Confusion on The River

Confusion on The River

House is built on the Potomac, but not according to plan.

Jim Davis heard about the plan to build a house on the Potomac at a meeting in 2002. It would have put the house a few hundred feet from the river, and seemed to meet the requirements of the Mount Vernon Council of Civic Associations.

"The original [plan] seemed too good to be true," Davis told the Fairfax County Planning Commission on May 18.

But the house that was built doesn't match the plan. "One could characterize it as the old bait and switch," Davis said.

Houses built in floodplains — this one is in the Potomac's floodplain — require an extra level of permitting than a normal house. In December 2002, the Board of Supervisors granted Scott and Phyllis Crabtree permission to build a 7,000 square foot house on a 1.3-acre lot at 8019 East Boulevard Drive. In November 2004, during the construction of the house, county staff realized that the building permits had not mentioned the existence of the extra permits and conditions.

Construction stopped, and in the discussions that followed, staff noted some discrepancies between the permit and the actual house.

The conditions allowed them to import 11 cubic yards of dirt to help level the site. They have used 241.5, according to the Department of Planning and Zoning staff report.

The house as built also had more impervious surface and disturbed land than the permits would allow, according to the staff report. Impervious surface increases the amount of stormwater which runs into the river, and can have a negative impact on the water quality.

The homeowners said they had not realized the mistake. "They did believe that they were proceeding in accordance with the prior approval," said Lynne Strobel, attorney for the Crabtrees.

AFTER COUNTY staff identified the problems, they realized that the corrections would require action of the Board of Supervisors, so they initiated the process which brought the house to the Planning Commission.

Most of the problems can be traced to a paved underground parking structure which uses a concrete slab.

The house was always to have underground parking, Strobel said, and the original plans envisioned that it would have impervious surface. "I think there has to be an acknowledgment that there would be some sort of surface," she said.

County staff believed that the underground parking would have a dirt surface, said Valerie Tucker of the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services. Tucker also said that the house is built five-to-seven feet closer to the river than had been shown on the plans.

Planning Commissioner John Byers (Mount Vernon) noted that the house was to be built on pilings, which it is. The dirt from the pilings was to be used as the fill dirt, which is why only about 11 additional cubic yards would be necessary, Byers said. He asked why when the plan called for one amount, the builders thought that they could use almost 22 times more.

"How did you decide to ignore that?" he said.

The initial plan failed to accommodate for the slope of the property, and did not include the concrete slab in the calculations, said George O'Quinn of Dominion Surveyors, a company working for the homeowners.

In order to address the problems, county staff recommends that the homeowners remove an existing carport in order to reduce the amount of impervious surface. They also seek to mandate additional plantings.

The Planning Commission deferred its decision until May 31. The plan will then have to go the Board of Supervisors for another public hearing and final decision.