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Convenience in the 'Burbs

Burke Centre Station Commons features inexpensive living near mass transit, shopping and a public pool.

With the Virginia Railway Express and neighborhood pool just a hop, skip and a jump away, Burke Centre Station Commons proves convenience is possible in the suburbs.

Located in the Commons neighborhood of Burke Centre — one of two Fairfax County planned residential communities — the development features co-ops at relatively inexpensive prices. A two-bedroom home runs about $205,000, and a three-bedroom unit is about $215,000, said Lisa Robinson, office manager and former president of the corporation's five-member board of directors.

"We're probably one of the most affordable places in Fairfax County," said Robinson.

In addition to the community's proximity to many conveniences, Burke Centre Station Commons also offers 22 specified Section Eight units, or federally subsidized homes, seven of which have been converted into limited equity units. The application process for the Section Eight units is done directly through the Burke Centre Station Commons office, and no income requirements are in place.

As people move out of the Section Eight units, the office has begun converting them into the limited equity units, which do not require individual mortgages. A $10,000 down payment is required to buy into the community, and then residents pay a monthly fee to the corporation that includes both co-op fees and the carrying charge to the entire community's blanket mortgage. Residents act as tenants because they have a lease with the corporation. They also act as owners because they have stock ownership in the community and are allowed to vote for corporate governance, or the board of directors.

"You get all the tax breaks of a homeowner," she said. "It offers a chance to have home ownership with little [money] down."

Residents in the regular units pay one payment that includes the fee toward the overall blanket mortgage and co-op fees, but they also pay a second mortgage to one of the four lenders the corporation allows, said Julie Devlin, a resident and the assistant office manager. Because the community is a co-op, not every lender wants to work with them, which is why the corporation only works with those specific lenders.

The management office receives several calls a day about homes there. There is no wait list, and Robinson hopes to educate local real estate agents about how to better sell co-ops, since many of them tend to shy away from them, just as the lenders do, she said.

THE DEMOGRAPHIC MIX in the neighborhood is all over the map, said Robinson. From retirees to singles and starter families, the neighborhood has it all. Robinson said that Burke Centre as a whole mistakenly identifies the Commons neighborhood as lower income, she said, since it is the highest density neighborhood in Burke Centre. That just isn't true, she said.

"We have plenty of residents who make more than $100,000 a year," said Robinson. "They choose not to have the upkeep of owning a large home."

While Burke Centre residents pay individual quarterly assessments, the Burke Centre Station Commons corporation pays the quarterly assessments in one payment. It works out to be about $70,000 a year — an amount Robinson said isn't exactly fair.

"All we get is trash pick-up," she said. "We maintain everything; $70,000 is a big chunk out of our budget every year."

The corporation has its own contracts with outside companies for things like landscaping and snow removal— something Burke Centre covers for most of the other assessment-paying residents. But that is a kink that Patrick Gloyd, executive director of the Burke Centre Conservancy, said has already begun to be worked out. Last year, a surplus was left over from the 2005 budget. The surplus was from the clusters, so the Conservancy decided to distribute that money back to the clusters so they could use it for snow removal this winter. The clusters will continue to cover snow removal on their own, so they will have to budget for that next year once their previous surplus money has run out. Now at least the condominium associations, which include Burke Centre Station Commons, aren't paying for the snow removal that they aren't receiving, said Gloyd.

"We recognize that we need to do [the assessments] in a more equitable manner," said Gloyd.

Robinson said she hopes to get other areas of the assessment that the corporation thinks are unfair worked out this year. That is one of the reasons Robinson said the board has rescheduled its monthly meetings so they no longer conflict with the Burke Centre Board of Trustees meetings.

"We need to get more involved," said Robinson.

Another area of contention is the use of the Commons pool. Robinson said the number one complaint from residents has to do with the pool. Since the Burke Centre Swim Club's recent request for more pool time for its swimmers, the residents have really taken notice. Gloyd said a pool task force will be established this year to study the use of pools, and that the Board of Trustees is sensitive to the issue, which is why it didn't approve all of the swim club's requests this year. Gloyd said the corporation doesn't have rights to the Commons pool over any other member, though, just as other neighborhood residents do not get first priority at their respective community pools. Pool memberships are good at all five pools, and while it would be more convenient for each neighborhood to use its neighborhood pool, that doesn't always happen.

"There is some truth in the inconveniences," said Gloyd. "Unfortunately [for the Commons], the Commons pool happens to be the one pool designed for swim team use."

Gloyd said adding in similar designs at other pools is something staff would consider as remodeling projects arise.