Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Location of Railroad Cottage Proposal is Not Good

By Julie Harrison

Have you heard of railroad cottages?

In real estate, there is a famous mantra: Location, location, location. That is an apt saying for this project, except it should be wrong location, wrong location, wrong location.

A developer and his partners (a realtor and an architect) recently purchased a one and one quarter acre triangle-shaped plot of land zoned for three houses…yet they are proposing building 11 houses. The site is located next to the W&OD Trail, at the end of a narrow dead-end alleyway. The name “railroad cottages” is meant to evoke a sense that the houses are small. In fact, they will be two-story, 1,500 square feet, two bedroom, plus den. The only thing “small” is the space between each building: just six feet. This is very tight.

Current zoning dictates 30 feet between structures. The project is age-restricted, targeted to “seniors” (age 55+), and the proposed “mid-range/ affordable” price point is approximately $650,000 – 700,000. To get permission to build, the developer must convince the Planning Commission and City Council that it is not a bad idea to change the zoning.

Here’s why it is a bad idea: Public safety/fire emergency response risk, density, inadequate parking, excessive traffic for this type of street, storm water drainage issues (Tripps Run is parallel to the site), negatively changing the experience for the users of the W&OD trail, increased neighborhood noise levels, removal of almost all vegetation and existing trees (which will effectively displace wildlife including foxes, raccoons, deer, birds, etc), and diminishing property values by changing the zoning.

This site is zoned R-1A (residential). Next is R-1B. Both designations mean single-family, but the lot sizes are smaller in B. RM is multi-family, RC is cluster or townhouses (think Winter Hill). Homeowners purchase their houses knowing what the zoning is, and the price reflects that. This proposal would be considered condominiums. The whole point of zoning regulations is to provide consistency. City Council passed an ordinance a few years ago stating that lots can no longer be subdivided. Why would they go against this? The City is setting themselves up for significant legal issues if they alter zoning that could negatively affect residents’ property values.

The simple geometry of the site (shaped like a wedge of pie) does not lend itself to good design. The plan has the minimum amount of green space, and the maximum amount of cement and buildings, with very poor access. The neighbors and I are not opposed to the concept of cottage housing, just not at this awkwardly-shaped location at the end of a dead-end alley. A better suited location would be (for example) the Bowling Alley site, or Jefferson Avenue (if those were available).

Other issues: density and lack of parking. Carport parking will only provide for 10 cars, when there might be two cars per family, or even more. Our parking projections predict anywhere from 25-30 cars at any time. Where will everyone park? They will be forced to park a block away on Fowler Street (part of Fairfax County, not Falls Church), as Railroad is a fire lane, marked “No Parking.” This is a long walk for anyone carrying groceries, especially if the person is elderly. Traffic is also a major concern, as the residents of the new houses would generate up to 57 car “trips” in/out of this dead-end every day. This more than triples the current traffic.

Myself and other neighbors have started a petition against this project, and have amassed over 150 signatures (via an online petition, as well as a separate hard copy one). Obviously, many people are upset by the proposal.

The development plan is intended to maximize the builder’s profits, with little consideration for the impact to the current residents. As taxpayers, we are committed to maintaining the integrity of our neighborhood, our quality of life and environment — which are now jeopardized.

Have you heard of railroad cottages?


Julie Harrison is a seven-year resident of the City of Falls Church and lives with her family directly behind the proposed railroad cottages building site.