Construction of house in Clifton prompts flooding concerns

By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 4, 2010

Construction of servants quarters on a property in one of the most affluent parts of Fairfax County has stoked fears that flooding from the site could cause a traffic accident and has raised questions about whether the house is being built legally.

In 2003, the county's zoning administrator approved a request to build a second house on the property at 12000 Chapel Rd. in Clifton, a 200-person hamlet built on what once was a swampy floodplain. The property was purchased in 2003 by David T. Hoang for $399,000, county records show. A five-bedroom house was built on the land in 1968; construction on a four-bedroom house stalled last year.

Construction of the four-bedroom house on the two-acre lot has caused flooding along Chapel Road, neighbors say. And Supervisor Pat S. Herrity (R-Springfield), whose district includes Clifton, said officials have discussed pursuing legal action to force the homeowners to fix drainage issues leading from the property and onto public rights of way.

"It needs to be fixed, because every day that it is not is one more that we could have a very serious accident," Herrity said.

The Occoquan Watershed Coalition has weighed in, saying the second house violates a 1982 county zoning law that restricts building density in the 41,000-acre watershed to one house per five acres. The nearby Occoquan Reservoir provides half of Northern Virginia's drinking water.

Herrity said he fears the second house might be used for renters, although the property is zoned for servants quarters only, saying the plan doesn't pass the "common-sense test." He said the county intends to require a residential-use permit for the house, to prove it will be used only for servants and guests.

"We're going to be very strict," Herrity said. He added that staff members were examining whether a loophole exists in county zoning law that would allow the subdivision of properties within the Occoquan Watershed.

Hoang said he has done nothing wrong and that the flooding is caused by the natural geography of the hilly, downward-sloping land that leads onto Chapel Road. He said that he cannot afford easements and drain pipes that would correct the problem.

"It's a complicated issue, not only in cost," he said.

And, Hoang said, the servants quarters are not in violation of any county zoning ordinance.

"Until they have evidence that we rent the house out, it's all speculation," he said.

County officials and Hoang said the case will probably go to court. The full Fairfax County Board of Supervisors discussed the legal issues surrounding the case during a closed-door meeting last week.

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