A Fairfax County developer has begun construction of four $300,000 houses in the path of a proposed access ramp to the Springfield Bypass -- houses that will have to be condemned and removed when the ramp is built.
Fairfax County officials approved the construction of the houses even though they lie directly in the path of a cloverleaf ramp that tentatively is planned to link Chain Bridge Road (Rte. 123) with the Springfield Bypass.
"It's a mess," said Eric J. Foster, the county transportation planner in charge of the Springfield Bypass. He said the houses could threaten plans for the interchange.
The builder, James P. Brehony, has halted construction after laying the foundations for four houses. He would not say whether he will resume work on the homes, and declined to comment further.
Although the proposed route for the $200 million, cross-county highway has been approved by federal, state and local officials, no construction date has been set because funds have not been appropriated to build the road.
The construction of the houses on the proposed ramp site was discovered last month by a highway engineer who noticed work under way on the property.
In October, a company controlled by John T. (Til) Hazel Jr., the most prominent developer in Northern Virginia, sold about 25 acres of land in the heart of Fairfax County to a developer who planned to build 23 houses on the land. Hazel's company apparently did not mention that more than half the property lies in the path of the proposed roadway.
Brehony, who paid $702,000 for the property, apparently was unware of a 1981 study recommending that the ramp be built.
Moreover, before Hazel's firm sold the land last year, the county had approved plans that he had submitted for building houses on the site.
Bob Kelly, a spokesman for the Hazel company, said it did not mention the proposed ramp to Brehony because the county had approved Hazel's plan to build houses on the site and had never adopted the ramp in its master plan. As far as Hazel was concerned, said Kelly, "there was no ramp." "We told Mr. Brehony everything we knew about the intersection of 123 and the bypass," Kelly said. "We have done everything that we were morally and legally required to do."
Today, the land is a vacant construction site on the edge of an attractive neighborhood called Fairfax Station. Four foundations for large houses have been laid. The ramp, although it has not been finally approved, is still planned. And nobody knows what to do next.
State and local officials said there is little to stop him from moving ahead with his project.
"I don't know of any jurisdiction where, if the developer meets the zoning requirements, he can be stopped from developing," said Bob Atherton, a design engineer at the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation who oversaw the design of the bypass. "The only way we can stop anyone from building on his property is to buy it."
Officials say the options now facing the state and the county are not attractive.
Under Virginia law, Brehony must be compensated for the value of his land if the government wants to use it. The state says it does not have the money to pay Brehony for his land so that the ramp can be built there.
Fairfax officials, who were not enthusiastic about building the cloverleaf ramp in the first place, have long maintained that road building is a state responsibility. The county has not budgeted any funds to buy the land for the ramp.
But the state maintains that if the ramp is not built, the intersection would create a major traffic bottleneck on the bypass, which is intended to alleviate traffic.
Also, state officials say that if the county abandons the ramp it would risk losing millions of dollars of federal funding by failing to meet standards set by the Federal Highway Administration for traffic control.
Highway engineers said they are considering ways to redesign the ramp so that it would not slice through Brehony's property but said their options appear limited.
The ramp that would sweep through the middle of Brehony's property was first proposed by a consultant hired by the state in 1981. The consultant, backed by the Virginia highway department, said that an intersection with a stop light at Rte. 123 and the bypass would be inadequate. Rush-hour traffic would overwhelm the crossing with cars heading to and from the Fair Oaks area west of Fairfax City and the Woodbridge area of Prince William County, the study said.
Politicians in Fairfax balked. They envisioned that the Springfield Bypass, which has been discussed in the county for two decades, would be a parkway, not a major thoroughfare with ramps and overpasses. The study, they said, recommended too many interchanges and cloverleafs.
Fairfax officials refused to incorporate the study's recommendations into the county's master plan and ignored the ramp proposed for the bypass' crossing with Rte. 123.
Despite their refusal to accept the proposed ramp, county officials in 1982 asked Hazel, then the owner of the 25-acre tract, to donate a portion of the land to the county just in the event it would be needed for the ramp. Hazel, whose partnership, Fairfax Station Associates, had paid $674,500 for the land, refused.
"I wish to make it abundantly clear that Fairfax Station Associates will not dedicate the area requested for the ramp," Hazel wrote to the county June 11, 1982.
Hazel said that he already had made several concessions to the county, donating portions of the land for a scheduled realignment of Rte. 123 and for sections of the planned Springfield Bypass.
The county, because it had failed to incorporate the ramp proposal into its master plan, had no authority to persuade Hazel to donate the land, officials said.
Last fall, Brehony started negotiations with Hazel's partnership to buy the land. Hazel, according to spokesman Kelly, was not personally involved in the deal.
Building permits were issued to Brehony's company, Tiffany Construction Co., late last year. Early this year, workers started to clear and grade his property.
Last month, an engineer for the consultant noticed the construction on Brehony's land.
Officials say that when they approached Brehony with the problem, he was surprised and appeared to be unaware that a ramp had been proposed for the site.
County officials now say they believe that the ramp is necessary. They say they realize that the state cannot afford to buy the land and say that they eventually may have to find the funds to buy Brehony's land if the ramp is finally approved.
"It is a big problem because it is a big chunk of money," said Shiva Pant, Fairfax's transportation director. "But what other alternatives to we have?