Fairfax Cracks Down on Nuisances

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 9, 2007

Fairfax County officials announced yesterday the first two prosecutions brought by a new task force formed to crack down on overcrowded housing and other neighborhood-level code violations that have turned into a heated election-year issue.

The two cases, a Springfield home allegedly occupied by too many people and an Alexandria-area back yard allegedly filled with junk cars, were the centerpieces of a news conference headed by Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D).

Complaints about crowding, abandoned cars, trash and illegal businesses in residential neighborhoods are widespread in the rapidly urbanizing county. But over the last couple of years, they have proliferated in the older neighborhoods of the Lee, Mason and Braddock districts, many of which evolved without the often rigorous oversight of homeowner associations.

Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) estimated that the volume of complaints has gone from "a couple a week to 25 a day."

Connolly pledged a renewed enforcement effort targeted at willful, serial violators.

"If local government exists for any purpose, it is to help protect neighborhoods," he said, flanked by County Attorney David P. Bobzien, Deputy County Executive Robert A. Stalzer and a contingent of zoning, health and fire officials.

Last week, the county launched two multi-agency "strike teams" of a dozen or so members and dispatched them to neighborhoods that have generated many of the complaints. The teams have no new legal tools for the most part, only the usual array of modest fines and jail time seldom pursued by county attorneys.

What they do have is a board that is facing reelection this fall and is reacting to the increased volume of complaints.

"This is an issue that has been creeping up to where it is a serious issue," said Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock).

In Fairfax and most other Virginia localities, no more than four people unrelated by blood or marriage can live in a single-family home. Families can have no more than two nonmembers in permanent residence.

One of the cases filed in Fairfax County Circuit Court this week illustrates the difficulty in pursuing allegations of overcrowding. The county is asking for an injunction against Raimundo Guevara, a Honduran businessman allegedly operating a boarding house in the 6300 block of Dana Avenue in the Monticello Forest neighborhood of Springfield.

From 2003 to 2006, according to county records, health and zoning inspectors responded at least 13 times to neighborhood complaints about the house. In one instance, officials ordered him to eliminate an apartment he fashioned from a garage.

In April 2006, Fairfax police placed the home under surveillance for five days but were unable to come up with hard evidence that too many people lived there.

Senior zoning inspector W.B. Moncure concluded in a August 2006 memo that there was "innuendo but no factual basis" for some of the allegations.

Now, in response to renewed complaints, the county has taken Guevara to court for alleged overcrowding and illegal outdoor storage.

Guevara could not be reached after calls to his home yesterday. But in a brief interview with The Post earlier this year, he said "bad neighbors" were the cause of his difficulties with the county.

The other case brought this week by the task force involves Carl W. Gaston, who is alleged to be keeping "nine inoperable vehicles and tires" in the yard of his home in the 3300 block of Elmwood Drive in the county's Alexandria section.

There was no answer to a phone call to the Gaston home yesterday.

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