
This lead to a proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance "that excludes from its scope contiguous lots that have been developed as a single lot with one single-family residence." The ultimate effect of such an ordinance was to make the two lots into one thereby denying their future development as two sites.
This same result would occur if the homeowners would take the same action by re-subdividing their dual lots into one. However, this could possibly make them less desirable to developers and thus lower their speculative value.
During a meeting at the Hollin Hall Senior Center between Hyland and two dozen Hollin Hall Village residents he admitted, "There is no other issue more contentious than this that I've tried to do something about during my 19 years in office." But, he also told them then he was not willing to pursue the ordinance without their support in the form of a "super majority."
He told them that night, "Clearly, if this ordinance is adopted it will have a result on property owners. It clearly has an impact on any of you who has a house on two lots. It will prevent you from selling the property as two lots and could adversely impact your income from the property or its future use."
He also told them that night that if they chose to re-subdivide their lots on an individual basis, "I have asked the Board of Supervisors to waive the $457 submission fee and direct staff to expedite the processing of these plots." The only fee to the homeowners would be "a small survey fee," according to Hyland.
HYLAND INFORMED homeowners at that meeting that he had requested that county staff not take any action prior to an opinion on the proposed ordinance. However, in seeking the opinion of Bobzien, Hyland was informed, "The Zoning Ordinance and the Virginia Code" in referring to a "stay" of "proceedings" while an appeal is pending "do not provide for a stay of development activities by a landowner."
Bobzien noted, "The county cannot deny development permits to a landowner solely because a Zoning Administrator's decision has been appealed to the BZA." However, "Any development activity undertaken by a developer based on a decision by the Zoning Administrator and/or BZA would be taken at the developer's risk," Bobzien wrote.
Following the meeting at the Hollin Hall Senior Center, Doug Palo, president, Hollin Hall Village Citizens Association, indicated a petition would be circulated to garner the "super majority" support Hyland was seeking. This was not accomplished.
Several homeowner members of the Concerned Citizens of Hollin Hall Village decided against signing on to Hyland's zoning ordinance amendment. "After reviewing the document proposed by Gerry we declined to back the zoning amendment," said Gretchen Walzl, spokesperson for the group.
"We had our attorney review it. And because it really didn't address redevelopment we didn't think it did anything new. The county just needs to learn how to read their own existing ordinance," Walzl insisted.
"We had hoped that the resolution introduced by Hyland would be approved by the organization. I guess people felt it might hurt their property values in the long run. I'm really sorry to see this happen," Palo said.
As the demolition equipment turned several home into piles of rubble the primary question remaining was what would replace them. "It's sad but it's not as bad as I thought," said Jennifer Lancaster, a Washington Road resident referring to the demolition noise.
"I hope they only build one house on each plot. It's a really nice neighborhood and I hope it stays that way," she said as she pushed a stroller along Washington Road where there are no sidewalks. That will be the ultimate determination.