In Vienna, a Twist On the Tear-Down

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 3, 2006

Six years ago, Chris and Kira Brunjes were looking for a bigger place than their Sterling townhouse. On one house-hunting trip, they drove around Vienna, where Kira grew up, and stumbled on a number of elaborate Victorian-style houses rising on a cul-de-sac.

They were hooked. They located the builder, Ayrhill Homes of Vienna. Ayrhill partner Steve Bukont designed for the couple a four-bedroom cottage-style house with two stories, a low roof and a wraparound porch.

"We love it," said Kira, 39, who is an interior designer. "It's not a big brick Colonial."

Like many other parts of Fairfax County, Vienna is undergoing "McMansionization." The town's small brick ramblers on large lots are gradually being replaced by larger, grander homes.

But on the winding streets south of Route 123, the transformation has taken a different twist. The brick suburban tract behemoths proliferating elsewhere in the county aren't as evident here.

Instead, fueled by Vienna's tight zoning laws and a few builder-residents with a passion for historic architecture, the new houses seem to have sprung from the past: low-roofed Arts and Crafts bungalows, elaborate Victorians, rustic shingle-style homes, columned plantation-style houses.

More than 100 of the distinctive houses speckle southern Vienna. More are going up every day, as builders buy ramblers for their large, leafy lots.

But the houses, which sell for as much as $2 million, trouble some town officials and longtime residents. Builders and residents say lots in southern Vienna are selling for more than $550,000.

Residents say they are grateful that the new houses don't resemble the brick monoliths looming over other older communities in the county. But they blame the houses for higher taxes and worry that they alter Vienna's small-town feel.

"You can't condemn the McMansions out of hand," said Maud F. Robinson, a Vienna Town Council member who has lived in the town for 55 years. "It's the American dream to build and rebuild."

Nonetheless, she said, she worries that rising property values will drive out longtime residents who can't afford the taxes.

"All these people who are of retirement age -- I hate to see them forced to leave," she said.

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