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Neighborhood Character vs. Zoning

Twentieth century subdivision wrestles with 21st century growth.

In keeping with the old adage, "Be careful what you ask for — you may get it," Mount Vernon District Supervisor has introduced a proposed amendment to the Fairfax County zoning ordinance that would effectively stop the practice of replacing one house with two in the Hollin Hall Village subdivision. It would also prevent present homeowners from profiting from that practice.

Under Hyland's proposed amendment, which has been submitted to the county zoning administrator and county attorney for review, any two lots which have "a building extending over one or more of the boundary lines" shall be considered to have "effectively been consolidated or resubdivided." In other words, the two lots would become one lot by the fact that the building, in effect, has served as a de facto resubdivision of the plot.

If adopted, this amendment would eliminate the ability of a property owner to sell the property to a developer whose plan is to tear down the existing residence and construct two separate residences — one on each lot. The existing residence would no longer be straddling two lots, there would only be one lot with one residence in the center.

Explaining his proposed amendment to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Hyland said, "On March 31, 1943 Fairfax County approved Sections 1 and 2 of the Hollin Hall Village Subdivision. At that time, the land was zoned Urban Residential District which required a minimum lot area of 5,000 square feet and a minimum lot width of 50 feet, smaller than the minimum lot area and width its current R-3 designation allows."

He also notes, "For reasons we do not currently know, many of the homes in Hollin Hall Village were built with one house straddling two lots." Real estate developers have been buying single family homes in the subdivision that straddle two lots with the intent of demolishing the existing house to be replaced by two structures — one on each lot, according to Hyland's explanation.

"This type of infill development, that destroys the quality of life of its residents, should not be allowed," he said in his Board matter of Jan. 23.

ON JAN. 31, the Board of Zoning Appeals, heard an appeal from the Concerned Citizens of Hollin Hall Village to prevent this reuse of the separate lots. It was an appeal from a decision by William E. Shoup, zoning administrator, upholding the right of developers to create two structures where there had been only one.

He concluded, "The referenced lots, although subsequently used for a single residence on two lots under building permits, have never been consolidated into larger, single lots under the county's subdivision ordinance, and thus the originally recorded underlying lot lines remain in effect."

This would allow building permits to 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 wrote in his opinion. It is the latter phrase referring to "all County and applicable zoning ordinance regulations" being met that Hyland's proposed amendment would address and change.

The residents were supported in their appeal by the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens' Associations which passed a resolution to "reverse the zoning administrator's determination that would revert Hollin Hall Village to the 1943 plat map." Their support resolution included the following:

* Current R-3 zoning requires a minimum lot size of 10,500 square feet and homes that straddle the lot line meet that requirement

* Permitting the builder to go forward would rezone the entire Hollin Hall Village to a higher density and change the use of the properties "from a single conforming lot to two non-conforming lots"

* Long term consequences of Shoup's decision combined with quality of life factors should be taken into consideration.

The last point was also made by several members of the resident group. "If, under the proposed plan, an existing home is torn down on a lot and two homes are built on that same lot, it will destroy this character and place an undue burden on the entire infrastructure," wrote Jane Edwin, a Hollin Hall Village resident, to the Board of Zoning Appeals. However, the two homes would not be on "that same lot" but on the two separate lots as designated on the plat plan.

She also predicted, "If this infill construction is approved for property that has already been sold to developers, it is only a matter of time before homes in other parts of Hollin Hall and along the entire Fort Hunt corridor will be subject to such development."

The ultimate end result, according to Edwin, "will be overcrowding, traffic congestion, packed schools, wall-to-wall houses, a mall-sized shopping area, loss of trees, and a greater citizen tax liability. In short, it will become another example of ugly urban sprawl."

Catherine Voorhees, another resident of Hollin Hall Village, author of the original appeals on behalf of the Concerned Citizens group to Shoup, maintains that his decision "is not consistent with the Virginia Code." That point was also made by the Mount Vernon Council in their resolution.

In addition, Voorhees stated that she only receives one tax bill for the two lots on which her home is situated. "That indicates that the county already considers it one lot," she maintained.

FEB. 6 HYLAND introduced an additional board matter asking that "the County Attorney provide the Board of Supervisors with an opinion as to whether Fairfax County has the authority to restrict or prohibit infill development where a dwelling unit built overlapping one or more lots, can be demolished and increase the unit density by rebuilding on each of the formerly consolidated lots." That opinion has not been received.

"More than sixty homes in this subdivision could potentially be bulldozed and redeveloped into a de factor R-5 zoning because over fifty years ago, homes were built overlapping two lots," Hyland said in his latest board matter.

"This type of infill development destroys the character of existing neighborhoods, exacerbates an existing storm drainage problem, and increases the burden of our transportation network and schools," Hyland noted in echoing many of the points made by Edwin's letter to the BZA.

"This will not address properties now in a sale process. But, it will have the effect of preventing this type of infill development in the future," Hyland stated.