Deep in a Regulatory Nightmare

John and Magdalena LoGrande and their children, Anthony and Anna, are caught up in what Magdalena describes as
John and Magdalena LoGrande and their children, Anthony and Anna, are caught up in what Magdalena describes as "a Kafka story" that has cost them $11,000 so far. (Photos By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 22, 2005

John and Magdalena LoGrande's nightmare began with a straightforward fixer-upper project at their four-bedroom home in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County.

Since they have neither an attic nor a basement in the two-story house, they were feeling short on storage space. In 2003, they hired an architect to do a feasibility study on a detached garage and forged ahead with applying for the proper permits.

Two years later they still have no garage. They are out $11,000. And they are concerned they might never be able to sell their biggest investment.

As it turns out, their permit application for a garage uncovered the unfortunate fact that their 25-year-old house sits seven inches below what the county requires for houses in the flood plain of the Potomac River.

In short, the house where they are raising their two young children is illegal.

To bring it into conformity, the LoGrandes say, county officials in turn suggested they consider building a berm around their house, or jacking up the whole house, or even tearing it down and building a new house on the footprint of the existing one.

"I never before in my life felt like I was in a Kafka story," said Magdalena LoGrande, a Spanish literature teacher at George Mason University. "We're caught in a Catch-22."

Every year, several Fairfax County residents go to the Board of Zoning Appeals looking for relief after the fact in cases involving a surveying error that has resulted in their houses being a few inches or a few feet out of compliance with regulations.

Under county ordinances, their problems can usually be remedied under special exceptions granted for mistakes made in a horizontal direction.

The LoGrandes, however, are dealing with a mistake made in a vertical direction, for which there is no provision in the county zoning ordinance, according to James R. Hart of the Board of Zoning Appeals.

They have gotten sympathy all around, and county officials insist relief is in sight.

"The application of the rules has put them in a bind, and the present problem needs to be fixed," said Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon), who has been helping the couple try to work through the regulatory morass. "There's no way they should have to do anything other than stay in their home and enjoy it, as they are entitled to do."

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