Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


Do homebuilders have a right to a never-ending construction project?

That’s the riddle among neighbors at 23rd and North Quantico streets, where contractor and lot owner John D. Clayborne has spent some eight years putting finishing touches on a new brick colonial.


His shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Construction has divided neighborhood opinion, prompted calls to Arlington authorities and spawned speculation on the hidden back story.

My calls to Clayborne went unreturned, though his staffer assured me last April that the palace-in-progress would be polished off by May. We’re still waiting.

“The house is an eyesore,” says Patsy Acheson, who views the lot from her front porch. “We have looked at the uncut grass, the port-a-potty and the dumpster for many years, and people regularly throw trash and bottles on the lot.”

Tom Curtis, who lives one house down from the property that eventually may contain three other new homes, says: “No one around the neighborhood can make sense of a house under construction for all those years. It has given rise to rumors because no one can imagine a legitimate reason. I’ll just be glad when we can say hello to some new neighbors and goodbye to the dumpster.”

In December 2008, five police cars pulled up to the semi-house. “The contractor called because he showed up and couldn’t get inside,” police spokeswoman Crystal Nosal told me. The officers “located a stolen car stripped of parts in the garage. It wasn’t a chop shop per se,” she says. “Not a big deal. An isolated incident.”

A code official told me he has pressured the contractor, but Clayborne enjoys use of a grandfather clause in the state code, which, until 2006, contained a loophole. Under the old code, “there was no time frame for a building permit as long as you showed some movement every six months,” says James Anjam, chief of Arlington’s inspection section. “That could mean anything, such as buying a nail from Home Depot.” The code that took effect in 2008 caps permit duration at three years, Anjam says. Clayborne recently removed the port-a-potty and some debris and promised him finality in two-three weeks.

Not all neighbors are impatient with the slow-motion builder. Joan Silverman, who lives next door, says “he’s not building junk-there will be a $1 million home.”

Her acceptance came after an evolution. When she arrived in 1993, the Clayborne lot was a lovely “forest with trees and bushes,” and she cried when the bulldozers came.

Vic Duca Cora, who lives a block away, is also “not particularly bothered. The site is always pretty neat, the disruption of traffic virtually nonexistent,” he says.

The homeowner right across the street, Lee Cooper, stands firmly in the fed-up camp. “I don’t mind that it has been vacant for all that time except for the occasional chop-shop or vagrant,” she says, “and I don’t mind that the yard on occasion has become a jungle that needs to be tamed, or that construction deliveries are made infrequently at the crack of dawn and pallets of bricks remain in the yard for months, or that sometimes a dumpster carries a stench around the neighborhood. What I do mind is that three more houses are supposed to be built on the property. If they each take as long, that will be 24 years!”



Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at cclarkjedd@aol.com