The claims of a Vietnamese immigrant that she bought a tract of land in Fairfax County for $500,000 and then learned that it may remain unsuitable to her purpose yesterday prompted the County Board of Supervisors to seek ways of helping refugees.
For two years, Bach Luu Nguyen, a Vietnamese businesswoman and the mother of nine, says she searched the Washington area for the perfect spot to establish a "dream village" for her people, complete with a Buddhist pagoda, a Southeast Asian gift shop and a grocery store stocked with rice, fresh vegetables and native foods.
Everything Nguyen looked at was too large or too small or too expensive, she said. Finally, she heard about 93 acres of scrub oak and pine, deep in the heart of Fairfax County, near two big roads, selling for a comparatively low$500,000.
Not until two weeks after plunking down the first payment, Nguyen claims, did she realize the land may never become available for development.
The county says it has no intention of putting sewers there. The clay -- "plastic clay," engineers call it -- won't hold septic systems, according to a former county soil scientist. The zoning is wrong for a "dream village" and, the county says, it has plans to divert a two-lane highway through the middle.
"It's totally worthless for development unless you want to put a pup tent on it," said John F. Herrity, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
Nguyen says she knew she wouldn't be able to build right away because of zoning restrictions and because there were no sewers. She claims she understood that the county would fix these things in about two years.
Douglas R. McGuire, president of Harper & Co. Realtors, one of three real estate firms to receive commissions on the sale, and a representative of Commonwealth Realty of Virginia Inc., one of the other firms, said Nguyen was told that the zoning problem may or may not be eliminated and that they did not know whether sewers would be installed.
McGuire said future development in the area is likely, considering the proximity of fast-growing George Mason University. A representative of the third firm, Ann High Associates, said the land was accurately described.
Yesterday, Herrity cited the Nguyen matter as an example of misunderstandings that can occur in the refugee community and the supervisors, at his suggestion, instructed the county's Department of Consumer Affairs to consider education outreach programs or other ways of helping refugees cope.
The supervisors also asked the county staff to examine the Nguyen matter and make a report.
Of the estimated 30,000 Vietnamese refugees living in the Washington area, only a handful have ever complained publicly about land sale misunderstandings, officials say.
Nguyen's new property is bounded by Braddock and Shirley Gate roads and is zoned residential-conservation, which means 0.1 to 0.2 units per acre, or one house per five to 10 acres, said Barbara Byron, land use planner for the County's Office of Comprehensive Planning.
It is also in the Occoquan watershed, which is the subject of a court battle that pits county officials against developers in determining the density of building in the rural, southwestern part of Fairfax County.
John H. Rust Sr., lawyer for the sellers -- a group of investors who have held it since the 1950s -- said he was not involved in the negotiations, only the settlement, which he described as "friendly." Philip Schwartz, settlement lawyer for Nguyen, had no comment.