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Friday, February 18, 2011

Ravenwood Park steps up fight against townhouses

More than 70 people from Ravenwood Park and surrounding areas gathered at JEB Stuart High School last night to solidify their opposition to the development of townhouses on a small piece of vacant property at 3236 Peace Valley Road, Falls Church. [See map at end of post.]

Just about everybody there signed a petition opposing the proposed townhouses and vowed to accelerate their campaign to urge Mason Supervisor Penny Gross to support their cause. The residents are urging community members to send e-mails to Gross, other supervisors, and other elected leaders and will continue to press their case at a meeting they have scheduled with Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova. Residents from the nearby Vinewood townhouses and Lafayette Park condominium also signed the petition.

Carol Turner, the co-president of the Ravenwood Park Civic Association, who led the meeting, says a higher-density development would mar the character of the neighborhood and would lead to more traffic and crime. The community members recognize that the property will be developed, but would prefer single-family houses rather than townhouses.

A derelict 1890s-era farmhouse on the 1.89-acre property, which had been occupied by homeless people, was declared blighted by the county and torn down in December.

The developer, Will Collins of the Concordia Group, has asked the county to change the zoning from R-3 (three dwellings per acre) to R-12, to accommodate his plan to construct 12 townhouses. Community residents are concerned that Gross has agreed to expedite the rezoning process.

Gross outlined her position on the matter in her “A Penny for Your Thoughts” column in the Falls Church News-Press. She says the property “represents an opportunity, as well as a challenge, for compatible infill residential development.” If the zoning is not changed, neither the county nor the community would have as much control over the development, Gross maintains.

“In a conventional by-right subdivision, a develop submits a site plan and, after technical review, can get a building permit from the county,” she states. “No development conditions may be placed on the property, no opportunity for proffers, and the community has no input into the layout, design, siding (e.g. brick vs. vinyl), buffer, and landscape, etc. The developer could clear-cut the property, and back up the new homes as close as 25 feet to the neighbors’ property line.”

Several people at the meeting announced they would accept those conditions as long as they can keep townhouses out of their neighborhood.

The issue is further complicated by the murky real estate situation, Turner says. “We don’t know who owns the property,” although there are indications the owner might be the Rialto, a company based in Florida that buys distressed properties and flips them.

According to Turner, in a meeting with the supervisor, Gross also raised the possibility of opening access to the property from Peace Valley Lane, which is now blocked, if the property is not rezoned. Turner called that a “red herring.”

Some residents appeared puzzled about why Gross seems to be intent on moving ahead with development. Ravenwood Park resident Brad Moss thinks Gross believes no one else would build on that lot, “so we better grab this now.” Tate Linden, who lives on Colmac Drive, directly behind the property, says when Gross was asked if she would oppose the rezoning if 100 percent of our community said they don’t want the townhouses, “she said she’d have to think about it.”

Jonathan Marashlian, who also lives on Colmac, says. “You can’t trust anything Will Collins says. I’m beginning to think the same thing about Penny.” And Jorge O. Badie, who lives on Ravenwood Drive, adds: Gross doesn’t understand that “we do not want townhouses in our backyard. She must think that we are not accounted for on issues that concern us. She forgot that she is supposed to work for us and not against us.”

All this could have an impact on Gross’ re-election campaign. In fact, one community leader from a different neighborhood in Annandale who attended the meeting in support of the residents, acknowledged she is considering running against Gross next November.

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  1. Good post. We do not want this re-zoning. Supervisor Gross needs to listen to her constituents instead of increasing the profits of her out-of-state campaign donors.

  2. As if traffic is not enough. We are not a city but a residential area where families should have room. I don't want Annandale to turn into Crystal City. I hope someone really good challenges Penny Gross. I would never vote for her after her lack of concern for the neighborhood. We do not need townhouses.

  3. Just looked at the map. Oh my, that is not good. The traffic situation is already a mess. Sure put more multiple dwellings in and really muck up the situation. I hope Penny is voted out. Can't be soon enough for me.

  4. Thats right off Rte 7. Its hardly bucolic, and not really Annandale. The 28 bus runs nearby, and its not that far from the planned Columbia Pike light rail line. This seems like a pretty reasonable place to put denser housing, at least to me.

    Of course neighboring single-family homeowners prefer new single-family homes to new townhouses. The decision needs to take into account the needs of the whole district (if not the whole county), not just the adjacent subdivisions.

  5. The Falls Church News-Press got so many negative comments to the column by Mason Supervisor Penny Gross about the Ravenwood Park townhouse proposal, the paper asked her to respond. According to an item in the paper Feb. 23, Gross confirmed "that any final determination on the use of a vacated parcel of residential land in the Ravenwood neighborhood near Seven Corners will not be made for many months, maybe not even before the end of the year."

  6. The property at 3236 Peace Valley Lane has indeed been a source of active debate for many years. Our community (Ravenwood Park) as well as surrounding communities, have an intimate connection to and interest in this plot, as it is adjacent to all of us. And no community is closer and more connected to it than Ravenwood Park.

    Our community, as well as our neighbors, made our view of the disposition of this land unmistakably clear in 2005 when this issue first arose: we were united in our opposition to changing the current zoning to allow the construction of multiple townhouses. We were
    then, and are now, opposed to a zoning change that would result in the construction of a dense townhouse complex that would be inconsistent with the tenor and stability of our neighborhood and that would contribute further congestion to the already overloaded and
    insufficient road system, not to mention adding the potential for crime, pollution, and all the issues attendant to greater density.

    Our position is not a knee-jerk "not in my backyard" opposition; rather, it is grounded in a thoughtful consideration for the needs and concerns not only of our neighborhood, but also its neighbors. Our position is one of respect and regard for the current zoning and the county's professed concern for the environment, as well as the county plan, which does not not allow for development that entails multiple townhouses.

    It may have been stated that townhouse development is "but one" proposal for the site, but make no mistake -- it is the one being pursued, and pursued with dogged determination. Any suggestion of single family home development, which we have made on repeated occasions and which the current zoning allows, is practically dismissed out of hand. If there are other options actively under consideration, that is indeed news and may be an angle for the Falls Church News Press to further investigate.

    The notion that townhouse development would preserve significant numbers of trees certainly sounds congenial. A visit to the site, however, immediately dispels the notion when one sees the scope of the removal that already has taken place. In addition, one may
    expect that further disruption to roots of the trees that are "saved" will jeopardize the survival of those trees due to the work of heavy construction equipment next to them.

    The idea that somehow a say in landscaping mitigates the many, and serious, negative consequences of amending the county plan a mere year after it has been amended and four years before it is scheduled to be again, and then changing the zoning for one developer, is laughable at best.

    We are not simply "single-family detached homes (1950s era)." We are an established and vibrant community of families of all ages, a place connected by numerous volunteer and service events by which we support one another and those outside our community, as well as varied social events that express our community's interests and
    flavor. We seek the stability that the county comprehensive plan itself espouses and purports to recognize, embrace and protect. A townhouse development would accomplish the opposite of respecting and protecting that stability.

    We are united in our support for single family homes and our opposition to changes that would allow for denser development. We also wish that the resources and time of so many public servants who are involved in this process could be better spent on the many other
    compelling issues facing Fairfax County. Already time -- and money -- have been expended concerning a revision that is only desired by a very few people. A very few people, I might add, who have everything to gain and nothing to lose by pursuing dense development in a place where they do not live near people who do not want it.

    John Iekel
    Ravenwood Park Citizens Association

  7. For much, much more on this issue, see the comments on a piece about the Ravenwood Park townhouse proposal on the Great Greater Washington blog: