|7816 Trammell Road|
Donna Jacobson, the president of the Lafayette Village Community Association, believes the project should be subject to a special exception zoning amendment, which would require a public hearing.
The owner of the property, Allen Wong, who also owns Beverly Assisted Living at 3408 Beverly Drive, Annandale, insists the new home is a by-right project and thus doesn’t need a zoning special exception.
Wong purchased the property at 7816 Trammell Road in February, tore down the old house, and is constructing a new building to serve eight elderly tenants who are unable to live independently.
Group home or assisted living?
While a group home can be built by-right, an assisted living facility that provides medical care and has live-in staff cannot.
“We’re concerned that he is saying it’s a group home, but is planning to market it as assisted living, and we think it should have a public hearing,” Jacobson says.
According to an email to Jacobson from Assistant Zoning Administrator Lorrie Kirst, the county zoning ordinance says a “group residential facility” can serve up to eight people in certain classifications – including the elderly and disabled – and can have one or more staff persons,
Under the zoning ordinance, an assisted living facility is a “licensed facility for persons who are unable to live independently” and that provides private or semi-private accommodations, supervision and general care, including daily meals, general housekeeping, health or hygiene-related care and assistance with activities of daily living.
“Assisted living facilities require special exception approval in most residential districts, whereas group residential facilities are permitted by right in any dwelling unit,” Kirst states.
Mason Supervisor Penny Gross told Jacobson via email that the federal Fair Housing Act of 1989 allows group homes for up to eight residents in residential areas by right for certain protected classes of people, including the elderly and people with physical, mental, or intellectual disabilities.
The Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning is reviewing Wong’s request submitted Oct. 31 seeking to have the project be designated a group residential home, said William Mayland, deputy administrator.
Mayland says the home could be considered a group home even if it has medical professionals on staff. The county would consider whether the property meets the Virginia Department of Social Services’ definition used in approving licenses for these facilities: including whether it houses eight or fewer people and whether residents meet the age requirement.
Building permit confusion
Jacobson also accuses Wong of “misrepresenting the facts” on his application for a building permit, when he stated the house would be a single-family residence.
Wong says he was “a little confused” when he applied for a building permit. Identifying the project as a single-family residence “was an oversight on my part,” he says. “It was not my intention to be misleading.”
An email from Mason Supervisor Penny Gross to Jacobson says she met with Wong on Nov. 1 and Wong told her he acknowledged he was not truthful with county staff this summer.
“I admonished him for lying and told him that was getting off on the wrong foot with me, the county, and especially, the neighbors, something he needs to remedy,” Gross wrote. She also encouraged Wong to sign a “good neighbor agreement” with the county that sets out expectations for operating in a residential neighborhood.
Wong told the Annandale Blog he will accept Jacobson’s invitation to speak to the community at the HOA’s board meeting on Nov. 20.
“It is frustrating to everyone that there is so much confusion about this issue,” Gross says. “The state license says that a group home can be four or more.” The Fair Housing Act “identifies protected classes and allows up to eight residents, and the county ordinance reflects that language.”
Gross has asked county staff to look at making its language more clear, but says “that would require extensive research and board action, which will not help the Trammell Road situation.”
Disagreement over definitions
Jacobson disagrees with the contention that the county can’t address the issue and urges the county to force Wong to stop construction “until it is determined what exactly he is building and what exact services are to be provided.”
“An assisted living facility and a group home are two different types of dwellings,” Jacobson says.
According to Jacobson, Wong has publicly called the Trammell Road project “a residential assisted living facility” while identifying it as a group home under the Fair Housing Act to qualify for a building permit.
“I am not happy that the county is allowing Mr. Wong to continue to exploit this loophole,” Jacobson says. “Either his facility is a residential living facility for eight or less elderly residents (group home) or it is an assisted living facility.”
Wong expects construction on the Trammell Road house to be completed in February. Once the house is finished, he plans to apply for a state license, then market the facility to the public.
“It’s a by-right use of the land,” Wong says. “Anyone can open an assisted living facility in a residential home, and that is a by-right use.” He maintains that a small homelike setting is a better option for the elderly than large large facilities like Brightview on Gallows Road.
Wong says the Trammell Road house will follow the same model he established at Beverly Assisted Living. Staff will provide meals, medication management, and personal care. There will be a non-resident registered nurse on staff, but if residents need medical care, professionals will be brought in.
According to Mayland, Beverly Assisted Living was designated a group residential home, and thus did not need a public hearing.
Wong says neighborhood residents’ fears that both houses would be for people with mental disabilities or recovering drug addicts are unfounded.
“It’s just for old people who need a place to stay,” Wong says. When people get too old to care for themselves, “their wives or husbands are overwhelmed,” he says. “Half the people at Beverly Assisted Living are not married and don’t have kids. It’s really sad.”
Beverly Assisted Living has seven elderly residents, with one open space available.