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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mason Land Use Committee hears Peace Valley Lane rezoning case

Will Collins seeks support for infill housing development.

Plans to develop the Peace Valley Lane property in the Ravenwood Park community and to renovate the Woodrow Wilson Library in Bailey’s Crossroads were among the issues presented at the Mason District Land Use Committee (MDLUC) Oct. 23.

We’ll report on the library discussion later, but here’s what’s going on with Peace Valley Lane:

The developer, Will Collins, is requesting the site be rezoned from R-3 to PDH-4, which would allow him to squeeze seven houses into the 1.89-acre lot. This project had been the subject of a controversial amendment to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan, which had been fought tooth and nail by the Ravenswoood Park Civic Association, Vinewood homeowner association, and other groups. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ approval of the amendment in May cleared the way for the rezoning request.  

Collins told the MDLUC he wants to build seven two-story, 2,800 to 3,600-square foot houses that would be priced in the high $700,000s to the low $800,000s. He promised to address some of the issues the neighborhood is most concerned about—access and stormwater management.

Ravenwood Park Citizens Association Co-President John Iekel told the committee there’s “rock solid opposition to opening Peace Valley Lane to Route 7,” and Collins said he agreed to keep the two separate parts of Peace Valley Lane unconnected to avoid cut-through in Ravenwood Park. Instead, he would build a private road giving the residents of the seven new homes direct access to Leesburg Pike.

Collins promised to put in a $150,000 stormwater system with an “underground percolation trench” to direct runoff to an existing stormwater facility. According to Collins, “this will be a significant improvement” over the current situation. The property is on a hill, so water flows into neighbors’ backyards.

MDLUC Chair Roy Lounsbury noted that if the land is developed as proposed, 65 percent of the property will be impermeable. “That means you will have a major stormwater problem.”

PDH (planned development housing) zoning means there has to be a homeowners association (HOA) to manage the common property. Collins said the HOA would be responsible for changing the filters on the stormwater system once a year.

The remaining 35 percent of the site that would be open space would be mostly on the perimeter, as a buffer between the new and existing houses. Collins also said a giant red oak that the county arborist called a “special specimen tree” will be saved. A woodchip trail would connect Peace Valley Lane with Colmac Drive.

Iekel cited another concern: The height of the proposed houses, 42 feet, on the top of hill, would make them “a looming presence over existing houses.”

Steve Tran of Vinewood raised some other problems: headlights shining into the windows of the new houses at the end of a cul de sac, the lack of space for plowed snow, and most important, insufficient parking, especially if the new homeowners have lots of guests. Each house would a two-car garages plus two parking spaces on the street.  

Opponents of the Peace Valley Lane project came up one possible solution to another problem raised by the community: excessive density. At the meeting, Craig Blakeley, an attorney with the Alliance Law Group, said he couldn’t find a provision in the Fairfax County zoning code that would allow a waiver to permit a PDH development on less than two acres. He said the developer’s plan cites a wrong section of the zoning ordinance.

If it turns out that PDH zoning is not permitted on a lot less than two acres, the land would have to remain R-3 which would permit no more than five houses.

The MDLUC will discuss the Peace Valley project again in January 2013. At that time the committee could vote on whether to urge the Planning Commission to approve or reject the rezoning request—or it could defer a vote until a later meeting.

 During the discussion, Lounsbury clarified the limits of what the MDLUC—and the county—can do when evaluating the impact of new development.

Suzie Phipps, a member of the audience, mentioned the severe overcrowding of schools in the Baileys Crossroads area. While seven new houses won’t have much of an impact, the cumulative impact of all the ongoing and proposed new housing developments will put a strain on schools and county services, she noted.

“We’re in sympathy; we try to consider those impacts but we’re limited by the rules,” said Lounsbury. “The rules and the law permit someone to develop.” And in this case, the developer did agree to meet certain conditions requested by the community.

“We simply make recommendations not decisions,” added committee member Steven Smith. The Planning Commission has holds public hearings and if it votes to approve a project, the Board of Supervisors has a hearing and makes the final decision.

Also at the Oct. 23 meeting, the MDLUC voted to recommend the Planning Commission approve a preschool at the John Calvin Presbyterian Church on Columbia Pike in Annandale. Lynne Strobel, an attorney representing the church, told the committee the preschool would serve up to 99 2, 3, and 4-year-olds and would be operated by Sleepy Hollow Preschool. There would be some minor renovations to the building, and the trees would be retained.

The community doesn’t have any major objections to the preschool proposal, said Harry McCarty of the Sleepy Hollow Run-Forest Hills Civic Association. The “The traffic isn’t going to be worse than it is now,” he said.

Andrew Painter, a representative of Titan America, described a rezoning and special exception request to allow construction of a concrete mixing and batching plant on the Southern Ironworks property in the Springfield Industrial Park.

The 9.3-acre site is mostly zoned I-6 (industrial), and Titan wants two small sections of the property near Interstate 95 that are zoned commercial and residential to also be rezoned I-6. Titan is also seeking a 10-foot special exception to the height limit to allow the concrete facility to be 85 feet high. To address neighbors’ concerns, Painter said trucks would be kept out of residential streets and would be washed down to minimize dust.


  1. How could the developer of the Peace Valley houses not know the houses he had in his plan were 42 feet high, not 35 feet. A developer can do what he wants in a PDH zoning.

  2. What a surprise that the Planning Commission and BOS would approve a plan such as this, despite the legal and logistical objections given here. But the County reps let it be known during the Comprehensive Plan phase that they would just bypass the need for a 2 acre minimum and go around the private drive owned by the townhouses/church. Once again, Penny and CO. are siding with wealthy developers over her constituents.

  3. We really need to stop whining and find a candidate to challenge Penny or else we'll all be infilled


    2. That is an ugly, nasty comment. I'm no friend of Supervisor Gross when it comes to these development issues, but your personal, petty attack contributes nothing of any value to this discussion.