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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Wilburdale community opposes infill housing development

Houses are proposed for this property on Sunset Lane in Annandale

Residents of Wilburdale, Annandale Acres, Sunset Lane, and surrounding communities came out in force to a recent Mason Land Use Committee meeting to register their opposition to a proposed infill development close to the intersection of Backlick Road and Braddock Road.

Ana Cornejo, the owner of two houses at 4954 Sunset Lane wants to tear one down and build three more on her 2.17-acre wooded lot and add a private driveway onto Backlick.

Neighbors’ number-one concern is the developers’ inadequate plan for storm water management, says Kate Sriwardene, president of the Wilburdale Civic Association. But that’s not all. “The property is an eyesore, with lots of cars and work trucks,” she said.

Even more troubling is the relentless infill development going on all over the area, with larger properties chopped up into smaller and smaller lots. “We see Annandale as a sanctuary inside the Beltway,” Sriwardene says. With all the development going on, “it’s no longer the Annandale that I like and want to raise my kids in.”

After the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (BOS) approved Cornejo’s zoning special exception to build three houses on the property a couple of years ago, a group of neighbors filed suit. Last April, the Fairfax County Circuit Court ruled the BOS exceeded its authority under the Dillon Rule by approving the zoning change and waiving the rules on lot width.

4954 Sunset Lane
To get around that, Cornejo is now applying for a special exception under a different zoning category—Planned Development Housing (PDH-2)—which calls for the creation of a homeowners association. “This type of zoning sets a precedent that a planned development is okay. It’s not okay,” Sriwardene says.

Cornejo reportedly wants her sons to live in the new houses. But what if they don’t? “She will have trouble selling them because they would be on very small lots with a shared driveway onto a busy road,” Sriwardene said. “Who’s going to want to pay HOA dues for a property like that?”

Sriwardene told the Mason District Land Use Committee it was “very upsetting” that Mason Supervisor Penny Gross waived Cornejo’s $28,000 rezoning fee.

Committee member Janet Hall, who also represents Mason District on the Fairfax County Planning Commission, defended Gross. “I don’t think you should judge Penny harshly for waiving the fee,” she said, because Cornejo already paid lots of money in fees and it’s not her fault that the matter has to be reviewed again. 
Every time an application comes in, “we treat it as if it was brand new,” Hall said. “This application has to stand on its own,” and having the fee waived “doesn’t mean it will be approved.”

At the committee meeting, Blake Smith of Smith Engineering, who represents Cornejo, said the development plans include two infiltration trenches and an eight-foot pit of gravel under a grass swale to control drainage.

Wilburdale resident Frank Parrotta, who has done extensive research on water runoff issues in the community, argued that Smith’s proposal is insufficient to prevent flooding of nearby homes. The Cornejo property is at a higher elevation than surrounding houses, and water runoff from that property flows through a culvert under Backlick Road. Several Wilburdale homes were flooded in September following Tropical Storm Lee.

Local residents also expressed confusion over who would be responsible for maintaining the drainage system. It was suggested that the new HOA would manage the stormwater controls, but several people questioned whether that would work, especially since the drainage system would benefit other homeowners downstream from the new houses.

Sriwardene complained at the hearing that the developer, Keith Martin of Tramonte Yeonas and Roberts, kept changing the plans. For example, he told community members in November the new houses would be supported by a 12-foot retaining wall. Then, at the December meeting, he said there would be a four-foot wall, and the houses would be built into the hillside. “They’ve been duplicitous,” she says.

A resident of the Sunset Village homeowners association said traffic is already a problem on Backlick, and another access road “would be a nightmare.”

“Why do we keep rezoning?” asked another resident. “We’re not interested in more and more houses. It will create problems with access, egress, and traffic, as well as water.”

According to Hall, the property owner could have three houses on the property by right—which means the land wouldn’t have to be rezoned and the community wouldn’t have any input in the development or drainage issues. Putting in four houses, however, gives the neighbors an opportunity to present their concerns to county officials, which could lead to having the proposal amended.

“It isn’t a case of no development,” Hall said. “There are tradeoffs. It’s up to you to decide if it’s a benefit to you.”

Mason Land Use Committee chair Roy Lounsbury said the committee will discuss the rezoning proposal again at its January meeting and might or might not come to a decision at that time. He said the committee hasn’t seen architectural renderings of the houses and would need to see them before voting on the development. 

The Planning Commission is scheduled to take up the matter Feb. 23. 


  1. Kate Sriwardene12/6/11, 1:46 PM

    With regards to by rights: By right means the lots are going to be at least ONE HALF ACRE. By law, Mrs. Cornejo will not be able to have these ridiculously small .16 acre, .23 acre and .21 of an acre lots. This is the law.

    Also, do you think the County will want to take on the storm water runoff now that there is no HOA in place to "maintain" it? Therefore, this may very well be a case of "no development." Let's also remember that VDOT has a hand in this game, and we shall see where they come down on all of this. I will keep you informed.

    Also, even if 1) the sons don't live in the houses and 2) she chooses or is unable to sell she will have to rent. Considering the state of the property now, we are looking at 3x the issues. The County cannot afford more of these "over-populated" and ill-maintained houses. Nor can we.

    Your article was very fair and well-detailed I thought. It's funny, though, how Ms. Hall contradicts herself by saying each application has to be taken individually and in the same breath defends Ms. Gross on waiving the fee.

  2. As a person that has nothing to do with this, it seems to me that Penny Gross did the right thing. Can you imagine having to pay the zoning fee of $28,000 more than once after being granted the permit initially. While I am generally not a fan of Penny's, I hope she would treat me the same way if a similar situation arose. Frankly, it is a good thing the other board members didn't find out, I don't believe they have ever turned down money.

    One more thing, look out for Tessie Wilson, if the zoning goes through she may try and re-district that "attendance island" out of the Annandale High district, God forbid any middle class students attend Annandale High. Just 25 more days left to deal with Tessie's Mason District hating ways.

  3. Penny Gross frequently sides with developers - just sayin'...

  4. OR - Penny was saving face because she and the Board overstepped their authority by granting lot waiver widths. The court determined the Board acted beyond the scope of it's authority,they were astonished, no doubt, and so before the new application was even filed, they waived the fee.
    When a person files an application for a waiver, they know there are risks involved and it's not always granted. Further, this is a completely different and new application, as stated by Janet Hall, the Planning Commissioner, and therefore should have been treated that way. Perhaps the Board should have done it's due dilligence on the question of lot waiver widths instead of assuming that they would - once again - go unchallenged.

  5. They are gonna hear fromt the people - you can bet on that!

  6. PDH zoning isn't that unusual, reports Fairfax County Public Information Officer Brian Worthy. "Because most of the residential development in the county these days is infill, this is actually a very common zoning category, according to our planners. So, it’s not unusual that the applicant would seek rezoning under this category," Worthy says.

    For example, he notes, the Board of Supervisors approved a PDH rezoning in September about a quarter mile from the Cornejo property. The applicant, UPIA LLC, plans to add nine more lots to a 15-house development at 4727 and 4735 Backlick Road.

  7. UPIA - Ugliest Property in Annandale - and they formed just to make a $$ killing on this lot with the "blessing" of Penny and company...
    And OF COURSE the Board approved the PDH rezoning... Penny and her gang never met an infill application they didn't like... even the Degroff properties on Backlick that was so poorly engineering (with the blessing of Penny et al) that Annandale Acres and Wilburdale are drowning. THANKS PENNY

    So just because it's not unusual and just because the BOH approves at will does not make it a good thing. Plus, we are waking up now and we will be heard and the truth will get out there.