When Libuse Mazur started up a seamstress business in her town house in Reston, the 74-year-old Czechoslovakian immigrant never thought her neighbors would mind.
They did -- and last week the board of the Reston Home Owners Association said that Mazur could only continue if she did not see customers in her home.
"It's like the street committees in the old country," said Mazur's son Mojmir, who has lived with his mother in her home on Insha Court since April. "For her it is more than just a business -- if she's not allowed to sew, she dies."
Two years ago, Mazur's neighbors began complaining that her customers were creating too much traffic on their cul-de-sac.
The issue went before the elected association of their neighborhood, Machaans Cluster. (Reston is divided into five major areas that elect ruling councils to oversee the clusters. Each cluster also has an elected association that can make rules governing its neighborhood.)
For months, the Mazurs and the cluster association debated the parking problem. The association argued that Mazur violated the restrictive covenants of Reston that prohibit home businesses with customers. Mazur argued that those guidelines were adopted after she was in business and, that Fairfax County had approved her business in a grandfather clause when it passed a similar law. The association was backed up by Reston's Residential Use Committtee and when the Mazurs appealed to the homeowners' association, it agreed with the cluster association.
"It's really too bad that the Mazurs and the cluster couldn't have cooperated better," said Fran Steinbauer, vice president of the Reston board. He said the board had supported the cluster association because it had demonstrated that the business affected the quality of life in the neighborhood.
"I think they [the board] made a mistake," Mazur said in her limited English. "I don't think they had a right to say 'no' to me."
Mazur had also requested a waiver from the rule, arguing that she is unable to drive to her customers and has been unable to find a job at a commercial tailor shop.
Her son says the neighbors exaggerate the amount of traffic that her business generates. He said the customers only come by appointment and park either in one of his mother's two private parking spaces or at a school a few blocks away.
"It's a tribal type of thing," Mojmir said of Reston's neighborhood government. "Whoever makes the most noise, wins."
Thomas Overocker, former president of the cluster, said the cluster went to the board because Mazur failed to comply with a request that she ask her customers to park elsewhere.
One customer recalled that Mazur always asked where she had parked. "She seemed to be paranoid about it," said Barbara Westphal of Reston.
Overocker said the cluster made an issue of Mazur's business because residents are worried that other home businesses could follow. "The next thing you know there will be an All-State [Insurance] office operating next door," said his wife Karen.
Mazur intends to continue operating her $15,000-a-year business despite the board's ruling. Her son has hired a lawyer, who this week told the board that he believes Mazur did not violate the covenants, since they were passed after her business began.
"The enbarrassing thing is that the Mazurs have had to go to a legal expenses to continue a legal enterprise," said Susan Lowell, former chairman of the Hunter Woods Village Council, which includes the Machaans Cluster.
"I like this profession very much, said Mazur, who plans to become a U.S. citizen this year. It builds my confidence. I don't have to be dependent on anybody.