Local Commentary

A Penny For Your Thoughts: The News of Greater Falls Church

Zoning and building code enforcement in neighborhoods took center stage Mon-day as the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors endorsed Chairman Gerry Connolly’s proposal to create a “strike force” of county agencies to address ordinance and safety code violations in our community. Noting that it is the county’s responsibility to “protect the integrity of neighborhoods from commercial intrusion,” Chairman Connolly said that repeated attempts to bring about voluntary compliance by scofflaws are failing.

Enforcement concerns include the inability to improve properties that appear blighted, but do not meet the statutory definition of blight; delays due to the difficulty of serving notices of violation to the appropriate owner of record; and inadequate fines for operating “boarding” houses. The County’s Zoning Ordinance allows families, and up to two boarders, to reside in a housing unit. Families may be any number of people related by blood or by marriage, the definition promulgated by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Except for group homes, which are allowed under the Federal Fair Housing Act, no more than four unrelated persons may occupy a home. This addresses the problem of unregulated “fraternity” houses near college campuses.   

The strike force will work with neighborhoods to achieve rapid and thorough enforcement of the Zoning Ordinance, Building Code and related health and safety codes, and will include staff from Zoning Enforcement, the police department, health department, fire marshal, sheriff’s office, housing and community development, public works, and the County Attorney’s office. It will take several weeks to identify the strike force staff and, perhaps, the need for additional funding. Caution also was expressed that community education is needed to remove any potential for the strike force becoming storm troopers. However, the Board, by unanimous voice vote, supported the effort, and is confident that this new approach, properly utilized, will address some of the egregious violations that rob neighborhoods of their integrity, property values, and fundamental sense of fairness and community.

Several constituents have contacted me about letters they received last week, offering them the “opportunity” to take part in a Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) program. The letters arrived in an envelope marked “Property Information for County of Fairfax;” the letterhead referred to “Census Tract Data, Annandale, VA 22003;” and the letter indicated that “you may be entitled to cash in an amount of up to $46,000.” Phone numbers and e-mail information made it sound very legitimate, but when a constituent called, she discovered that the whole thing is a come-on for a loan company. At my request, the Board asked the county’s Consumer Protection Division to review the information. The information conveyed in the letter to the property owner, in fact, may not be illegal, but it certainly is deceptive. Homeowners should be cautioned to discard, perhaps even shred, such mail.