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Votes

Board Backs Beulah Development

Plan will bring 11 new homes; activists fear potential precedent.

The Board of Supervisors approved an 11-house development off Beulah Road sparking fears about the way density was calculated.

Neighboring residents came to Monday’s public hearing to speak against the proposal, as they had before the Planning Commission two weeks ago.

They raised many of the same concerns about the type of stormwater management facility that will be used, and about the density of the new development.

The 11-house development will go on just under four acres, giving it an overall density of 2.75 houses per acre. The surrounding development has a density of 2.23 houses per acre, according to the calculations taken in 1977 when it was built.

The difference caused some residents to say that the new development does not match up. County regulations require new developments to fit into the existing neighborhoods. “We believe that the development does not fit into the fabric of the adjacent neighborhood,” said Adam Shayne, a nearby resident.

Other residents say that the new houses will be much bigger than the existing neighborhood. “If you are going to start looking at density, you have to start looking at mass and bulk,” said Jeff Anderson, another nearby resident.

The Comprehensive Plan calls for the area to be developed at 2-3 houses per acre, a criterion the development meets. The plan does not specify any maximum size for houses, except to set minimum distances between the edge of the lot and the walls of the house, a so-called setback. The plan meets all required setbacks.

“The Comprehensive Plan has shown two-to-three dwelling Units per acre for 30 years,” said George Sekas, the developer of the property. “We’re talking about houses that are designed within the rules.”

WHAT UPSET SOME community activists was an exercise in mathematics done at the request of a planning commissioner. When the existing development, Hawthorne Estates, was built, Fairfax County operated under a different system for computing residential density.

If it were to be built under today’s standards, it would be considered to have a density of 2.64 houses per acre, said Andrew Hushour of the Department of Planning and Zoning. Hushour performed the calculations at the request of Planning Commissioner Frank de la Fe (Hunter Mill) who said he had noticed that the neighborhoods have comparable lot sizes but different density levels.

Jody Bennett of the Vienna area was nervous about the new math. These sorts of calculations could be performed on essentially any development approved prior to 1978. In most cases, it would result in a mathematical increase in density, something Bennett fears could be used to justify higher density in other parts of the county.

“If the board accepts this new way, then we need to put all older neighborhoods on alert,” Bennett said. “This application, if approved, is going to set a precedent that we are going to see over and over again.”

RESIDENTS WERE ALSO concerned with the style of stormwater management being used, an “infiltration trench.” These trenches are essentially long narrow areas designed to be porous and to absorb water from storms. Fairfax County has been using this method to detain stormwater for decades, but has not done so in a situation similar to this one.

Residents fear that, even though engineering calculations show the trenches will be adequate, they might fail.

The developer’s plan meets county requirements as it is designed, but Sekas has pledged to make the trenches even bigger if possible. “If I can make them a little bigger, a little deeper, we will,” he said.

Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) said she hopes that after the development is built, the residents will find it acceptable. She said that in driving through the area, she finds the proposal fits in. “This is so much more in character,” she said.

Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence) said she did not have a problem with the density level. No matter the calculations, she said, the development is within the plan guidelines, and additionally, the county regulations do not require new development to be compatible with the existing neighborhood, not identical.

Smyth did have an issue with the stormwater management system proposed. She said that she believes in infiltration trenches and knows them to work. But in this area there are a number of underground springs. With the springs bubbling up and the stormwater coming down, and Smyth wondered if there might be a problem.

“I would have preferred to see a contingency plan,” she said. Smyth abstained from the vote.

The Board approved the plan by a vote of 8-0-1. Board Chair Gerry Connolly (D) was absent.