At press time Wednesday night, the Fairfax County Planning Commission was set to hold a public hearing for 10 new townhouses proposed for 1.7 acres on ODay Drive, off Stone Road in Centreville.
JUST 24 HOURS earlier, the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA) Land-Use Committee voted 8-1 to approve the project. After the meeting, residents of neighboring Woodgate Manor — who'd fought against the scope of the proposal — headed for home, but planned to keep battling.
"I'm disappointed, but it's what I expected," said Karen Wedekindt, on Woodgate Manor's board of directors. "I still wanted two less homes."
To be called The Courts at Riverwind, the new townhouse community would be built about 1,000 feet from the ODay/Route 29 intersection.
Although the neighborhood would have a density of 5.72 units per acres, the project needs the county's approval for a rezoning from one home per acre to eight homes per acre. But Woodgate Manor residents object to that high a density there.
Planned are 3 1/2-story, 2,600-square-foot, luxury townhomes. And Mark Jenkins, representing the owners of the property where it would be built, told the WFCCA that, over the past several years, "This area has developed as predominantly townhouses," so the new ones would be compatible.
He also noted that 13 townhouses were originally planned but, in deference to citizen and county concerns, three were deleted. "And lowering the number of units also allowed us to improve the landscaping and maximize tree preservation," said Jenkins. "We pushed the units into the center [of the site] as much as possible, and we have a 25-foot preservation area along the northern boundary."
THE DEVELOPERS also hope to save two, large tulip poplar trees on the property and will route an asphalt trail to link up with an already-existing trail in the Big Rocky Run Stream Valley Park to the east.
And in response to requests from residents, as well as Sully District Planning Commissioner Ron Koch, they agreed to include a blasting proffer to protect the neighbors in case of damage resulting from site work for the new homes.
Earlier, Woodgate Manor residents had complained that the new townhouses would be 1 1/2 stories higher than their homes, so Jenkins said, "We're lowering the elevation of the homes about six feet so they should be equal in height to the existing dwellings."
However, the developers are asking for a waiver of the 25-foot, transitional-screening barrier between the new community and the 13 single-family homes on ODay because there's only room for 14 feet. Although behind the Woodgate Manor homes, said Jenkins, "There's about 120 feet between the two properties, plus a tree-buffer area."
But the nearest resident, Hong Zhang, adamantly disagreed with Jenkins' calculations and with any waiver — especially since the backyard of one of the new townhouses would be in his front yard. Jenkins said the part of the townhouse that would face Zhang's home would be a garage without windows and there'll be a fence as a barrier atop a retaining wall there, but that didn't make Zhang any happier.
"I've no problem with people buying a piece of land or the county rezoning it," he told the WFCCA. "But this is discrimination against individual homeowners. There's actually 94 feet between my house and his, and 11 feet to the retaining wall."
Zhang accused the developers of "misleading" people with their figures. "From those houses to mine is 28 feet, going downhill," he said. "It's too close to my home. Fairfax County's regulation requires 25 feet between properties, and I want it, to protect my home from the blasting."
BUT JENKINS replied that the law provides nearly 17 modifications of that regulation. "Hong will see over the retaining wall," he said. "But it will only be visible from our side."
Still, said WFCCA's Chris Terpak-Malm, "Driving up ODay, you'll see the retaining wall first, before you see Mr. Zhang's home. Can you do it on a diagonal and angle it to lessen its visual impact?" Matt Marshall, the developers' civil engineer, with Land Design Consultants, said they already planned to do it that way so they could protect a maple tree there.
Jenkins said an additional 7-foot wall originally planned as another barrier between Zhang's home and the new community has been eliminated and, instead, the developers will plant holly there. "Within one to two years, these hollies should have grown up to form a green barrier," said Jenkins. "And we've proffered that these [townhouse] units cannot add additions that'll encroach further toward [the adjacent property]."
Noting the 11 feet from the property line to the fence, in the site's southwest corner, WFCCA's Ted Troscianecki asked who'd maintain that space, and Jenkins said the new homeowners association would. Troscianecki then advised Woodgate Manor residents to consider letting the new community be part of its homeowners association. Terpak-Malm agreed, saying, "Very small homeowners associations are very difficult to manage."
Robert Miller, head of Woodgate Manor's homeowners association, also expressed concern. "We have 284 units, and I have a hard time seeing how 10 units can be a functional board and maintain the retaining wall [area]," he said.
The association's attorney said that, under Woodgate Manor's covenants, "There's no possibility for annexation," but the two associations could merge and become one. However, she warned, "It requires 2/3 homeowner approval" and the new community would first have to establish its own association.
But WFCCA's Russ Wanek had serious doubts. "I don't see how 10 homes with their own homeowners association would work," he said. "So I don't see how it could go forward for the merger." Jenkins replied that they'd just have to take it "step by step."
Meanwhile, Woodgate Manor's Karen Wedekindt worried about the blasting. "We feel a little better, now that we have a blasting proffer," she said. "But we don't want to have to fight for reimbursement [for damages]. We want protection and prevention beforehand. And we want a blasting insurance policy from the contractor, and damage claims verified by more than that contractor's consultant."
SHE SAID she'd e-mail her list of conditions to Jenkins, and Troscianecki asked him to consider them. But, said Jenkins, "I don't think it's appropriate that we say there's no evidentiary standard required [for payment of blasting-damage claims]."
Wedekindt was also concerned that the proposed entrance to the new neighbhorhood would be downhill from Zhang's house, on ODay "in a dip where people's cars disappear from view." But Marshall said the grade "will be pushed back at the entrance so people will be able to see a minimum of 335 feet in either direction, at the curve, as is required legally."
At-Large Planning Commissioner Jim Hart said this whole situation illustrates what happens in infill-development situations. "As we run out of land, we have these little pieces that didn't develop," he said. "If we can bring people together on the details on which [they] disagree, it would help."
But 13-year Woodgate Manor resident Sharon Condelas was upset with the county Board of Supervisors for encouraging and supporting ever-more development. Because of it, she said, "My quality of life has declined steadily. The painful traffic on Routes 28/29 affects ODay Drive, and my child's new school already has trailers."
Part of the problem, said Condelas, is that "whenever higher-density projects are approved, it affects us. I know we're just a small drop in the bucket, but it's my bucket and it's important to me."
The WFCCA then approved the townhouse proposal, 8-1, with only Wanek voting no. "This has been a challenging case, and we appreciate the community involvement," WFCCA Chairman Jim Katcham told the Woodgate Manor contingent. "You've helped make this a better project."