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Hollin Hall Confronts Consolidation Issue

Legal battle all but guaranteed if ordinance is adopted.

According to Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland, "There is no issue more contentious than this that I've tried to do something about during my 19 years in office. I would like for us to find a way to fix this."

That's what he told 25 citizens of Hollin Hall Village Monday night during a "single issue" meeting of the Hollin Hall Citizens Association at Hollin Hall Senior Center, 1500 Shenandoah Road. The subject was infill development that is spawning "mansionization" and doubling the number of homes in their area.

As Hyland stated in a motion he submitted to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, "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 of our transportation network and schools."

At the heart of the problem is a series of approximately 60 homes in that area that are built over two lots. In 11 cases developers have purchased the homes and have either torn them down or propose to do so to replace them with two homes — one on each of the lots.

To prevent this, Hyland has proposed an amendment to the County Zoning Ordinance that "excludes from its scope contiguous lots that have been developed as a single lot with one single-family residence." His proposal would in effect "consolidate or resubdivide" the two lots into one by the fact that the building is built across the center line.

However, as he specified to the residents several times during the meeting, "Clearly, if this ordinance is adopted it will have a result on the 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 was emphatic that he did not and would not move forward with the proposed ordinance unless he had "the overwhelming support" of property owners impacted. "This ordinance would restrict what you could do with your land," he said.

Hyland assured the group that the ordinance would be challenged in court and they should be prepared for an extended legal battle if it were introduced and adopted. "If the ordinance passes I can assure yo the developers will get their attorneys to fight it," he said.

THE HOMES in question were built in the 1940's. "On March 11, 1943 Fairfax County approved Section's 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 that the minimum lot area and width the current R-3 designation allows," according to Hyland's explanation to the Board of Supervisors.

He also explained, "For reasons we do not currently know, many of the homes in Hollin Hall Village were built with one house straddling two lots." The lot lines remain, defining the land in question as two lots.

Real estate developers have been buying single-family homes that straddle two lots with the intent of demolishing the existing house and building two new houses — one on each lot, according to Hyland's explanation. Thus far 11 sites have been purchased and 40 plus more could be purchased, according to the association.

A primary concern at Monday night's meeting was, "How would the proposed amendment affect those lots already sold?" Hyland's answer was, "It would depend on where they (the real estate developers) are in the process."

"Our position is that they are not two lots. They have been consolidated by the fact that they have existed that way with one house on them for 27 years," said Attorney Catherine Voorhees, a Hollin Hall Village resident and author of a legal appeal on the subject.

"Why is nobody paying attention to the 1998 Alexandria Court decision that says if the land is not used for 27 years it is abandoned," she asked rhetorically.

Hyland pointed out that this problem was not limited to Hollin Hall Village. "There are instances of this in various parts of the county. If adopted it will impact a good amount of people countywide," he said.

When asked what the feeling of the Board of Supervisors was on this matter, Hyland predicted that there were "at least six or seven votes for approval."

Hyland insisted that he wanted "an expression of opinion from each person who owns a double lot" before he is willing to pursue the amendment. "I can guarantee that if the ordinance passes we, the Board of Supervisors, will get sued," he said.

"Unless I have a super majority of support from those people most affected I am not willing to do this. The Comprehensive Plan is citizen driven. The community has to decide if they want greater density," Hyland said.

Doug Palo, president, Hollin Hall Citizens Association, suggested that a canvass be made of all the impacted property owners to get their written opinions. The initial contact may be made via telephone "in order to give them time to consider the matter rather than just show up at their door," he said.

HYLAND POINTED OUT to the group that the matter could also be solved by the individual property owners just making an application to have their properties resubdivided into a single lot. "I have asked the Board of Supervisors to waive the $457 submission fee for this and to direct staff to expedite the processing of these plots," he said. The only fee to the homeowner would "a small survey fee."

Hyland explained that he has requested that county staff not take action on any of the 11 properties sold prior to an opinion on the proposed ordinance. However, in seeking the opinion of County Attorney David P. Bobzien on this request, Hyland has been informed, "The Zoning Ordinance and the Virginia Code" in referring to a "stay" of "proceedings" while an appeal is pending before the Board of Zoning Appeals "do not provide for a stay of development activities by a landowner."

Bobzien further 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.

If the decision of the administrator or BZA is "ultimately overruled, then the developer who constructed a building under that permit would be required to demolish the structure or otherwise bring it into compliance with the Zoning Ordinance," according Bobzien.

The association decided Monday night's to draft a one page explanation of what was being proposed and its ramifications and have it circulated to individual home owners for reaction. If they approve they would then sign off on the proposed ordinance.

Hyland and the group agreed, "The consolidation issue is an individual decision."