Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

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Few ideas generate more community conversation than land use, whether a two-acre residential parcel, a full scale shopping center, or a Tyson’s Corner redevelopment. The future of a parcel of land in the Seven Corners area presents that opportunity, which is why I made a motion at last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting to authorize consideration of a Comprehensive Plan Amendment to determine the appropriate residential density for the infill parcel known as 3236 Peace Valley Lane. There is nothing in the language of the motion that presupposes or advocates townhouse development. The property is located adjacent to single family detached homes (1950s era) on the south and west, townhomes (built in the mid-1980s) on the north, and a church (c.1959), and multifamily condominiums (built in 1964; renovated in 1984) on the east.

The site was developed decades ago with a house and outbuildings accessed from Leesburg Pike via a narrow driveway. By the late 1990s, then a rental, the property gradually fell into disrepair, and was put up for sale. In the 2005 Area Plans Review, a nomination was proposed to change the zoning from R 3 (three dwelling units per acre) to R 5-8 (townhouses). The nomination subsequently was withdrawn; the property continued to deteriorate and, in 2009, the county opened an investigation for blight. In September 2010, on my motion, the Board of Supervisors, unanimously, invoked the Spot Blight Abatement Ordinance and ordered the owner to demolish the structures. Coincidentally, the property was sold at auction on the courthouse steps the same day, so the new owner, a financial institution in Florida, was responsible for demolition. By mid-January, the structures were razed and the Ordinance satisfied.

The now-vacant property represents an opportunity, as well as a challenge, for compatible infill residential development. A Plan Amendment would provide a structure for discussion and consideration by the community and staff that did not happen in 2005. Given the property’s location, access must be examined as part of the proposed amendment. Today, a vacated right-of-way, legally owned by the church and the townhouse community, leads to the private driveway from Leesburg Pike; at the back of the property, an existing street dead ends nearby, so frontage is not clear, even though the property has a Peace Valley Lane address.
In a conventional by right subdivision, a developer submits a site plan and, after technical review, can get a building permit from the county. No development conditions may be placed on the property, no opportunity for proffers, and the community has no input into the layout, design, siding (e.g. brick vs. vinyl), buffer and landscape, etc. The developer could clear-cut the property, and back up the new homes as close as 25 feet to the neighbors’ property line. That would certainly change the view out the back window!

There are other options that might be considered in the Plan Amendment process, and that attract positive community input to ensure compatible development. For instance, PDH (Planned Density Housing) or cluster housing could provide homes on smaller lots that provide almost twice the setback distance from adjacent properties, designated tree save, supplemental landscaping, proffers, negotiated design elements, and settle the access issues. This potential housing style could provide an appropriate transition between the existing R-8 townhomes of Vinewood and the R-3 homes of Ravenwood Park, and buffer the institutional and multifamily uses nearby.

Fairfax County’s land use process provides for rational, if spirited, conversations and community discussions, based on accurate information. Public meetings with county planning staff will be announced as the Plan Amendment process is scheduled throughout the coming months.

 


Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]