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Friday, May 30, 2014

Annandale Acres residents seek solution to flooding problem

It looks like a river, but it's Amy Whetzel' yard in Annandale Acres.
When Amy Whetzel and her husband bought their house at 7301 Auburn Street in Annandale Acres three years ago, they had no idea what they were up against.

The lack of a stormwater management system in the neighborhood meant their yard was often under water, the foundation of the house was damaged, and several trees have fallen down. So far, they’ve spent $18,000 on repairs. “It’s been one cost right after another. It’s crazy,” Whetzel says.

A street turns into a lake on a rainy day.
What makes it even more frustrating has been the lack of help from Fairfax County officials. Whetzel has contacted Mason Supervisor Penny Gross’s office 40 times, by email and phone, and says Gross “never replied or responded.” 

Fed up with the lack of action, Whetzel convinced Sen. Dick Saslaw, the majority leader of the Virginia Senate, to get his staff to organize a meeting at her house to discuss the flooding problems in the community. 

The meeting took place May 27. Saslaw came, as well as two aides from Del. Kaye Kory’s office, Fairfax County Department of Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny, several other Fairfax County and VDOT officials, and about 20 Annandale Acres residents.

The group was too big for Whetzel’s house—40 to 50 people showed up—so they met in a neighbor’s yard.

Whetzel was surprised that Gross came to the meeting, since she hadn’t been responsive in the past and hadn’t told anyone she would be there. “She talked about the history of the neighborhood. It was more distracting than being actually helpful,” she said.

The lack of drainage creates ponds in Annandale Acres.
Whetzel is hopeful that Saslaw will be able to get something accomplished. He asked the county and VDOT to work together to come up with a solution and develop a budget for fixing the problem.

Whetzel would like the county to install sidewalks with a stormwater drainage system underneath or at least line the existing stormwater ditches with concrete.

When Annandale Acres was created, the property owner sold one-acre lots and the buyers built their own homes. As a result, the neighborhood doesn’t have sidewalks or a stormwater system, other than a series of ditches.

Soon after Whetzel moved in, she discovered that whenever it rained, ponds formed in her yard. The people at the May 27 meeting saw standing water in her yard even though it hadn’t rained for eight or nine days. A third of her one-acre lot has become a permanent swamp with mushy ground unsafe for her children to play on.

When she had French drains put in to redirect the water two years ago, the workers discovered the foundation of her house was deteriorating and the joists were rotting due to water damage. The repairs cost $15,000. Whetzel has lost five trees due to the unstable ground and spent $3,000 to have them removed.

Water damage to the pavement is also causing costly problems for Whetzel. The streets are in such poor condition—the surface is cracking and crumbling—that she already had to replace the tires on a new car just purchased a year ago. She had her driveway sealed last year, and it needs to be repaired again. A concrete walkway to her house put in last summer is already cracked.

Flooding in Annandale Acres has been a problem for a long time. At the May 27 meeting, residents  complained about flooded basements, streams running through their yards, and sewer line backups. “People are getting hit with significant financial costs due to the complete lack of stormwater management,” Whetzel says. One neighbor had to have the entire front of his house dug up to fix drainage problems, which cost $30,000.

People who’ve lived in the neighborhood longer than Whetzel say the problem has gotten worse since a new housing development was built on Degroff Court on the other side of Backlick Road.

According to Irene Haske, a spokesperson in the county’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, “the roads in Annandale Acres and the ditch lines are VDOT owned and maintained. The county does not have any infrastructure there, nor do have the right-of-way. County staff will gladly work with VDOT staff to define roles and responsibilities.”

In advance of the May 27 meeting, Lauren Mollerup of VDOT’s Northern Virginia office, sent an email outlining a list of actions undertaken since September 2012 to manage drainage in Annandale Acres, including flushing pipes, digging ditches, and cleaning pipes with a “vactor.” She said VDOT will be carrying out ditching activity in Annandale Acres at least once a week in June.

“VDOT does little patches here and there but they never deal with the situation holistically,” Whetzel says. “What’s needed is a comprehensive solution. You can ditch all the way around but if there are no pipes, there’s no point. And if the ditches are just dirt, rather than concrete, they won’t last.”

Whetzel would also like the county to address infill development—and its impact on flooding on surrounding properties.

Haske notes that in the 1990s the county developed a plan to mitigate the drainage problems in Annandale Acres, “but we could not obtain an easement and, therefore, we could not go forward.” We’ve heard from other sources that, at the time, one resident had opposed a sidewalk on his property.  

Fairfax County has undertaken other stormwater projects to mitigate flooding in other communities, like this one in McLean. “We have various stormwater management techniques for low impact development (LID),” said Haske. “The LID methods we may use on one project may not be applicable to another project.”


  1. Over the years, Penny Gross has never responded to one of my inquiries either. However, with another election coming up, I suppose she will make an effort to appear responsive if there's another more prominent elected official involved.

  2. Wait, they built these houses in the 1950s, the developer didnt care about dealing with stormwater, Ms Whetzel moved in knowing that, and she is complaining that Gross hasnt done anything? Sheesh, no wonder Whetzel doesnt want to hear the history of the neighborhood. That history doesnt support her desire to get public money now does it? I really, really hope the folks in Annandale Acres arent the ones fighting against yuppie hi rises because of insufficient proffers. While Gross can be unresponsive, the problems of this area go far deeper than that. Can you say "sprawl that doesnt pay for itself"?

  3. Sue the seller for not disclosing the fact that the yard floods. Or is it too late for that?

  4. I'd say the last 2 anonymous comments are right. Chances are she is SOL and should have done her homework. Maybe false advertising for the Realtors. Gross is a joke most of the time unless you have money.

  5. A history lesson doesn't solve the problem. Annandale Acres is not the only older neighborhood that is dealing with the issues that arise from continued over development in Mason District, clear cutting of lots, and the willy-nilly can-you-contribute-to-my-campaign POH developments.

    The comment "wait, they built" isn't relevant. Since the 50s, the population has grown considerably, significantly more area is paved over -- and that dramatically increases the runoff and heightens the need for an overarching, comprehensive storm water management plan.

  6. I will say I have lived in my home for 10 years and the flooding in my yard has only increased with the development going on and I live just down from Annandale Acres.