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Fight Over 'Midgetville' Nears Its Final Round

Known as
Known as "Midgetville" because of its tiny early 20th-century cottages and towering trees, the Wedderburn property has been in the hands of the same Vienna family for more than 100 years. (By Dayna Smith -- The Washington Post)
By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 25, 2005

Opponents of a proposed residential development on land abutting the Washington & Old Dominion bike trail in Vienna are taking their case to the Board of Supervisors next month, now that the county's Planning Commission has turned down their pleas to reject the developer's rezoning plan.

The proposal for 24 houses on the 13-acre Wedderburn site just east of downtown Vienna has generated fierce opposition from neighbors. They say the developers are trying to jam too many houses on the wooded property and are providing an insufficient buffer to the adjacent bike trail.

The developers, on the other hand, contend that the project will retain more than 100 trees, provide a large buffer to the bike trail and mesh well with surrounding neighborhoods.

Known locally as "Midgetville," because of the property's diminutive early 20th-century cottages and towering trees, most of the land has been in the hands of the same Vienna family for more than 100 years. At the turn of the century, a hotel on the site catered to summertime clientele from Washington.

But in 2002, the family signed a deal to sell its property to Elm Street Development of McLean, which teamed with another developer that owns an adjacent property. The two are proposing rezoning both tracts and building a cluster development with 24 homes.

Since then, neighbors and others have been lobbying vigorously to have the project scaled back. In response, Elm Street and its partner, JCE Inc., have redrawn their plans to resolve some of the residents' concerns -- reducing the number of homes on the site, rerouting a road and increasing the buffer to the bike trail.

But residents say the plans still don't address their concerns about the impact of the development on the surrounding community and the trail.

"We don't think it's recognizing the environmental sensitivity of the area," said Becky Cate, a neighbor.

Wedderburn Neighbors, the group opposing the project, has joined forces with activists involved in development fights in other parts of the county to form an umbrella organization, FairGrowth Network. They say they want to promote greater citizen involvement in land-planning decisions in the county.

William S. Elliott, an organizer of the network, said member organizations plan to coordinate their responses to county development issues. Members include the Hunter Mill Defense League, the McLean Citizens Association and Options for Oakton.

Elliot, who helped found Fairfax Citizens for Responsible Growth, which is pushing for fewer homes in the proposed MetroWest development at the Vienna Metro station, said the dozen or so groups involved in the FairGrowth Network are troubled by what they see as the county's lack of concern about citizen input in the planning process for various projects around the county.

The Sept. 12 public hearing before the Board of Supervisors over the rezoning of the Wedderburn property represents a last stand for opponents, who have lost their bid to have the size of the project reduced at virtually every juncture in the county's approval process.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously at its July 28 meeting to recommend rezoning the property as requested by the developers. At the meeting, Providence District Planning Commissioner Kenneth A. Lawrence said he believed the Wedderburn project would "not negatively impact" surrounding communities.

Earlier this summer, Wedderburn opponents also lost a separate, but equally bitter, battle to have the county's Comprehensive Plan revised to require a lower housing density on the property.

And they lost their fight to stop the county from reclassifying a stream on the property from "perennial" to "intermittent." Leaving the classification "perennial" would have restricted development around it under the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.

Opponents say they don't object to a residential development on the Wedderburn land. But they want to stop this project in hopes of getting something they think would be better for the site.

Said Deborah Reyher, a spokeswoman for Wedderburn Neighbors, "This is really a unique opportunity to do something special."


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