When Patricia and Daniel Pewett decided to sell their Arlington town house and buy a new $94,000 unit in the McLean Park development in Fairfax County, they thought they were making a smart move.
The name, McLean Park, "says it all," the ads declared, despite the fact that the development is in the Falls Church area of the county rather than the more fashionable McLean. Their new three-bedroom home, advertised as a "traditional brick town house with the perfect location," is more convenient to Daniel Pewett's job with the Marriott Corp. and across Rte. 7 from the future path of Interstate Rte. 66 and the West Falls Church Metro stop.
Now, nearly a year later, Patricia Pewett, a 31-year-old airline stewardess, says she is sorry she ever left Arlington. Her new home, which was supposed to be a luxurious dream, has been an "expensive nightmare," she says, plagued by a leaky roof, collapsed cealing, notices of liens and an unresponsive builder.
"McLean Park is one of the worst situations I've ever seen," said Fairfax County Supervisor James Scott (D-Providence) in whose district the 109-unit project is located. "It's been one disaster after another over there."
County building inspectors say that McLean Park, where three-bedroom town houses currently sell for $100,000, illustrates problems that are plaguing new developments.
"We're seeing problems associated with a lack of skilled workers increasingly," said the county's chief building inspector, Joseph Bertoni. "It's a problem nationally, even in luxury projects."
In the case of McLean Park, officials say, those problems have been compounded by what Scott called "a complex web of tangled financial relationships."
County building inspectors say that in the last year the owners of the 60 occupied town houses in McLean Park have filed several hundred complaints about items ranging from ceilings that collapsed only days after residents moved in, leaky roofs, flooded basements and burst water pipes.
Members of an ad hoc homeowners association, which has hired an attorney, say that their complaints to the original builder, the Bethesdabased Versant Corp., were largely ignored.
"Their attitude was pretty cavalier," said Rees Toothman, one of the association's founders."People would call up and they'd say, 'Well, you got a pretty good deal, so why are you complaining?"
Versant President Thomas Herr did not return a reporter's phone calls. David Boyd, an attorney who represents the Neuhaus Corp., the firm that hired Versant, said Versant has been replaced by a new firm that is making repairs and completing the project.Boyd daid Herr owns 50 percent of the Neuhaus Corp.
Court records show that the project, begun in 1977, has experienced lengthy construction delays. Earlier this year, eight subcontractors stopped work after filing more than $200,000 in liens against Versant, Nuehaus, and the homeowners.
"It was really frightening," recalled Patricia Pewett, "We'd be gone for two hours and come home and there would be a stack of liens on our doorstep." Because the homeowners have title insurance, said Toothman, they are protected against the liens.
"I don't see why these homewoners are so uptight," said Boyd. "This hasn't been a model project, but why should they care about liens? They're not going to lose a nickel."
Boyd said that delays in completing the project stemmed from the "unexplained" disappearance of a $5.1 million construction fund earmarked for that purpose. After the loss was discovered, Boyd said, a new firm, Buildex Design Inc. of Alexandria, was hired to complete "mcLean Park.
While homeowners say that Buildex is making repairs, some have complained to Scott that they believe the firm is moving too slowly, and that 40 of the 109 units are still unoccupied.
"The citizens have been expremely patient with the whole thing," siad Scott, "but I don't think the builder has done everything possible to assure them that everything's going to happen quickly and completely. The county is going to keep the pressure on so that we get as much done as possible during the building season."
Buildex President Jack Downey said he expects the project to be completed by September. "How much progress we've made depends on your perspective. We can't do everything overnight and our priority was to correct the major complaints."
Despite the many problems the Pewetts have experienced, Patricia Pewett said the couple has decided against selling their unit and moving out.
"We considered it," she said, "but we decided that even if it ages us 10 years -- which it has -- we're going to stay here and get the house as close as possible to what we'd imagined it would be." CAPTION: Picture, Patricia Pewett checks height difference between curb and parking pavement. By Larry Morris -- The Washington Post