Fixing Infill Problems

Fixing Infill Problems

Once again so-called "infill" development is posing problems in Mount Vernon District, as attested to by two Board Matters introduced by Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland at Monday's Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting.

One falls into the McMansion category while the other has the definite smell of the old warning — "caveat emptor" or buyer beware. The first dealt with residential building heights and how they can be manipulated. The second focuses on builders using a strict interpretation of County regulations rather than going the extra mile for a potential home buyer.

"Recently, many of my constituents in the Wellington, Hollin Hall, and Mount Zephyr subdivisions contacted me to express their outrage that the County's Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) would allow homes to be built that tower over their neighboring homes," Hyland told his fellow Supervisors.

"In an attempt to construct more livable building space, home builders are artificially elevating lots, as much as nine feet at one house, by moving dirt from the basement, or bringing in fill, and piling it around the lot to disguise the first floor and meet the 35 feet building height limitation," he explained.

This raises the potential of flooding by pushing storm water run off onto neighboring properties or overwhelming 50-year-old drainage ditches and storm drains, according to Hyland. He cited this as "another illustration of how our ability to regulate infill development is woefully inadequate."

Referring to a variety of actions taken by other jurisdictions in the Washington Metropolitan Area to control the scale and mass of infill development, Hyland requested that the Board of Supervisors have staff "once again look at the definition of building heights in Fairfax County and make adjustments to protect the quality of life for our neighborhoods."

He also moved that the departments of Planning and Zoning, in conjunction with DPWES, review possible changes to the definition of building height and "how this will impact their review process." They are to return to the Board with suggested changes.

In the meantime, Hyland, tongue in cheek, advised the owners of such McMansions that perhaps they might want to "climb to the lofty top" of their homes and "keep a vigil against their neighbors who may gather at midnight, torches and pitchforks in hand, ready to slay the Frankenhouse."

IN THE SECOND matter Hyland took up the cause of property owners at 1400 Alexandria Avenue in Tauxmont who were seeking his assistance in obtaining water service. It seems their well collapsed earlier this month and no well company will chance taking their equipment up the home's steep grade to fix it.

However, the real problem is that when the home was built in 2001 the builder was not obligated to hook it up to public water service, even though a connection was only 350 feet away from the property. "The builder found a loophole in the County Public Facilities Manual (PFM) that does not require infill lots to be connected to public water," Hyland said.

"The property owners are shocked that in our day and age for a lot of their size the builder was not required to connect to a public water source. As the price of land in Fairfax County continues to rise, homes on larger lots may subdivide into less than three lots or be developed on infill lots and not be required to provide adequate infrastructure," he stated.

Although Fairfax Water has been working with the homeowners and submitted a proposal to connect the property to public water, the price, according to Hyland, is "not insignificant." Therefore, Hyland requested that the County Executive determine if there are any grants, loans or programs that "may help defray the cost to provide public water to the home owners at 1400 Alexandria Avenue."

In the larger picture, he suggested staff look at deficiencies in the PFM, "and if legally permissible, make amendments to provide current public improvements." He also stated, "If a lot is within a certain distance to a public water supply, we should require the property developer to connect to that supply."

Hyland moved that the Board of Supervisors direct the County Executive, County Attorney and DPWES "determine whether the Board can make amendments to the PFM to require public improvements as required in the subdivision ordinance on lots recorded before the effective date of that ordinance." His motion was approved.