Greater Greater Washington

Development


Anything but townhouses, say Ravenwood Park activists

There's an empty parcel of land near Seven Corners, adjacent to a bunch of townhouses. But neighbors so deeply oppose building any new townhouses that they'd prefer even the ugliest clear-cut subdivision.


Image from Bing Maps.

The property lies just off Route 7, next to the Ravenwood Park neighborhood. A non-historic farmhouse used to sit on the property, which was torn down in December. The property owner is requesting zoning permission to build 12 townhouses.

Just to the north is a group of 33 townhouses; to the east, a church and a group of larger apartment buildings. To the south and west are single-family houses. Ellie Ashford reports that despite the other townhouses and apartments, neighbors from the single-family houses oppose any more townhouses:

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.
Supervisor Penny Gross wrote a column explaining benefits to the community from changing the zoning:
In a conventional by right subdivision, a developer submits a site plan and, after technical review, can get a building permit from the county. 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. That would certainly change the view out the back window!
"Proffers" are Virginia's way of capturing some of the value of increasing zoning. A developer basically makes an offer for what they would give the county and the neighborhood in exchange for building the greater amount allowed.

Clear-cutting trees? Houses close to the property line? Ugly vinyl siding and no landscaping? Apparently that's fine as long as those evil townhouses can be banished. Ashford wrote,

Several people at the meeting announced they would accept those conditions as long as they can keep townhouses out of their neighborhood.
These particular residents are upset that in a meeting, Gross didn't seem sympathetic to their argument. Some started talking about backing another candidate to run against Gross, who is up for reelection this November, and one potential challenger attended the meeting.

A commenter on the Falls Church News-Press article lamented "the depreciation creep that will befall Ravenwood... then on to Lake Barcroft" if this project is allowed to continue. Will adding 9 more families to an area, especially one with even greater density nearby, suddenly turn not only this neighborhood but the next one into desperate slums?

It's sad to see this level of passion over preventing nine families from living off the nearby main street.

Often, the debate over townhouses versus single-family houses becomes a proxy for wanting people of particular socioeconomic groups and not wanting others. Note: I am not saying that this is the case here; however, it's a factor in many such debates.

In this case, though, nicely-built brick townhouses with elegant landscaping could well draw more of what residents want than more cheaply built vinyl single-family houses.

9 more families on Route 7 could create a very small amount more traffic, but could also slightly increase the viability of improving bus service that already runs there. Or maybe the thought of people who might ride the bus also stirs up fears of "depreciation creep."

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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To be fair, I'd also be opposed to another inward-facing, gated, unconnected, and unwalkable townhouse community.

It's really the worst of both worlds.

by andrew on Feb 28, 2011 11:11 am • linkreport

So, based on your last sentence, people don't want more hispanics living there?

by charlie on Feb 28, 2011 11:19 am • linkreport

Yep, these suburban "townhouse" developments are pretty wretched. They're the best of both worlds for the developer: They can maximize the number of single-family homes on a parcel while simultaneously selling on the marketable "urban" image.

by Bob See on Feb 28, 2011 11:21 am • linkreport

Do people realize that at least in Northern Virginia that a lot of very solidly middle class families live in townhouses because thats what they can afford in what most areas would buy them a single family home? So even if its based on a fear that poor people live in townhouses then thats not necessarily true.

by canaan on Feb 28, 2011 11:36 am • linkreport

Also, is this in Fairfax County or the city of Falls Church?

by Canaan on Feb 28, 2011 12:00 pm • linkreport

@Canaan: If you click on the Bing Map, it has county/city lines. Looks like this is in Fairfax County.

by Tim on Feb 28, 2011 12:04 pm • linkreport

@Canaan--Very true, but not true here. Have you been to that area? It's not Clarendon.

by ChrisM on Feb 28, 2011 12:13 pm • linkreport

OK, I just read the comments from the neighbors, at the bottom of the link to Penny Gross's article.

They have some very strong points. First, townhouses will add a lot more cars and congestion on Route 7 than SFHs would. There is no nearby Metro, and the bus to the major job centers takes too long.

Their point about property values is probably right. A SFH near nothing but other SFHs is worth more than one near townhouses. Even if they are super-high-end, which these would not be.

Also, the developer is a campaign contributor of Gross's. Hmmm...

by ChrisM on Feb 28, 2011 12:23 pm • linkreport

Hmm...

1.) There would be what, 4 SFH vs. 9 town homes? We're talking, even if each home is occupied by a family of 4 drivers a difference from 16 cars to 36. Based on demographics, it's actually much more likely that there will be larger driving families in SFHs than the town homes, but this gives a ceiling of 20 cars. Inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

2.) This is exactly 2 miles from EFC metro, and there is no good reason carpooling/shuttling/busing/biking can't make up the difference. It's not TOD, but we're not talking about something in Woodbridge here.

3.) The property value thing, to me, is always an interesting argument. It's only a big deal if you are looking to sell and move, but if you are looking to sell and move, what exactly do you care if people are building more in the area of not. That means you plan to ditch the neighborhood sometime in the future, but you care just enough now to save your own hide. Sounds like exactly the kind of commitment that deserves love and care back from developers and governments.

by Matt on Feb 28, 2011 12:32 pm • linkreport

As Charlie has alluded to, many of the large apartment complexes aroung Seven Corners now are largely occupied by Hispanics. It is hard to believe that this is not a factor in the opposition.

by Fred on Feb 28, 2011 12:45 pm • linkreport

I live up the road from 7 corners in the Idylwood area (near West Falls Church metro). My townhouse community (built in the late 70s) consists of nicely landscaped brick homes that sell for $500K and up. Granted, land is less expensive in 7 corners but if they make the townhouses upscale, I'm sure they can attract the well-educated / wealthy demographic they're looking for.

by 22043 zip on Feb 28, 2011 12:58 pm • linkreport

@Matt: Re. your point no. 1: How are you figuring more cars in SFHs than townhouses? Most SFHs have kids under driving age. It's a pretty big leap to suggest that each SFH would have two 17-year-olds, each with their own car. And the effect isn't negligible. It all adds up when you add more people along the same amount of road. It's not just this development but all the others, past and future.

RE. your point no. 3: You're saying that the only people who care about their property values are "flippers"? Really? Come on. Even if you plan to sell in 30 years, you still want to be sure your house appreciates.

@Fred, "Hispanic" does not equal "illegal day laborer"! There are probably some solid, proud US citizen, middle-class Hispanic Americans living in Ravenwood. But do they want townhouses with each unit having 8 day laborers who all get up at 5AM to go to work? Like you have in Culmore next door? Of course not.

by ChrisM on Feb 28, 2011 12:58 pm • linkreport

What nonsense. I'd rather have a block of townhouses instead of some maximum footprint SFHs. For example, the Walnut Hill development on Annandale Rd. is still ugly after 20-25 years. And the two townhouse developments by Dominion Hospital haven't devastated the adjoining neighborhood.

by PeakVT on Feb 28, 2011 1:09 pm • linkreport

Yes, I'm in the area quite often. While the area certainly isn't clarendon its still right smack dab in one of the most expensive housing markets in the nation. There is nothing to indicate (at least from the article at hand) the quality of the townhomes.

And since the current homeowners think the bus takes too long they assume any new homeowner will as well?

by Canaan on Feb 28, 2011 1:27 pm • linkreport

I am with Matt that TH will have less cars then a SFH. For one TH only have space for 2 cars, any other cars would have to be parked elseware. Making owning a 3rd car very dificult SFH's on the other hand would easly be able to fit a 3rd car.

That said at 2 cars per home we are talking an extra 10 cars at most. Not very siginifant.

Its shame really I would love to move into a townhome in this area, but could never afford a SFH.

by Matt R on Feb 28, 2011 1:45 pm • linkreport

i am almost at the point of not caring. if these morons want something in their neighborhood, either rightly or wrongly, let them have it. they have been informed of their ignorance and in spite of that they clearly don't care, so let them have it. its like the high speed rail thing in florida. if they don't want to help themselves, then i am done trying to help them. give the money to the people who want it and appreciate it.

here's to hoping that the ugliest possible thing ever is built there.

by Poster Nutbag on Feb 28, 2011 1:55 pm • linkreport

This area could use a lot of improvement from in-fill development proffers. At the moment that stretch of Leesburg Pike is something of a mess. I'd like to see some expanded transit options along this stretch. Higher density development could serve to induce some form of transportation improvements. A street car line similar to that proposed for Columbia Pike would be a nice perk someday. Twenty years from now it would be nice to see that area from Seven Corners to Bailey's Crossroads resemble an urban boulevard, much like proposals for Rockville Pike and White Flint. In the future, with that part of route 7 configured as an urban boulevard and the natural setting of residential areas such as Lake Barcroft protected, that area could be great. High density, with pleasant established neighborhoods in park-like settings nearby, and socioeconomically/ ethnically diverse populations sounds like a good mix for a solid community well into the future. For long time residents (possibly of advanced age) the increase in both property values and services should be well received.

by jps on Feb 28, 2011 2:27 pm • linkreport

At the moment that stretch of Leesburg Pike is something of a mess.

Leesburg Pike from Bailey's Crossroads to Seven Corners is a nightmarish hellscape.

by Herschel on Feb 28, 2011 4:45 pm • linkreport

I love this blog, been reading it for a while...but good god, there are a few misconceptions both in the original post and the comments here that are unfair and not accurately portraying the situation in Ravenwood Park. I'm not offended--they're clearly based out of ignorance.

So respectfully, you've got it all wrong.

The way I see it, the real opposition to the plan should be very close to the heart of this blog. It's about a sense of neighborhood. I live in Ravenwood Park. We have a neighborhood. How many other communities can say that? This place is a gem.

Have you seen the zoning in Seven-Corners? It's terrible. We have been fighting that encroachment for a couple generations in this neighborhood.

And why on earth would you jump to the racism conclusion? Ravenwood Park is not racist. The townhouse opposition organizers are not trying to keep out people in lesser socioeconomic situations. Why would they? All you have to do is go a block over and there are low-rent apartments. Even if people were racist, what would be the point of the opposition?

You have to look at the situation in context. Seven Corners is a pretty ugly area. This neighborhood has been fighting to keep the ugliness at bay for a long time. Developers have no problem making a cheap buck at the expense of the residents.

By the way, don't take my commentary as being critical of this particular developer. What I'm talking to is the larger context of the opposition. It takes a lot to build trust--and this developer would really have to do something to win people over.

by Ravenwood Park Resident on Feb 28, 2011 8:13 pm • linkreport

So . . . how does building townhouses change the "sense of neighborhood" in your community? This is an actual question. I'm not really clear what the difference would be between that and single-family homes.

by dan reed! on Feb 28, 2011 8:26 pm • linkreport

To piggy back on Dan, in an area that is full of a lot of different types of housing (townhouses, sfh, and apartments both garden and high-rise) how does one determine one is worthier than the other? If you say you're against ugliness what qualities in a single family home make it inherently more attractive than a row of townhouses every single time? Because if its just a question of aesthetics then it should be the best design that wins rather than what type of housing stock it is.

And its not racism, its a question of class. I think the perceptions of class are misguided because in this area at least townhouses don't mean one is poor which is what has been argued both explicitly and implicitly. And if you look at townhouse developments across northern Va. for the past several years you would notice that the houses have gotten bigger and more expensive to rival that of a detached house. I don't know what is being planned specifically in this case but I would bet good money that this would be similar.

by Canaan on Feb 28, 2011 9:16 pm • linkreport

OK, after reading all the comments, here's my take:

I go by that area on occasion. I don't think this Riverwood resident is saying that all single-family houses are attractive (which is clearly not the case) or that all townhouses by definition are ugly.

But in that area, all the townhouses and apartments I can remember seeing are definitely ugly and cheap. I would guess (and I could be wrong) that the Riverwooders might not object if nice townhouses (brick, with nice trim, and keeping the large trees) were built--but they know that the developer's financial interest is cheaply built ones. Because that's what the market will bear right there.

Sure, you can say it's two miles from EFC--but drive down there and tell me with a straight face that a townhouse of the quality you'd find two blocks from an Orange Line Metro stop could sell for enough to make it profitable for the builder. I seriously doubt it. I'd love to be wrong.

Or I could be totally off; it might be an issue of just having that many people suddenly right there, with two-story dwellings that poke up and look down over one's backyard.

At any rate: It's asking a lot to expect the residents to trust the developer not to build townhouses that are cheap and ugly, when that's all that's been built before.

by JB on Feb 28, 2011 9:39 pm • linkreport

Next to GMU about 5 miles from Vienna station.

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=fairfax+va&aq=&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=31.28862,86.572266&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Fairfax,+Virginia&ll=38.836599,-77.311794&spn=0.001893,0.005284&z=18&layer=c&cbll=38.836731,-77.311836&panoid=vX6OgOjUEvNmY_JH06siKg&cbp=12,98.36,,0,-3.95

These are new compared to the other developments around which are both detached and row houses. This is more typical of townhouse development in Northern Va. over the past decade.

by Canaan on Feb 28, 2011 9:51 pm • linkreport

Canaan, those aren't ugly or cheap looking--but wow, they're huge! If it were me, I wouldn't want those right next to or behind my house. Also, are those townhouses or condos? I thought townhouses are by definition not all in one large block but 2-3 units per building.

by JB on Feb 28, 2011 10:08 pm • linkreport

They're designed as townhouses. And they are huge and were listed from the 800's when they first opened.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Townhouses

Condo's refer to rather that you own a piece of the property/house while the other parts are community administered.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Condo

But anyway if I'm understanding the story right there isn't anything prevent the builder from building detached houses that size either. Which goes back to the point that this is about (perceived) economic status associated with townhouses that has to be the basis for not wanting them there since arguments about aesthetics or look don't really fit in with what opponents are proposing.

All this said, I don't particularly care whether detached houses or townhouses go in (assuming its designed well) I still couldn't afford it. What does bother me are the assumptions that assume that A. townhouses inherently bring set problems no matter what. and B. that single family homes do not have the potential for the same issues.

by Canaan on Feb 28, 2011 10:47 pm • linkreport

Did the blog author attend the meeting? Call anyone? Donate to Penny? geeeeesh

by Good grief on Mar 1, 2011 8:57 am • linkreport

Ravenwood Park is MOST CERTAINLY NOT RACIST. We are a welcoming and diverse community! We prefer single-family homes because we are afraid that added density in an already-overcrowded area will decrease our quality of life. Townhouses will also decrease our housing values.

This article is sensationalist and poorly written. Our neighborhood DID NOT say that we want ugly single-family houses as opposed to townhouses. We said that as long as a developer follows exiting codes, we are in a better place than with townhouses. Also, on such an ideal piece of land, a developer would be foolish to put up cheap homes when there is a market for higher-end homes that would yield more profit.

by Concerned Citizen on Mar 1, 2011 9:00 am • linkreport

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 contribute further congestion to the already overloaded and insufficient road system, not to mention all the issues attendant to greater density.

The land in question is currently zoned R-3, meaning that under the current county regulations up to three houses can be built per acre. Since the parcel is 1.89 acres, up to five houses can be built in it. Period. For townhouses to be built, the county comprehensive plan must be amended. That is supposed to be done every five years. It was last done in 2010 and is not scheduled to be done again until 2015. Yet Supervisor Gross is seeking to make an out-of-turn amendment to the comprehensive plan that would allow the process of changing the zoning to begin.

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 allow for development on that parcel that entails multiple townhouses. We are eager to participate in the process and we seek actions that are within the current rules and codes.

It is true that Ravenwood Park is near condo complexes and townhouses. However, what the blog writer apparently failed to learn in the course of his no-doubt exhaustive and thorough research is that the board of the adjacent condo complex has voted unanimously to support our position and has signed our petition; the residents of 26 of 33 townhouses nearby have signed our petition; and the surrounding sigle-family home communities support us as well. This is hardly the selfish opposition of a few snobs. It is the common expression of opposition to an ill-conceived, slap-dash plan intended above all else to benefit a developer who happens to be a campaign contributor.

Nor is our opposition based on racism. That allegation is as ignorant as it is offensive. Our neighborhood is a very diverse one that includes many very recent immigrants, first-generation Americans, and people whose families have been here for many years. Every ethnicity not only lives in Ravenwood Park, but also interacts and is intimately involved in the community here. We are not xenophobic racists; we are a diverse, vibrant, and caring community that supports not only its members but also the community at large through outreaches to the poor and disadvantaged.

Our opposition also arises as a result of behind-the-scenes dealings that preclude the involvement in the community until it is virtually too late to have any meaningful say in what is happening in a place that has a big impact on our community.

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. If there are other options actively under consideration, that is indeed news and may be an angle for further investigate.

It has been said that townhouse development would preserve significant numbers of trees. 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.

It also has been argued that with townhouse development that the community can then have a say in the landscaping of the area. 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 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 would be 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 F. Iekel
Co-President
Ravenwood Park Citizens Association

by John Iekel on Mar 1, 2011 9:21 am • linkreport

As one of the property owners in the Ravenwood neighborhood that would be most impacted by Penny's ill-advised decision to present an out of turn amendment, I wanted to provide some of the facts omitted from Penny's "thoughts."

First, despite Penny's suggestion that "other options" besides Townhouses (looming between 24-28 feet tall) "might be considered" if the Board votes to approve her motion for an amendment, the facts bespeak a different story entirely. The facts are that the same land developer, Concordia Group out of Bethesda, MD, led by Will Collins, that first proposed the re-zoning in 2005, is back again and is undeniably the driving force behind Penny's move to submit an out of turn amendment here in 2011. Without Concordia pressing the issue (a group which also happens to have made over $2,000 in campaign contributions to Penny over the years), we would not be having this spirited discussion. As I'll go on to explain, although too early to conclusively state as fact, there is ample evidence that the "process" through which this parcel of land has made its way through the system and back into the hands of the Concordia Group suggests that something doesn't smell right in Denmark.

Penny suggests she has an open mind, but sitting in a room with her, explaining the position of our entire neighborhood over the course of an hour and a half, I can say with some confidence that Penny has already made up her mind. She parrots the basis for her support of the re-zoning with greater density in her blog, citing the desire to "control" the development for the "purported" benefit of the community (which, mind you, as an adjoining property owner, I consider myself a member of). But when presented with the community's position, which favors development "by right" which would allow for 5 Single Family Homes, Penny wanted to hear nothing of it. Even though development "by right" would be consistent with the existing Plan, which seeks to protect the integrity of neighborhoods, like ours.

Penny also was disinterested in hearing about the concerns our neighborhood shares about the prospect of seeing even further declines in our property values, which have already suffered tremendously during the past 3 years. Our community lobbied Penny to refrain from presenting an out of turn amendment, which would have undoubtedly forced Concordia Group to bow out of its right of first refusal since Concordia has no interest in developing the parcel with anything less than 12 24-28 foot townhouses. Indeed, Concordia even boasts (untruthfully) that it succeeded back in 2005 - see for yourself: http://concordiagroup.biz/Development_Projects.html

In fact, had Concordia bowed out (which it would have, had Penny not gone ahead and done the land developer's bidding on its behalf), it's possible the parcel would have gone through a legitimate foreclosure process, in full compliance with Virginia laws governing foreclosures (which, surely, the property did not comply with as I will go on to explain). And had it gone through proper processes, the parcel may well have ended up in the hands of someone who's interested in developing million dollar, inside the beltway single family homes (as opposed to $400,000 townhouses that will cause the immediate depreciation in the values of all homeowners in Ravenwood, and even Lake Barcroft). The parcel may have ended up in the hands of someone who would be interested in adding quality of life inside the beltway, rather than "quantity of life" inside an already over-crowded corridor. Here's a suggestion... take a drive down Route 7 from Seven Corners to Bailey's Crossroads on any given Saturday or Sunday afternoon. 1.5 miles and 45 minutes later, you ask yourself if this corridor needs to add another 12-24 automobiles? But the property did not go through the proper Virginia foreclosure process (and if it did, the process was rigged from the very word "go" thanks to inside dealing between the FDIC, a Florida corporation called Rialto, and Concordia. Let me explain.

While we do not know ALL of the specific facts about how this parcel of land went from being an occupied SFH to being an asset Concordia sought to develop (unsuccessfully, in the face of staunch opposition) in 2005 to another developer, to the FDIC and now back in the hands of the same developer, Concordia, there is public information that make a bit easier to piece together the history.

First, we don’t believe that Title to the property has ever changed hands “directly” to any of the real estate developers developers. Title has always remained in an entity named Peace Valley Estate, LLC (a Virginia LLC).

Here’s what I’ve been able to piece together thus far:

• According to tax records, Peace Valley Estate is the entity that purchased the property from the prior owners, the Byers, back in 2005 for over $1.1 million.

• No one knows for sure who initially owned Peace Valley Estate, but we can presume it was Concordia or an entity associated with Concordia.

• Shortly after Concordia pulled the plug in 2005, Peace Valley Estate was sold to Fred Margolis, a real estate developer from Chevy Chase, MD.

• Somewhere along the line, Franklin Bank SSB held the mortgage on the property – either it has always held the note for Peace Valley Estate or when Concordia sold rights to Margolis the note went to a bank chosen by Margolis OR, indeed, the way mortgages have been moved around the past decade, Franklin may have just been the unlucky loser who ended up with the note after another bank transfer.

• Apparently, back in 2008, Franklin Bank SSB went into receivership with the FDIC: http://www.fdic.gov/bank/individual/failed/franklinbank.html, so the mortgage on the property became the FDIC’s problem.

• In 2010, the FDIC announced a public-private partnership that mirrors actions it had taken back in the 80s during the S&L crisis. Through the partnership, certain private companies buy the rights to “service” the distressed assets possessed by the FDIC. That’s where the LENNAR subsidiary, Rialto, comes into the picture. Rialto acquired the right to service the property at 3236 Peace Valley, paying 40 cents on the dollar (that’s the dollar amount reflected in the Tax records related to the September “sale” from Peace Valley Estate to a company called RES-VA, LLC. One can presume that RES-VA, LLC is just a subsidiary company of Rialto that was set up in Virginia to hold onto … and this is what’s unclear… hold onto what? Does Rialto (RES-VA, LLC) hold the “servicing” rights? Or does Rialto hold “40% of the Title”?? With the remaining 60% of the Title resting with the FDIC???

It’s the FDIC’s public/private partnerships that beg the question… How can a property be foreclosed upon and proceed through the state laws applicable to foreclosures when Title to the property is “shared” between the FDIC and Rialto? There seems to be a bypass of the state’s foreclosure laws. And by bypassing the laws, Rialto has the right to now enter into some private contract with Concordia that provides Concordia with a “first right” to buy the property (if it succeeds in getting the parcel re-zoned from R-3 to higher density, a process that could not have been started, but for Penny's out of turn motion).

The bottom line is that no one else was ever given a fair (or any) opportunity to buy the property outright from Rialto because something didn’t happen the way it is supposed to happen under state foreclosure laws and procedures.

The facts are a little fuzzy with respect to whether, when and how "public" the notice of the foreclosure auction was provided or how the foreclosure bidding process ultimately transpired. If there was indeed a technically lawful foreclosure, it was certainly not a public one, nor was it a fair one. Concordia got its hooks back into the property IMMEDIATELY, as if it had "inside knowledge" of a surreptitious process. Based on the public information I can access, it does not appear anyone else had a fighting chance. After all, isn't the whole point of a foreclosure to "sell the property?" That's not what happened. The property isn't sold. The property won't be sold unless or until Concordia gets its way with the re-zoning. So the foreclosure, at best, netted a "conditional sale" -- but for what price? None of this information is public. And had there been other bidders at the foreclosure willing to buy the land WITHOUT the condition of requiring an out of turn re-zoning amendment, would not their bids been superior to one that requires such a "leap of faith." Yes, a leap of faith that: #1) Penny Gross would support an out of turn plan amendment in the first instance; #2) the Board would vote to approve the motion in the second; and #3) the seller, Rialto, would patiently wait while Concordia works its lobbying magic with our local politicians who control our neighborhood's fate. Wouldn't a free and fair foreclosure that resulted in an "unconditional" offer to buy the land been superior to all the uncertainty? Unless, of course, there isn't the degree of uncertainty in this whole process that there should be. After meeting with Penny for an hour and a half, the distinct impression I and my neighbors got was that her mind was made up before we even set foot in her conference room. She has done nothing and the blog post suggests nothing to alter this conclusion.

Ultimately, it appears that Concordia had the inside track, to the exclusion of all others. That’s what’s so troubling about the whole process that went down.

Rialto’s duty under its arrangement with the FDIC is to maximize the value of the property, so the $366,000 price it paid for 40% ownership isn’t what the property would sell for on the open market and we don’t know, ultimately, whether Concordia will buy the property and, if so, how much it’s willing to pay. Presumably, Concordia’s position is that it will ONLY buy the property for “fair market value” if it can get the Supervisor and Board to approve the zoning chance from R-3 to allow for greater density. Concordia didn’t want to build 5 single family homes in 2005, one can assume they don’t want to do it now. Concordia is behind the scenes telling Penny Gross that the only way his company will buy the property and make use of it is with her support and the support of the Board, thus explaining Penny’s “closed mind” when it comes to our suggestion that the better use of the land given the current zoning, topography and proximity to our established residential community is for Single Family Homes. She’s of the opinion that this is her ONLY chance to put the land to use. When the reality of the situation is that the “process” (the foreclosure process or lack thereof) that resulted from the strange dealings b/w FDIC and Rialto was a closed process that did not give the property a fighting chance of going to a developer NOT NAMED CONCORDIA! If Concordia walked away from its contract with Rialto because Penny and the Board do what the community is asking them to do, which is to KEEP THE ZONING AS IT IS, then Rialto would put the property back out there for OTHER INTERESTED PARTIES to consider buying. And these OTHER INTERESTED PARTIES might well be interested in buying the land to build 1 SFH… 3 SFHs… or 5 SFHs, who knows. How many of you out there would like to have a nearly 2 acre wooded lot inside the Beltway in a good school district, all for between $550,000 and $750,000? I know of Arlingtonians who've paid over $750,000 for less than a 1/4 acre tear down, just to build one, single family home. But no one was given this chance. And Penny is making sure no one gets a chance thanks to motion to approve an out of turn amendment.

by Concerned Citizen on Mar 1, 2011 9:26 am • linkreport

I'm not sure who David Alpert is or what he knows about Seven Corners, Ravenwood Park, or indeed anything at all about the issue he's written a blog about. Mr. Albert's statements and innuendo come across as race baiting, plain and simple. He speaks from a position of no knowledge and lacks the facts to back up his innuendo. I guess that's why it's a "blog" and not "news", because a real reporter would actually get some facts. Like, for instance, the unanimous opposition to ANY re-zoning in this area that would increase density. Sure, it's only changing R-3 to R-12 on a 2 acre lot, but that's not the point. The point is that if it happens here, with this plot of land that is situated on two sides within a 50+ year-old established neighborhood, then it can and will happen elsewhere in Fairfax County. When citizens' concerns aren't heard by their elected politicians, when politicians answer to their donors instead of their voters, then there's a problem with the system -- and local government is not immune from the problems that are plaguing our federal government.

Get the facts, Mr. Albert. Either that or just save your opinions for yourself.

by Truth on Mar 1, 2011 9:36 am • linkreport

Get the facts, Mr. Albert.

Hilarious.

Oh yeah - density is a good thing, by the way.

by Alex B. on Mar 1, 2011 9:39 am • linkreport

My last comment because this obviously goes way deeper for most of you than I could possibly ever care or begin to respond too. The point of this article is to say that townhouses =/= cheap, lower quality.

by Canaan on Mar 1, 2011 9:49 am • linkreport

I've lived in Ravenwood Park for over 15 years and can speak first-hand (as a minority person) to our diverse, welcoming community. Mr. Alpert, get your facts straight and stop making outrageous and untrue statements like "Or maybe the thought of people who might ride the bus also stirs up fears of "depreciation creep."

The real story here is an elected official who is not representing he community.

by Concerned Ravenwodd Park Resident on Mar 1, 2011 9:59 am • linkreport

Welcome, Ravenwood Park residents, to this discussion.

I wasn't meaning to specifically allege that there was a discriminatory component in this case. However, I do see a lot of arguments that are giving detailed rationalizations for why folks don't want other folks to live near them.

Personally, I find that to be quite sad. So many communities around the country seem gripped with an obsession to keeping other people out, if for no other reason than because people don't want to look at other people's houses or because of traffic, but sometimes for other reasons.

This isn't a way to build a healthy society, where everyone is always trying to figure out how to engineer zoning or other legal mechanisms to make it hard for other people to enjoy the communities that they cherish. What happened to being hospitable to our fellow human beings?

by David Alpert on Mar 1, 2011 10:00 am • linkreport

The issue is not that we seek "not to have other folks" near us. We are, in fact, a welcoming community that has included additional streets and neighborhoods in our community over the years. And we are prepared to do so again.

Ours is indeed a very healthy neighborhood, and vicinity. It is a stable community; the county comprehensive plan itself recognizes and seeks to protect neighborhood stability, recognizing that it is an objective good.

You may be interested to learn that it is not WE but, in fact, the supporters of density and townhouses who are the ones who seek to "engineer zoning and legal mechanisms." It is the out-of-turn amendment to the plan sought by Supervisor Gross, to lay the groundwork for a zoning change, at the behest of a developer, that is engineering zoning and legal mechanisms. WE seek to work within the existing zoning regulations, which surely are there for a reason.

by John Iekel on Mar 1, 2011 10:11 am • linkreport

David, where do you live? You sound like a bleeding heart. I'd like to know if you are a hypocrite or if you actually live the words you speak. I'm sure I can find a parcel next to your house on which to develop townhouses that, for no other reason than pure Economics 101, will lower your home's value.

The way to build a healthy society, David, is to do what the Mason District Plan requires the board to do, which is to make decisions that enhance established neighborhoods. Rezoning from R-3 to R-12 does not enhance an established neighborhood. The only thing enhanced by this proposal is the already fat wallet of the land developer. What? You think the land developers have the best interests of the community in mind?? You must be living in a dream land.

by Stone Thrower on Mar 1, 2011 10:20 am • linkreport

David: When you say "keeping people out," what you are referring to is nothing more than "sticking to an established, agreed-upon number of residents per acre, to avoid overwhelming the infrastructure or hurting existing residents' quality of life."

The fact is that on a micro level and on a macro level, we as a society restrict the use of any given parcel of property to a certain number of people. The very idea of having a home to yourself is that any human being or family needs his/her/their own space. So by having an apartment, condo, house, whatever, you're keeping other people out. Not everybody can live in your (or my) home, not everybody can live in the District of Columbia (or Arlington, or Bethesda), etc.

The question of "How many people should live in X area?" should not be answered by "How many *want to?" It should be "What are the desires of the current residents?"

I'm sure you disagree, but I'm sure you understand my point. Schools can only hold so many kids, roads can only hold so many cars, and trains/buses can only hold so many passengers.

But the larger point to me is that the zoning has already been established, and this developer (a campaign donor) is trying to run roughshod over the wishes of the existing community--including the residents of the existing townhouses!

By your logic, anyone who has a backyard should be forced to sell to any developer who wants to put townhouses there, because demand should always dictate land use.

by JB on Mar 1, 2011 10:23 am • linkreport

We really appreciate you’re taking the time to write a piece about our fight in Ravenwood Park to keep our over 50+ year old neighborhood intact. However, your article at http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/9450/anything-but-townhouses-say-ravenwood-park-activists/ did not capture but misrepresented what our fight is all about.

It is not about keeping townhouses out at any cost or about keeping certain people out of the neighborhood far from it. It is about saving our established 54-year old neighborhood. The parcel of land in discussion is zoned for R-3, which is 3 single-family homes per acre. All we want is to keep the current zoning as is and let single-family homes be built. Single-family homes even if larger than the current homes would be consistent with our neighborhood.

The 3236 Peace Valley land and the people who lived there for many many years were part of our neighborhood community and were very active in the Ravenwood Park Citizens Association. Why would we want to have a development built that is not consistent with our established neighborhood. The developer as an incentive to allow townhomes has promised to build a big wall that will divide the townhouses from our neighborhood. Thanks but no thanks.

We are not against Hispanics or any other nationality in fact our 253-home neighborhood is completely a diverse one. We have a community that socializes and is connected by an internet Yahoo list serv and one that gathers through the year for events such as an Egg Roll, Garden Tour, Ice Cream Social, Oktoberfest and on and on. We are a welcoming community and have managed to keep our very solidly built houses as is when other neighborhoods around us have had to deal with McMansions being thrown up. We are really an historic community.

Yes we are concerned about our property values, our homes are the biggest investments many of us will make in a lifetime and we want to protect those from over-development and poor planning. Route 7 is already a traffic nightmare and there has not been any County Planning Study done in the Seven Corners area for over 17 years. In the meantime developers have haphazardly proposed more density with no planning for infrastructure or traffic. We need leadership from our county officials.

We will be meeting with Sharon Bulova this Thursday. We have over 300 signatures against changing the zoning on this property. And would welcome anyone else who would like to sign. The online petition is located at:

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/3236_peacevalleylane_no-to-rezoning/

Please feel free to contact me for more information.

Thank you,

Carol Turner
Co-President
Ravenwood Park Citizens Association

by Carol Turner on Mar 1, 2011 10:27 am • linkreport

JB: That last part is pretty silly. In this case, someone who owns some property wants to put in some development that's actually of the same density as adjacent property on one side and less dense than property on another side. That's nothing like forcing anyone to sell anything.

by David Alpert on Mar 1, 2011 10:27 am • linkreport

"I wasn't meaning to specifically allege that there was a discriminatory component in this case."

But that's exactly what you did! Rather than slandering Ravenwood Park, why don't you contact our Board and get your facts straight?

by Concerned Ravenwodd Park Resident on Mar 1, 2011 10:32 am • linkreport

No, CPR, that's not what I did. I said that this is often a factor, and questioned whether people might be nervous about bus riders. There were no statements that said people definitively did or did not harbor certain motives.

However, that comment about "depreciation creep" is just like the arguments that were made for legally excluding certain groups from some neighborhoods in the past. I know that this was just one person's comment, but it's not unfair to point out.

by David Alpert on Mar 1, 2011 10:36 am • linkreport

After looking at the location and aerial image, and reading everyone's thoughts and links, I agree with the Neighborhood.

I live in Sleepy Hollow and the neighborhood just fought off an amendment to the county Plan to increase the density on the south side of Rte 50 between seven corners and South Street, in order to build townhomes. I suppose part of my opposition is NIMBYish, but these areas are already over capacity. I believe in and support smart urban development, but that doesn't mean denser housing with everything else as an afterthought. The people who live here now are, IMO, already underserved by the major public infrastructure investments. The roads are a mess. Schools are packed. I knowingly trade my quality of life for wages and job security. And I know that I have no exclusive property rights beyond the end of my yard, but is it so bad to be invested in your community, to question the value of denser development....This area isn't exactly economically depressed, and there isn't as far as I know a lack of available housing, or a lack of human labor in the area, so what value does a denser zoning add to the community?

by Joe M. on Mar 1, 2011 10:40 am • linkreport

David,
We don't understand why you are trying to make this an issue that Ravenwood Park is trying to keep people out. That is absolutely wrong! We care enough to try to maintain a stable community where people walk and socialize with one another. A townhouse development would have nothing in common with our neighborhood because the developer would built a rock wall to divide each community.

Our argument is for smart planning and revitalization of the Seven Corners area. We're not against density we just want our County officials to do a planned study before haphazardly throwing up more buildings without knowing the effects that will cause. Instead of County Officials just amending the County's Comprehensive Plan to accommodate developers how about taking into consideration the residents who live there.

I for one would love to see a streetcar come down Route 7 from Alexandria and on through Falls Church City. Our current roads will not support more cars and there is no where to build more roads. Let's think revitalization with smart planning not just more density being good.
Carol

by Carol on Mar 1, 2011 10:40 am • linkreport

David -- What you did was even worse. You used Ravenwood Park as your example, with incorrect information peppered throughout, then insinuated that racism could be the rationale for our position. Defending this by saying I didn't say this definitely was or was not the case really is weak. And your continued defense of your post, without checking out the facts, really lowers your blog to a gossip column.

You didn't talk to anyone from Ravenwood Park before you wrote this article, so why not talk to our board now and get the community's side of the story? You can see our president and co-president have made this offer. Step up.

by Theresa Schwerin on Mar 1, 2011 10:52 am • linkreport

David: OK, forced backyard subdivision is not what's happening here, but it is I think an extreme but logical conclusion to the principle of "Demand should dictate land use"--which seems to be the underlying principle behind the urbanism you espouse. And the principle that is being applied in this case as well. But maybe I got off topic a bit.

Still: What if someone wanted to build giant skyscrapers in your favorite DuPont park? Or tear down your favorite block of mixed-use retail to build a much more profitable skyscraper for law firms and lobbyists, with lots of curb cuts for the parking garage and nothing on the ground floor but blackened windows? I believe you and your neighbors would oppose this--and I would support you. Because I think people have the right to have a say--to have *the* say--in what goes in their neighborhood.

by JB on Mar 1, 2011 10:56 am • linkreport

@JB

The very idea of having a home to yourself is that any human being or family needs his/her/their own space. So by having an apartment, condo, house, whatever, you're keeping other people out. Not everybody can live in your (or my) home, not everybody can live in the District of Columbia (or Arlington, or Bethesda), etc.

The question of "How many people should live in X area?" should not be answered by "How many *want to?" It should be "What are the desires of the current residents?"

You're seriously equating the desire to develop more densely with someone forcing you to take on a roommate? What?

OK, forced backyard subdivision is not what's happening here, but it is I think an extreme but logical conclusion to the principle of "Demand should dictate land use"--which seems to be the underlying principle behind the urbanism you espouse. And the principle that is being applied in this case as well.

The underlying principle is this - cities are agglomerations of economic activity - that's what makes them work. The combination of a more free market and private property rights has a better track record of producing good urbanism than excessive zoning and regulation does.

In that mold of property rights, there is no such thing as forced backyard subdivision. There is no sinister force at all. Cities are dynamic places, we should let that dynamism work.

by Alex B. on Mar 1, 2011 11:04 am • linkreport

Neighbors do have a right to say what they think, they can also have misguided ideas about what is/isn't actually taking place. David wrote about opposition to townhouses, he came up with some reasons why there exists opposition and why that isn't always true about them. Some residents seem more concerned about the process of this issue and that's fine but if you have some assumptions about certain types of development, voice those assumptions then I (or others) may point out that I question those assumptions.

by Canaan on Mar 1, 2011 11:05 am • linkreport

As for the argument about writing this before meeting with people, the fact is that there are opinions from the neighborhood association leaders and some residents published in newspapers, on blogs, and on discussion forums. It's legitimate to react to those statements on their face.

Would I hear something totally different if I met with people in person? I've met with Purple Line light rail opponents from Chevy Chase, for example. They were very nice and we had an enjoyable cup of coffee but it really didn't tell me anything I didn't already know.

by David Alpert on Mar 1, 2011 11:09 am • linkreport

And apparently Mr. Alpert doesn't care to publish things other than what he "already knows" - ie. his opinions.

Why not call this an op-ed?

by Concerned Citizen on Mar 1, 2011 11:11 am • linkreport

OK, it's an op-ed. Most of what's on a blog is op-ed-ish.

by David Alpert on Mar 1, 2011 11:13 am • linkreport

You didn't just react, you added wrong information as statement of fact without checking it out - from your opening, "they'd prefer even the ugliest clear-cut subdivision." to your closing insinuating that racism is the underlying rationale.

So since you didn't get the facts right, yes, I would hope that you would learn something new from talking to our board. If your intent is what your blog title states (Washington, DC is great but could be greater) stop being a gossip columnist and step up.

by Theresa on Mar 1, 2011 11:23 am • linkreport

The neighborhood association has a right to say what it thinks which it has certainly done in these comments. David also has a right to say what he thinks - even if his perspective differs from that of the neighborhood association.

by Fred on Mar 1, 2011 11:26 am • linkreport

That's certainly true. However, David's posting clearly was not predicated on an impartial and fully researched set of facts and lacked a full understanding of the issues involved. Absent that, it cannot masquerade as news and instead is nothing more than a biased opinion piece that smears a neighborhood and its 1,000 residents either intentionally or through lazy omission.

by John Iekel on Mar 1, 2011 11:29 am • linkreport

David,
We really appreciate you’re taking the time to write a piece about our fight in Ravenwood Park to keep our over 50+ year old neighborhood intact. However, your article did not capture but misrepresented what our fight is all about.

It is not about keeping townhouses out at any cost or about keeping certain people out of the neighborhood far from it. It is about saving our established 54-year old neighborhood. The parcel of land in discussion is zoned for R-3, which is 3 single-family homes per acre. All we want is to keep the current zoning as is and let single-family homes be built. Single-family homes even if larger than the current homes would be consistent with our neighborhood.

The 3236 Peace Valley land and the people who lived there for many many years were part of our neighborhood community and were very active in the Ravenwood Park Citizens Association. Why would we want to have a development built that does not add to our established neighborhood. The developer as an incentive to allow townhomes has promised to build a big wall that will divide the townhouses from our neighborhood. Thanks but no thanks.

We are not against any other nationality in fact our 253-home neighborhood is completely a diverse one. We have a community that socializes and is connected by an internet Yahoo list serv and one that gathers through the year for events such as an Egg Roll, Garden Tour, Ice Cream Social, Oktoberfest and on and on. We are a welcoming community and have managed to keep our very solidly built houses as is when other neighborhoods around us have had to deal with McMansions being thrown up. We are really an historic community.

Yes we are concerned about our property values, our homes are the biggest investments many of us will make in a lifetime and we want to protect those from over-development and poor planning. Route 7 is already a traffic nightmare and there has not been any County Planning Study done in the Seven Corners area for over 17 years. In the meantime developers have haphazardly proposed more density with no planning for infrastructure or traffic. We need leadership from our county officials.

We will be meeting with Sharon Bulova this Thursday. We have over 300 signatures against changing the zoning on this property. And would welcome anyone else who would like to sign. The online petition is located at:

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/3236_peacevalleylane_no-to-rezoning/

Thank you,
Carol Turner
Co-President, Ravenwood Park Citizens Association

by Carol on Mar 1, 2011 11:47 am • linkreport

Alex B.: "You're seriously equating the desire to develop more densely with someone forcing you to take on a roommate?"

No, I didn't equate them, but they are different places on the same gradient. A neighborhood is a group of privately owned properties, each of which by design is reserved for its owners or residents. So yes, "keeping people out" is in fact the basis for the very idea of a residence. (Otherwise we'd be living in barracks or perhaps nomadic.) It's not about keeping all people out--just more people than an area can handle.

"The combination of a more free market and private property rights has a better track record of producing good urbanism than excessive zoning and regulation does."

That's based on the assumption that "good urbanism" is something everyone agrees is the goal. And that's not the case. Many of us want no more urbanism than what already exists. Not every place is a city.

Can you produce an example of "excessive zoning and regulation" and show what the ostensibly negative effects are?

by JB on Mar 1, 2011 11:52 am • linkreport

@JB

Can you produce an example of "excessive zoning and regulation" and show what the ostensibly negative effects are?

Sure, suburbia. Gasoline use, excessive land use regulation, etc.

The larger problem I have with your slippery slope argument is this - you equated the ability for one to exclude others from their property to their (supposed) ability to do so from their entire neighborhood.

If you want to exclude others from your property, that's fine - that is your right. However, that right does not extend to dictate how others may use their property.

Fundamentally, if they were to take that land and build single family homes, townhouses, a high-rise apartment building or anything in between, no one is suddenly going to force you to share your dwelling unit with someone else. That certainly does apply to your residence, it does not apply to someone else's land. You control your residence, you do not control mine.

Your private property rights are very different than the interests of the community at large.

by Alex B. on Mar 1, 2011 12:02 pm • linkreport

Alex,
We aren't against smart growth or even density in general! In this case, though, there is not adequate infrastructure to accommodate a zoning change.

by Concerned Citizen on Mar 1, 2011 12:04 pm • linkreport

Central to this issue -- and conspicuously and unfortunately absent from David's original blog opinion piece -- is that it is infact, THE SUPPORTERS of townhouse development who seek new regulation and to change the rules.

WE, on the other hand, seek to work with within the current zoning regulations and current county comprehensive plan. WE are not the party that seeks further and excessive regulation. Rather, we seek to have the current zoning rules kept in place and applied as is appropriate for the reasons for which they were put in place to begin with.

The parties that seek excessive government intrusion, interference, and added regulation are those who seek to change the zoning and county plan. We seek nothing more than to see the legitimate purposes for which the zoning regulations and county comprehensive plan brought to fruition.

by John Iekel on Mar 1, 2011 12:10 pm • linkreport

@John lekel

The parties that seek excessive government intrusion, interference, and added regulation are those who seek to change the zoning and county plan.

You do realize, of course, that zoning and regulation are the very kinds of interference and excessive government intrusion you speak of, right?

There's nothing sacred about the status quo, except for the fact that it is the status quo.

by Alex B. on Mar 1, 2011 12:18 pm • linkreport

As Alex points out, one can certainly argue that the "excessive government intrusion, interference, and added regulation" are the zoning laws that are preventing the developer from building the townhouses.

by Fred on Mar 1, 2011 12:26 pm • linkreport

@Alex

We do not blindly and irrationally oppose development. Rather, we seek development that is rational and that entails the concerns and interests not only of the nearby communities but also with consideration of the effect of added density on an already overburdened infrastructure. In addition, we are a welcoming, diverse, and inclusive community.

I am curious, Alex, where you live. Is your position based simply on ideology and theory, or do you actually live in a place where such things are an issue?

I can honestly say that we are considering not only our views but those of the residents of the condos and townhouses near us who strongly support controlling added density in our area. Those communities, like ours, are diverse and inclusive.

Can you honestly say that you live what you propound, or is this the view of someone who cannot fully and personally grasp contending with these issues?

by John Iekel on Mar 1, 2011 12:30 pm • linkreport

@John Lekel

I don't particularly care how diverse or inclusive you are.

I'm just pointing out the error in your logic - a rezoning of the area to make more kinds of development permissible (and at greater density) is a less intrusive kind of regulation, not a more intrusive one.

As for me, I pride myself on being a YIMBY.

Is your position based simply on ideology and theory, or do you actually live in a place where such things are an issue?

I'm not sure why you've set these up as mutually exclusive choices. My position is indeed based on theory. It is also based on practice. I do live in a place where such things are issues, and I'm on the side that favors more density in my own back yard.

by Alex B. on Mar 1, 2011 12:44 pm • linkreport

AlexB: When you say "suburbia," there are plenty of non-urbanist (suburban or suburban-style) examples that don't result in excessive gasoline use: a huge chunk of Washington, DC (Palisades, Tenleytown, and a lot of SFH neighborhoods in NE) are suburban-style SFHs on fairly large lots. As are much of the suburbs of Bethesda, Arlington, and the SFH neighborhoods abutting Old Town Alexandria, and other close-in, older developments. People who live in any of those areas have transit nearby, or if they drive into DC, it's only a few miles. (And of course there are many other nearby employment centers.)

You seem to be holding up a false choice between the urbanism/mixed-use of DuPont and Clarendon and the worst examples of suburban sprawl, like the hinterlands of Fairfax and Prince William. You forget (or omit) the in-between.

I agree completely that the treeless tracts of McMansions that have filled up the latter in the last 20 years are horrible and have a lot of negative effects--including the increased congestion, pollution, fuel consumption that comes from the fact that those poeple live 30 miles from their jobs. But those aren't the only kinds of suburbia.

And no, an individual does not have a right to limit the numbers of people in his or her neighborhood, but the overall group of residents does have that right. You may recall that the consent of the governed, as reflected in the majority vote of the area affected, is the foundation of our democracy.

We've gotten off the immediate topic, but I enjoy the debate!

by JB on Mar 1, 2011 1:19 pm • linkreport

Oops--by "the latter" I meant Fairfax and Pr. Wm. (I added a sentence after I wrote that one.)

by JB on Mar 1, 2011 1:21 pm • linkreport

David,
Like many who have posted here I am a resident of Ravenwood Park concerned about zoning changes. I do not think that all Ravenwood Park residents are against increased density. However, if density is going to be increased in seven corners it should be part of a larger plan for the area that includes transportation improvements, enhancements to walkability, and mixed use facilities which could reduce the need for car trips. Currently many parts of 7 and 50 lack basic sidewalks. I live less than a mile from stores and restaurants that I visit frequently but drive to because I feel I am risking my life trying to cross many of the busy roads/intersections around seven corners. Haphazardly rezoning small pieces of land is not the solution, a comprehensive study and plan for the area is. Penny Gross should take the lead in pushing for a study of potential improvements for the seven corners area.

I think you should come spend time in our neighborhood and talk with residents before making judgments about our intentions/motivations. We are an open minded community; many of us chose to live in this area because we wanted to live in a diverse area.

by Ravenwood Park Resident on Mar 1, 2011 1:25 pm • linkreport

It is right and prescient to plan for infrastructure changes but you won't get those unless you show that you're actually working towards those densities. If you consistently beat back any small changes, its going to be that much hard to bring in the larger ones.

by canaan on Mar 1, 2011 1:41 pm • linkreport

@JB

You may recall that the consent of the governed, as reflected in the majority vote of the area affected, is the foundation of our democracy.

How are you defining the 'area affected'? The local subdivision? The neighborhood? The political jurisdiction (i.e. Fairfax County)? How do you balance an immediate neighbor's desire to not have development on the site with, say, the county's desire to grow the tax base of the area?

And how about that majority vote - are we now voting on each and every issue that comes up, or are we letting our elected officials represent us?

by Alex B. on Mar 1, 2011 1:51 pm • linkreport

@ Alex B.

"Your private property rights are very different than the interests of the community at large."

The real question is at what level do "community rights" get legislated and who controls that process. This is the definition of and essential function of government.

"The combination of a more free market and private property rights has a better track record of producing good urbanism than excessive zoning and regulation does.""

It sounds like you are arguing against urban planning in favor of allowing people with money (aka Developers) to determine the communal norms in regards to density, asthetics, and local transport.

So who gets the say so...the locals who will be affected or some outsider with money who can buy influence with the Government?

by Joe M. on Mar 1, 2011 2:39 pm • linkreport

Joe M., well said.

Alex B.: Your question is sort of moot, because a system is already in place to ensure that the rights of a minority are balanced against the desires of a majority, in this case through zoning. Obviously we all (unfortunately) need landfills (for the time being), but no one wants to live near one. So zoning ensures that landfills won't (ideally) be built anywhere near residences. (Obviously there are flaws in the execution, but that's a whole new tangent.)

The question in the Ravenwood case is: On what basis should the zoning be changed to allow a developer to profit, despite major opposition from a majority of residents in the nearby community? These folks, after all, will be more greatly affected than anyone else. The people who will benefit are the developer and presumably the people who would end up living in the townhouses. But shouldn't the rights of those who already live in the neighborhood take precedence?

I say yes.

by JB on Mar 1, 2011 2:58 pm • linkreport

Your headline is certainly grabbing......grabbing attentinon at the expense of the truth.

As a member of Ravenwood who has followed this process from the beginning, even back to 2005 when this issue first came up, NOT ONCE did our neighborhood say absolutely no town houses. What we said was 'no' to was higher density development and the changing of zoning laws to allow for it to happen.

If a developer wants to put 5 townhouses on the property, I'm sure the neighborhood would prefer single family homes, but we would not be opposed. It's the insistence on our elected official to try to cram in as many townhouses into a small parcel of land as possible, against the wishes of her own constituents. And, for you to write this as if it's only some myopic Ravenwood residents against it, is slanderous. At a minimum, it shows a shoot from the hip, shottiness. Yes, our entire neighborhood is against this, and so is a major majority of the townhouses complex on the other side, as well as the entire condo complex to the north.

We live here. This isn't some knee jerk reaction to townhouse creep. Property values are not the prime factor for this -- it's about quality of life. Rt. 7 and the 7 Corners area are already bursting at the seams due to poor urban planning, yet, per you, we are looked on as potentially racist for suggesting that the property be developed under it's current zoning?

We are concerned about transportation issues, stormwater runoff issues (the parcel is on Munson Hill, btw so it looms over the neighborhood and many neighbors already have major water issues as it is.), crime rates that increase in hand with higher density, and an elected official that refuses to even listen to our concerns. Well, I guess Ms. Gross listened then summarily ignored our pleas and sided with the developer AGAIN, twice in the last 6 years, without any other reason than she likes to be in control and consider this parcel of land to be a 'problem property.' It's only a problem because her developer (that donated to her campaign) can't get his money out of the deal quick enough.

Shame on you for writing something about people you don't even know, slyly implying we are worried more about property values and a 'less than desirable' element coming into our surroundings. My neighbors on each side are hispanic, vietnamese, japanese, and there are so many mixed race couples and families, I've stopped counting. They are my neighbors and my friends. We come from all backgrouds, socioeconomically, culturally, ethnically -- it's something we all appreciate about Ravenwood Park.

You act as if what we are asking is outlandish. However, Fairfax County's own land use plans call for, and I quote, "patterns that protect, enhance and/or maintain stability in established residential neighborhoods." This is done by ensuring development "is of a compatible use, DENSITY/INTENSITY, and that adverse impacts on facility and transportation systems, the environment and the surrounding communities will not occur." This plan is there to protect "stable neighborhoods. The loss of neighborhoods can quickly lead to a loss of a sense of community: a basic facet of a high quality of life."

So, fine, don't listen to our pleas. But, please tell me how you can base your argument when it goes against the county's own tenants? If you say, 'because I support higher density development' as you said earlier, then you sound just like our supervisor, Penny Gross. That's about the best reason she could come up with too.

by And then the truth on Mar 1, 2011 2:59 pm • linkreport

@Joe M.

It sounds like you are arguing against urban planning in favor of allowing people with money (aka Developers) to determine the communal norms in regards to density, asthetics, and local transport.

Why do you argue that 'planning' is mutually exclusive with development?

Again, this gets to the fundamental question of what a city is - cities are nothing more than the physical manifestations of agglomeration economies. In my view, the very best parts of cities (the density, the diversity, the opportunity, the businesses, the arts, etc) all stem from this kind of agglomeration. We should encourage that agglomeration, not discourage it. The market is telling us things. Developers act as the physical manifestation of the market. We can help shape that physical form, but we shouldn't try to overtly stop it or cut it off at the knees, because that is antithetical to the very purpose and nature of cities.

The other key element of a city is that cities are dynamic. They are always changing. The notion that there is one, static community norm is, I think, both theoretically and empirically false. Trying to adjust land use regulations to keep things static is a disservice to cities, and in the end will cause them to wither and die, instead of thrive.

There's nothing about this kind of economic agglomeration that's mutually exclusive with urban planning. The key is that planning and regulation must acknowledge the dynamic agglomeration for what it is and not get caught up in falsely static interpretations of urbanism.

@JB

The people who will benefit are the developer and presumably the people who would end up living in the townhouses. But shouldn't the rights of those who already live in the neighborhood take precedence?

What about the person who lives elsewhere in FFX who stands to gain because the added tax base means they won't see their personal taxes increase as much? What about the merchants who would benefit from more people living nearby? What about the larger environmental benefits from density that will offer incremental benefits to all of us living in the entire region? What about the impact that not allowing growth here will have - just pushing that same increment of growth to yet another unsustainable development on the fringe of the region?

Again, what rights are you speaking of here? The neighbors certainly deserve the right to be heard. They do not deserve the right of veto power over any project. That kind of right is not only antithetical to our conception of property rights, but it's antithetical to the very nature of urbanism. The government has far more interests to balance than you imply here, and the current residents are just one of those interests.

by Alex B. on Mar 1, 2011 3:11 pm • linkreport

@canaan

"Consistently beat back any small changes..."

Ok, so what you're saying is this. Let the developers and the Board of Supervisors who are in the back pocket of the land developers get what they want on the piecemeal re-zonings and re-developments and eventually, eventually, by showing this good faith, the Board and the County will engage in and actually implement comprehensive planning.

Hmmm. What rock did you just crawl out from under? Have you driven up and down Route 7 lately? Ever??

All we have is spot and infill development. All we have is a little here, a little there. That's all we've gotten for two decades, and the drive up and down Route 7 demonstrates that the developers are getting what they want, but the residents and voters aren't getting their fair shake.

In fact, parts of Route 7 have been developed in recent years in such a way that there's NEVER going to be an opportunity to fix the traffic congestion because multi-story commercial/residential buildings have been built right up to the street's edge. They couldn't make Route 7 wider if they wanted to now. We, as residents and citizens of the affected area, are constantly making sacrifices. It's about time the developers feel the same pain.

Just because yielding to development has always been the "way it is," doesn't make it right and it doesn't mean that's the way is "has to be."

by Resident on Mar 1, 2011 3:12 pm • linkreport

@Alex B.

No one in Ravenwood Park is opposed to developing the land. No one is opposed to putting single family homes for sale on the parcel. There was a plan floated by the same land developer when he tried to push through re-zoning in 2005 that calls for 5 Single Family Homes, priced at anywhere from the high $700s to over $1mm. Wouldn't the sale of these houses add to the tax base of FFX county?

And wouldn't the sale of these higher valued properties result in appreciation of values in the adjacent homes? And as the adjacent homes rise in value, doesn't that lead to increased values deeper into the established neighborhood?

Wouldn't this accomplish the goal of putting tax revenue into the coffers of the greater FFX county?

Ok. Now let's put a dozen $400,000 townhouses on the parcel. Now let's see the values of the adjacent property owners decline. Now let's see the values of the properties deeper in the established neighborhood decline.

Does the short-term boost in tax revenue from the 12 townhouses justify the long-term tax losses? That's how a politician would decide. On the short-term. But as residents we would like our elected politicians to start thinking about the LONG TERM implications of their decisions.

LONG TERM implications affecting home values and property tax revenues.

LONG TERM implications affecting congestion and aesthetics and way of life.

People are losing sight of a critical fact, which is that the 2 acre parcel was sold to the "LOWEST" bidder. A parcel that sold just 6 years ago for over $1.1 million was sold to a corporation no one has ever heard of, COM-RES VA, LLC, for $360,000. And the only reason COM-RES VA, LLC bought the parcel was to "flip it" to a builder once Will Collins and Concordia Group work their "magic" to get elected officials from another state (yes, Concordia is from Maryland) to change the zoning to accommodate what they want, which is the biggest ROI.

What if we just don't re-zone and the 2-acre lot goes back up for sale... a real sale... a public sale... and not some rigged foreclosure. For $500,000, $600,000 or more, are you telling me there's NO ONE ELSE IN Norther Virginia who'd buy that piece of land and either just build one amazing house and live there? That's how the property was utilized for almost 100 years and no one was complaining. Or perhaps build the 5 single family houses that were proposed back in 2005 by the same Will Collins who only has eyes for townhouses today?

Come on. The issue doesn't come down to a "townhouses or nothing." The reality is that if the parcel isn't re-zoned, that property will go back on the market and someone WILL BUY IT and someone WILL DEVELOP IT. Only the development at an R-3 is more respectful of the LONG TERM VIEW and LONG TERM INTERESTS of the citizens of the area AND of FFX county, in general.

by Not a Hobson's Choice on Mar 1, 2011 3:27 pm • linkreport

NAHC, why would the values of the homes in the neighborhood decline if townhouses are built? There seems to be this belief that townhouses will cause the neighborhood to start to become undesirable or something. Why?

by David Alpert on Mar 1, 2011 3:30 pm • linkreport

Of course, building more units on the land will mean more income tax from the people living in those units, more sales tax from the stuff they buy in VA, etc.

If the neighbors don't want dense development, that is their preference. Just don't try to argue that allowing dense development is somehow a restriction on their property rights. Such an argument is ludicrous on its face.

by Alex B. on Mar 1, 2011 3:42 pm • linkreport

AlexB wrote: "Of course, building more units on the land will mean more income tax from the people living in those units, more sales tax from the stuff they buy in VA, etc."

Not true. SFHs would sell for more money, which (along with higher property taxes) means the people living in them would almost certainly have higher incomes, which means more income tax revenue. I'll concede it's mathematically debatable and probably impossible to know for sure--but the point of land use isn't to boost the coffers of local government, anyway. (And income tax goes to the state. VA has no local income tax.)

You can't say on one hand that SFHs will bring more cars and thus more congestion--but then turn around and say they'll have fewer people and thus less tax revenue!

"Just don't try to argue that allowing dense development is somehow a restriction on their property rights. Such an argument is ludicrous on its face."

It is in fact a violation of the right of the community to expect local government to abide by the laws--including the zoning laws--rather than conspiring under the table with campaign contributors to change the laws. This isn't about individual property owners' rights; it's about transparency of local government. What you dismiss as "veto power" is simply the expectation that those in elected office must abide by the rules. It's not like this parcel was already zoned for high density; if that were the case and the neighbors objected, then you would have a point.

"... antithetical to the very nature of urbanism."

Again, Alex, not everyone is for urbanism. That part of Falls Churh is not urban; it's suburban. You keep throwing out that term as if it's tantamount to "democracy" or "the American way." It's not.

by JB on Mar 1, 2011 4:19 pm • linkreport

Zoning can and should change.

Downtown DC was once full of houses. Single family houses. Now it is much denser. This is the natural progression of growth.

What if we had zoning 200 years ago? What if DC's built form were 'locked-in' into the pre-Civil-War era?

Your entire argument is based on a static conception of a city, when in fact cities are dynamic, not static.

Whether this particular area is 'urban' or 'suburban' isn't really relevant, it's all the same pattern of urban economics and agglomeration. All I'm trying to point out is that those who oppose this development don't have some sort of natural right or divine providence on their side.

by Alex B. on Mar 1, 2011 4:27 pm • linkreport

AlexB: "Downtown DC was once full of houses. Single family houses. Now it is much denser. This is the natural progression of growth."

It certainly happened that way, but not everyone thinks it's a good thing. That same change also produced the hideous concrete canyon that is K Street and removed all the beautiful old row houses that were in SW in the name of urban renewal.

"What if we had zoning 200 years ago? What if DC's built form were 'locked-in' into the pre-Civil-War era?"

That's two different eras, but I'll tackle the latter: So now you're equating opposition to a major zoning change in 2011 to--what, dogtrots and plantations in the 1850s? Come on.

The point is that zoning is passed by majority vote, or at least by people who were elected by majority vote. If there had been zoning in the 1850s, it would probably have changed over the years, and that would be fine. It's one thing to change zoning by due process--quite another to do it via collusion, on a piecemeal basis.

"Your entire argument is based on a static conception of a city, when in fact cities are dynamic, not static."

Alex: Falls Church right there *is not a city.* It's part of Fairfax County. Even "Falls Church City" (which is not Ravenwood) is not a city in any real sense. But putting that aside, just because things change doesn't mean people don't have a right to oppose that change or to insist that the change be done according to the rule of law.

"Whether this particular area is 'urban' or 'suburban' isn't really relevant, it's all the same pattern of urban economics and agglomeration."

No, it's quite relevant. Your argument is based on the idea that a suburban neighborhood is a city, that cities must always be changing (no matter who loses), and that they must do so in accordance with the wishes of urban planners and the developers who profit from their urban planning. You seem to resist the very idea that there are suburbs, whose static existence makes urban planners seem irrelevant and does not line the pockets of developers.

"All I'm trying to point out is that those who oppose this development don't have some sort of natural right or divine providence on their side."

Who brought up natural right or divine providence? It's 4:30 so I'll cut you some slack. The only right I'm saying they have is the right to expect zoning to not be overruled at the whim of one elected official.

by JB on Mar 1, 2011 4:41 pm • linkreport

When I say 'city,' I am not speaking of legal jursidictions. I am speaking in the economic sense. The region is the functional economic unit of the 'city' of Washington. That's the Washington region with 5 million+ people living in it. People don't generally care about the legal boundaries that they cross in their day to day lives.

In that economic sense, this site is every bit as much of the 'city' as downtown DC is. It's still subject to the same economic pressures and rules.

As far as laws go - as I mentioned, zoning can be changed. If the zoning change itself is happening according to the law, then what's the objection?

by Alex B. on Mar 1, 2011 4:48 pm • linkreport

@Alex "Developers act as the physical manifestation of the market."

I take issue with this statement because you are clearly isolating your "market" for townhouses with the market for livable, established, SFH neighborhoods.

There clearly is a market for established SFH neighborhoods. How is this developer manifesting that market? He's not. Because if he was, he wouldn't be applying for a change to the county plan. People lobby the Government for policies that benefit them.

I get so tired of the "Free Market" capitalist bs that people believe. There is no such thing as a free market. Governments build roads, which subsidize the operating cost for businesses and the people that work there, increasing or decreasing labor supply, changing wages, attracting and repelling different type of restaurants, and stores, culture. Governments build schools which nominally subsidize training costs for companies. The concept of property rights flows only from Governments. Free Market...sure..just don't ask for a Government Agent to come help you track down who is stealing from you. And let's not even broach the subject of where the entire economy of Metro DC comes from.

To say free-market is to say no-government impediments to me using my economic power over people at any cost. And that is what this is....A moneyed interest using economic power to exploit resources as he sees fit to get the most return on his investment, with specific disregard for the communities' interest, as evidenced by trying to get amendments to the county plan by enlisting a politican whom he used his economic power to gain favor.

Also, Pie-in-the-sky trickle-down beneficiaries can justify any action. I think GW Bush called it Voodoo Economics.

by Joe M. on Mar 1, 2011 5:07 pm • linkreport

@David Alpert

"NAHC, why would the values of the homes in the neighborhood decline if townhouses are built? There seems to be this belief that townhouses will cause the neighborhood to start to become undesirable or something. Why?"

I might be wrong, but I think that property assessments look at the values of the surrounding homes. So, by definition, if there is a neighborhood of $1M SFH's, building a single townhouse that is valued at $200K will pull down the values of those SFHs. The townhouse would also get assessed upwards due to the proximity of such expensive SFH's.

Additionally, I'd be interested to see the distribution of foreclosures. If townhouses are generally cheaper than SFH's and cheaper properties generally have foreclosed more often than more expensive properties, for whatever reason, then doesn't it follow that new townhouses are at a greater risk of foreclosure, and since foreclosures near your home negatively affect yout market assessment, that new townhouses increase the likelyhood of lower assessments, if the foreclosure statistics are indicative of the future?

by Joe M. on Mar 1, 2011 5:23 pm • linkreport

That's not what I said at all, what I was responding to was the assertion that until something huge happens nothing small can (or is allowed to) happen. That is a false choice. There are plenty of ways to fix the congestion without widening the road but you can look plenty of other places on this site and others to learn about that.

2nd, why is it that if someone has a different opinion about something does it mean that I've obviously never been to an area? Why must you assume that I'm ignorant on the situation?

by Canaan on Mar 1, 2011 5:28 pm • linkreport

@Joe M.

I take issue with this statement because you are clearly isolating your "market" for townhouses with the market for livable, established, SFH neighborhoods.

No, I'm not. Plenty of developers build single family homes. Who else built them in the first place?

Pretty much everyone's home - at some point in time - was developed by a developer (or a plot of land was sold by a developer) for a profit. This is how our cities and suburbs are shaped. There's nothing wrong with it.

I argue against the narrative of community vs. developer because I think it's a false narrative. It isn't historically true, nor does it shed any light on the true nature of urban economics and real estate development. It represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what cities are and how they came to be the communities we know and love today.

How is this developer manifesting that market? He's not. Because if he was, he wouldn't be applying for a change to the county plan. People lobby the Government for policies that benefit them.

If he builds townhomes and sells/rents them, how is that not a successful manifestation of the market?

If you want a true gauge of the free market, you'd have no zoning whatsoever and the property owner could build anything they wanted.

Of course, that's not what anyone is advocating for. When I talk about the broader economic rationale for cities, I think we need to ensure the markets we have a more free than the zoning currently allows. The restrictions on density in particular are frustrating, because the market and that land can clearly support more density than there is now.

by Alex B. on Mar 1, 2011 5:33 pm • linkreport

This thread has been an interesting read. It's been very informative as to why the 'burbs really are locked into the sprawl model, pretty much aren't going to change anytime soon, and why the congested Hell-scape that is Seven Corners can only continue to devolve.

Folks will fight to their last breath for what they think is their best interest, and that interest seems to be turning back the clock. Of course, that's not possible, so we just keep doing the same thing over and over again.

by oboe on Mar 1, 2011 5:37 pm • linkreport

Joe M: The assessments look at the value of similar homes nearby. If a home of a totally different size or type is adjacent, the assessor will not blindly lower the assessment of an individual home because of it. Assessments are much more sophisticated than that.

by David Alpert on Mar 1, 2011 5:38 pm • linkreport

Alex B: "All I'm trying to point out is that those who oppose this development don't have some sort of natural right or divine providence on their side."

Yes, you are so correct. But those same people are supposed to have a land use plan in place by the county that was specifically designed to protect against higher intensity development next to low density development. They don't need natural right or divine providence.

I'm not sure how much clearer it has to be than the counties own language -- "...patterns that protect, enhance and/or maintain stability in established residential neighborhoods."...is done by ensuring development..."is of a compatible use, DENSITY/INTENSITY, and that adverse impacts on facility and transportation systems, the environment and the surrounding communities will not occur."

When rules are made simply to be broken, then what does that say? When Supervisors ignore land use plans and constituents at the behest of developers, the system is broke.

You act as if it's manifest destiny for suburban to become urban.

Answer an honest question please --- we know you didn't talk to anyone in Ravenwood Park before writing this blog, but did you talk to Penny Gross or anyone on her staff before doing so?

I would be very surprised if you didn't because it's almost as if you are her mouthpiece on this issue. She certainly feels the need right now to talk about this because she knows there is intense pressure on her to not cowtow to developers/construction/real estate industry officials that provide 34% of all of her campaign contributions.

Yes, that's right -- she is great with parks, schools and social programs, but she also wants to make sure her 'developers' secretly get what they want too. Gotta keep that campaign money flowing.

by And then the truth on Mar 1, 2011 5:45 pm • linkreport

And then the "truth": I didn't talk to Gross.

by David Alpert on Mar 1, 2011 5:52 pm • linkreport

Answer an honest question please --- we know you didn't talk to anyone in Ravenwood Park before writing this blog, but did you talk to Penny Gross or anyone on her staff before doing so?

I would be very surprised if you didn't because it's almost as if you are her mouthpiece on this issue.

Consider yourself surprised.

You act as if it's manifest destiny for suburban to become urban.

No, not manifest destiny. Just how the urban real estate market would function if not constrained by zoning, that's all.

As far as the plans go, I will admit that I'm not versed in FFX Co's land use plan. However, we're talking about a difference between 3 single family homes, or 12 townhouses. There are townhouses just up the road - seems like the density/intensity is perfectly compatible with the surrounding neighborhood to me - we're not talking about 30 story high rise apartments here.

by Alex B. on Mar 1, 2011 5:53 pm • linkreport

"You act as if it's manifest destiny for suburban to become urban."

That's typically been the pattern for all of history. There were times when capitol, adams morgan, and tenleytown were all suburbs. You can see it as an intrisically bad thing but I think that is a shortsighted approach.

by Canaan on Mar 1, 2011 5:56 pm • linkreport

@ Alex B.

"The restrictions on density in particular are frustrating, because the market and that land can clearly support more density than there is now."

Do you think the current infrastructure can support higher density? Schools? Roads? Existing Business? Everything about that part of Falls Church/Arlington is jammed. The Roads are jammed, the schools are jammed, the Grocery is jammed. I don't have a problem with the gradual transition to Urban, I just don't see how increasing density necessarily helps a neighborhood, especially one already overconsuming scant public resources. I can't see additional capacity on the roads ever happening and in my opinion the community is already underserved in other areas. If more mass transit alternatives don't materialize, do we just turn Baileys and Seven Corners in to Skyline? Skyline is pretty dense, and also maddeningly unfriendly to anyone not driving a car. Is that what all our communities are destined to become?

by Joe M. on Mar 1, 2011 6:36 pm • linkreport

Let,s just hope all communities do not turn into a Baily's Crossroads or Seven Corners. auto-dependent suburbAn sprawl at it's worst!

by Fred on Mar 1, 2011 7:49 pm • linkreport

I must say I'm somewhat taken aback by the presumptuous and ill-informed approach the author took when writing his article. It's disturbing and almost "FOX News-esque" in its pre-disposed bias. Maybe Mr. Alpert is positioning himself for a position within News Corp.

by Shocked on Mar 2, 2011 8:02 am • linkreport

Fascinating discussion.

According to disciples of the Church of Smart Growth, density is ALWAYS the best option.

Unless it happens to be in their own backyard, in which case it's a bad idea.

*cough*TabardInn*cough*

by Fritz on Mar 3, 2011 7:33 pm • linkreport

Fritz: By now I've figured out that you aren't trying to have a real conversation about issues and rather say the most obnoxious thing you can. However, I will nonetheless respond.

I supported density at the Tabard site. I just pushed for a rearrangement of the density to be more respectful toward the neighbors.

The Tabard isn't in my back yard and I wouldn't see it at all. I supported density at the church which I can see from my window, and in fact wanted them to build it bigger than they did.

I supported a taller building at 15th and S, about the same distance as the Tabard. I'd like to see taller buildings on 17th, which is closer, such as on the CVS or Safeway site (keeping those stores on the ground floors of taller buildings).

by David Alpert on Mar 4, 2011 7:10 am • linkreport

I have deleted comments from a John C which were among the most hateful and nasty I have ever seen on this blog. After having his comments deleted, John began repeatedly reposting in an attempt to get some attention.

I have now banned him from the system from posting any comments.

In general, I'd say I am surprised by the hate that is emanating from some (but far from all) of the residents over this issue. People seem to be remarkably incensed that they would be challenged and react with surprising hostility and nastiness. I hope this is not how the residents of Ravenwood Park generally treat each other and other people.

by David Alpert on Mar 4, 2011 7:28 am • linkreport

@DavidA:

I don't know enough about Ravenwood Park to make assumptions about the possible secret desire of current residents to keep out certain races or classes of potential new residents of an upzoned development.

But it is an interesting dynamic here at play: the Ravenwood Park residents want input on how their community will be impacted by a new development and to be "more respectful toward the neighbors", and they're being attacked for doing so. The N Street Follies neighbors wanted input on how their community would be impacted by a new development and for it to be and to be "more respectful toward the neighbors", and they were lauded for doing so.

Note: I'm not saying there's hypocrisy or NIMBYism at play here; however, it's a factor in many other such debates.

by Fritz on Mar 4, 2011 11:28 am • linkreport

Fritz: Input is one thing. Wanting to absolutely block anything more than an extremely small amount of development is another.

If they said, "townhouses are fine, but we want to make sure they're clustered toward the Route 7 side and the existing townhouses and have a bigger buffer near our houses, and also we'd like the developer to plant a few trees," for example, that would be a reasonable request. "Absolutely no townhouses no way no how" is not equivalent to "input."

When people are trying just to win rhetorical points and tear others down, as you are, rather than seriously explore issues, it's easy to jump to the argument of, "well, you opposed one element of one thing slightly near you once, and so therefore you must be a hypocrite." But that's silly and a gross oversimplification.

There are many cases where I haven't dogmatically supported building the maximum amount of density everywhere. Some are somewhat near me, some far away. There are other cases where I have said I think there should be more density than currently. Sometimes that's near me, sometimes farther away.

Urbanism is not necessarily all black and white, either you support building everything to the sky and even "forcing people to rent out their backyards" or some such, versus never building anything anywhere. There's no "church of smart growth" that believes anything so ridiculously one-dimensional.

I'd love to see this neighborhood engaging in a good-faith debate about how they could both accommodate more people in the area while also reducing some of the impacts to their own homes or the traffic. What about coming up with a list of things they'd like to see from a proffer from the developer, for example? Or a way to improve the transit in the area to reduce the traffic?

That is what was going on with N Street Follies. The discussion was, this hotel is a good idea, but also the specific courtyard of the Tabard deserves to have some light, so how about reorienting the pieces of the proposal to avoid blocking out the afternoon sun from the courtyard.

I never agreed with the point of view that said, no hotel here, or that it should have to have a big alley setback, or very low heights, or anything of that nature.

"Input" and "a veto" are different things. The neighbors should have input on the campus plans for Georgetown and AU, for example. They should be able to suggest some things they like and don't like. They shouldn't simply be able to say, no more students, no building outside the existing footprint, no buses.

by David Alpert on Mar 4, 2011 11:39 am • linkreport

I think the reason passions are so high is that folks see what's been done to their built environment, and they're terrified that any change will make things worse. So, ironically, they vote for more of the same.

You can't drive (or God forbid, walk) in that area and imagine that the policies of the past are anything but an utter catastrophe. In times of crisis, we tend to become more conservative. So we vote for more of the same.

by oboe on Mar 4, 2011 12:27 pm • linkreport

David,

You continue to misrepresent the arguments of the Ravenwood Park neighbors. To whom are you attributing the "Absolutely no townhouses no way no how" quote above? I haven't seen anyone, other than you, say anything of the sort.

Despite comments to the contrary, I have seen people engage in good-faith debate. The developers bought a (vacant) single-home property and want to turn it into it into a multi-home development. No one is trying to stop them from doing that.

However, the developers knew that the property they purchased was zoned for R-3 when they bought it. That R-3 restriction is in keeping with the adjacent neighborhood. Based on the size of the plot, they can build up to five new homes. The neighbors have no problem welcoming five new families.

However, the neighbors (both in Ravenwood Park and the adjacent townhouses) do have a problem with the developers trying to shoehorn in as many homes as they can into a relatively small plot of land, wedged between their two existing communities. There is genuine concern of overcrowding; traffic concerns, school overcrowding concern, etc. In all of the good-faith debate, I have yet to hear how those in favor of rezoning are planning to help offset the overcrowding issues that they wish to exacerbate.

To be clear, we are not talking about a planned community here. This plot is far too small and improperly located for a mixed-use development like those that have recently gone up in Fall Church City. Nor is there adequate space for the something similar to the campus-like Vienna community that Canaan posted above (particularly when you factor in the space required for parking for 20 new homes).

by The Band on Mar 5, 2011 11:36 am • linkreport

Fairfax County's own land use plans call for, and I quote, "patterns that protect, enhance and/or maintain stability in established residential neighborhoods." This is done by ensuring development "is of a compatible use, DENSITY/INTENSITY,...

That R-3 restriction is in keeping with the adjacent neighborhood.

Single family homes in this neighborhood are clearly incompatible in density with the apartment buildings on the other side of Rio Drive. If compatibility is the test, single family homes cannot be permitted on this property.

Unless, of course, only single-family homes count as being an "adjacent neighborhood."

by tt on Mar 5, 2011 12:42 pm • linkreport

tt,

3236 Peace Valley Lane doesn't appear to actually touch Rio Drive. Rio Drive is on the other side of the church property. The property does, however, abut single-family homes to the NE and SW and currently shares their zoninc restrictions.

http://www.zillow.com/homes/3236-Peace-Valley-ln-22044_rb/#/homes/for_sale/Falls-Church-VA-22044/67134_rid/38.861531,-77.145989,38.859354,-77.153194_rect/17_zm/1_rs/1_fr/

by The Band on Mar 5, 2011 1:24 pm • linkreport

Make that NW & SW

by The Band on Mar 5, 2011 1:29 pm • linkreport

@David Alpert said:
If they said, "townhouses are fine, but we want to make sure they're clustered toward the Route 7 side and the existing townhouses and have a bigger buffer near our houses, and also we'd like the developer to plant a few trees," for example, that would be a reasonable request. "Absolutely no townhouses no way no how" is not equivalent to "input."

David,

I think you finally might be able to "get it." Because the above comment demonstrates that currently you don't.

Here's where you could have gotten some facts before jumping to your insinuations.

The parcel in question is a square. That square abuts Ravenwood Park on 2 sides. If you divide the square in half and push all the townhouses to the Route 7 side of the parcel, backing up to Vinewood townhouses, you'd still have one side of the THs abutting Ravenwood Park. As someone who lives on Colmac Drive, I can tell you that I wouldn't mind townhouses in such a configuration. Some neighbors might, such as the ones on the side with the THs, but I'd be just fine.

But that's really not the issue. Why? Because everyone in Ravenwood Park has already been down this exact same road 6 years ago.

We know who the developer is. We know what he wants. We know the options and the proffers and the sacrifices he's willing to make. And guess what? Pushing the THs to one side of the parcel isn't on the table. And it won't be on the table, EVER. Because for this developer, it does not make economic sense to build a mere 6 townhouses on one half of the parcel (as that is the maximum number of THs he can fit on one side of the square). The only way the developer can maximize the value of the parcel is by building every square inch of it.

So... now that you have the facts and we can stop dealing in theories and the land of make believe, how are you going to adjust your argument against Ravenwood residents this time?

by JSM on Mar 5, 2011 3:46 pm • linkreport

@DavidA:

Re- rhetorical arguments and tearing others down: It was you in your original post that tossed out the racist/classist accusation against opponents of the developer's plans.

Although, I guess I should note that you didn't even have the courage to make the outright charge, instead cloaking it with a rather weak parenthetical disclaimer.

Bottom line: It looks like some of the actual residents of the area understand the issues - and the reasons for their opposition - better than you do. And the rather thin accusation of discriminatory intent really doesn't further any sort of good faith debate -- a debate, it should be noted, where the people with the most at stake should be the ones leading the discussion since it's their lives, their homes, and their property values that are at stake, not abstract concepts of Smart Growth held by people living in another jurisdiction.

by Fritz on Mar 5, 2011 6:44 pm • linkreport

From the image, it looks to me like the apartment buildings are closer than most of the houses in the neighborhoods that are objecting.

Can you cite a single example of when Fairfax County (or any other suburban jurisdiction, for that matter) has ever denied approval of single family homes on the grounds that they were incompatible with adjacent multi-family housing? If not, "compatible" is a code word that means something other than its literal meaning. Can you tell me what it is a code word for, if not the exclusion of property whose residents are of lower socio-economic status?

by tt on Mar 5, 2011 8:14 pm • linkreport

tt,

Another way to look at that image is that the neighbors complaing include families considerably closer than the apartment buildings...which makes them orders of magnitude closer than you.

The neighbors aren't asking the County to approve anything. Fairfax County doesn't have to approve single-family (R-3) houses for 3236 Peace Valley Lane...that's what the property is already zoned for.

Compatible is a code word for "the same housing density as the rest of the neighborhood with which it already shares its zoning restrictions".

Any other questions?

by The Band on Mar 6, 2011 12:16 am • linkreport

tt,

If, as you posit, "compatible" is a code-word for "Not lower income", then it follows that Fairfax County government is the one who is codifying racism and classism. Is that your contention?

by Joe M. on Mar 6, 2011 9:49 am • linkreport

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