|One of the first things people saw after leaving a forum on code compliance were cars illegally parked on the grass on Columbia Pike.|
A Community Forum on Code Compliance, hosted by the Annandale Roundtable May 22, was aimed at educating residents, including immigrants, about community norms on property maintenance rules they might not be familiar with. Mason Supervisor Penny Gross told the audience, “there is a learning curve,” noting that, “for many people in this room, this will be new information.”
|Department of Code Compliance investigator Elvis Bello speaks at the community forum.|
Organizers of the forum, held at the Annandale United Methodist Church (AUMC) on Columbia Pike, strove for an atmosphere of civility and respectfulness. Previous meetings on code compliance issues were dominated by complaints from homeowners who feel rules on property maintenance aren’t being enforced.
Annandale Roundtable member Rev. Clarence Brown, senior pastor at AUMC, set the tone by opening the meeting with a prayer. Brown called the forum “one way to engender a community where everyone is able to thrive.”
The Annandale Roundtable is an informal group of community stakeholders formed in response to the Dialogues on Diversity organized by the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services (NCS) and held at Annandale High School in 2011 and 2012.
The auditorium was packed as the forum started. But there was a steady flow of people leaving once things got started. Everything said by the presenters was translated first into Korean, then Spanish, a time-consuming process helpful for many in the audience, but perhaps tedious for the native English speakers.
The session was facilitated by Elisa Lueck of NCS. Elvis Bello and Vicky Dzierzek, investigators with the Fairfax County Department of Code Compliance, presented an overview of what’s allowed in terms of county codes and zoning ordinances on building safety, multiple occupancy, business signage, home-based businesses, hoarding, and home and yard maintenance.
|Temporary banners, like this one on a convenience store on Columbia Pike in Bailey's Crossroads, are prohibited.|
These are huge issues in Mason District, which has an aging housing stock, a lack of affordable housing, and a demographic mix dominated by aging homeowners and young families from other countries.
When it comes to overcrowding, Bello said, a family plus two unrelated people can share a house or four unrelated people can live together. Any more than that is not allowed. Homeowners cannot carve out a second dwelling unit in a single-family house. That means a house can’t have a separate unit with a food preparation area, sleeping area, living area, and bathroom.
Also prohibited are junkyards with more than five inoperable vehicles, backyard storage areas full of appliances or building materials, and cars parked on the grass.
Code inspectors give homeowners a period of time to fix a problem. Unsafe conditions that could be a fire or health hazard, like faulty electrical wiring or the lack of egress, need to be addressed immediately. If property owners fail to fix a problem, they are taken to court.
The most frequent complaints have to do with signage, Bello said. Businesses are not allowed to have temporary banners on their buildings, for example. Large trucks in parking lots with banners are also not allowed.
Complaints can be submitted to the Department of Code Compliance online or by calling 703-324-1300.