Proposed Zoning Review Sparks Debate in Ravenwood Park

An empty lot of land in the Seven Corners area is causing quite a stir for area residents.

An empty lot of land in the Seven Corners area is causing quite a stir for area residents.

The 1.89-acre lot at 3236 Peace Valley Lane once held a 100-year-old farmhouse, but because the house had fallen into disrepair, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors called for the house to be demolished under the Spot Blight Abatement Ordinance in September 2010.

That same day, the property came into the ownership of Rialto Capital Management, a company which buys distressed properties as real estate investment. Since then, the parcel has been the source of much redevelopment speculation, and the latest move by Fairfax County Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross has both heightened that speculation and sparked concern and discussion from area residents.

In a Feb. 17 column in the News-Press, Gross said that she had put forth a motion at the Board of Supervisors meeting to consider what the appropriate residential density of the land should be.

“My motion said that we wanted staff to look at the parcel and determine the appropriate residential density,” Gross said in an interview with the News-Press. “It does not presuppose anything.”

The motion sets forth a process of public meetings, and consideration of the parcel by professional planners in the Fairfax Department of Planning and Zoning.

“It is an entirely public process that will take several months,” Gross said.

This process could result in an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan is the state-required set of guidelines that each county has, which lays out what type of buildings should be established in each area of the county.

Neighboring communities to the property contain single-family homes, townhouses and condominiums. The Peace Valley Lane property is zoned R3, which means that three houses can be built on every acre of land. When the Comprehensive Plan was reviewed in 2005, as it is reviewed every five years, a developer put forth a proposal to have the zoning changed to allow townhouses to be built on the property.

“That proposal was withdrawn before it could be considered by the Area Plan Review Task Force,” Gross said. “There was a lot of community opposition and the developer decided to withdraw it.”

Gross says that, though 2011 is an off-year for reviewing the Comprehensive Plan, she wants the property’s zoning to be reviewed because the lot has changed. In 2010, the farmhouse still sat on the property, but because it was demolished in January of this year, things are now different.

The prospect that this review may result in changing the zoning of the lot to allow for greater residential density has residents in Ravenwood Park and neighboring communities concerned.

According to Ravenwood Park Citizens Association Co-President Carol Turner, the lot’s former owner was an active member of the association, which was founded in 1957 and includes 253 single-family homes, primarily red brick, post-war constructions.

Though the farmhouse was many years older than many of the homes in the association, the leadership of Ravenwood Park Citizens Association has an interest in the property not only because of its former owner’s involvement, but also because of the impact that development could have on the other residents of Ravenwood.

“Our position is not knee-jerk,” RPCA Co-President John Iekel told the News-Press this week. “We just seek rational development that takes into consideration the needs and concerns of the established neighborhoods.”

Of particular concern is the impact that more families living in the area would have on traffic.

Currently, Peace Valley Lane is divided. The portion that connects to Leesburg Pike is privately owned by the Church of Christ and Vinewood Place and access from that road is provided to the 1.89-acre lot. The other portion of Peace Valley Lane, on the opposite side of the lot, wraps around the Ravenwood community. There is currently no light at the intersection of Leesburg Pike and Peace Valley Lane, which Turner says has caused traffic congestion for the residents which would be made worse if more people were using that road.

“You have a lot of people in the Lafayette Park condos who have problems with traffic,” Turner said.

Drainage issues as well concern the association heads. Iekel says trees that were removed during the demolition of the farmhouse, which sits at the top of a hill, might change the way water flows down the hill and a greater number of residences on the property might exacerbate drainage problems.

“We have very real concerns with what’s going to happen with all of these houses now that all of these trees are gone,” Iekel said.

Area residents feel that development that is inconsistent with the rest of the neighborhood would hinder what they feel may someday be an historic neighborhood, he said.

“I really would like to have it become historical because we were one of the first suburbs in 1957 that attracted the young professionals and military professionals,” said Turner, who has lived on Sargent Drive since 1992. She added that the community was a Federal Housing Administration-planned neighborhood carefully planned to maintain trees and put in adequate sidewalks.

“Not one of the houses has been replaced,” said Iekel, who has lived on Diamond Drive for the past 12 and a half years. “That says a lot about the continuity of the neighborhood.”

But beyond their concerns about what an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan might bring about, the RPCA co-presidents are also concerned with the greater issue of what they see as amendments harming the integrity of the plan, resulting in development of higher density throughout the area.

“The Comprehensive Plan is there for a reason, and so are the current zoning rules,” Iekel said. “They weren’t formed in a vacuum. We are concerned with the precedent that would be created with changing the land that is zoned only for single-family houses. For more and more properties to be redeveloped, that is something that we would really prefer to not happen.”

Gross said changes to the Comprehensive Plan are common and necessary.

“We have these kinds of reviews are going on all over the county all of the time,” Gross said. “Rather than wait five years, sometimes there is a need – when the situation has changed, as it did in this piece of property – to go back and look and see if we can figure out what the best use of this property is from a residential perspective. If you had to wait every five years to do something, that would be pretty stagnant.”