A small subdivision, tucked away and surrounded by towering trees, is embroiled in a housing battle over a plan that residents say threatens to disrupt the calm of their development in the middle of Prince William County.
Riverview Estates, with a little more than 200 houses, is fighting Classic Concept Builders over a road the developer wants to build through the subdivision. The developer needs the access road for another subdivision it wants to build adjacent to Riverview, off Davis Ford Road.
"I think it's grossly unfair for corporations who have a lot of money to throw around to disrupt the peaceful tranquillity of folks who just want to lead a quiet life," said neighbor Gina Binder, 42, who lives next to where the road would be built.
Her husband, T. James Binder, said that a victory for the developer would not bode well for other communities. "If they are allowed to do this, there's not much to stop a developer from buying residential lots for cutting their roads through," said Binder, 51.
Classic Concept sued the Riverview Estates homeowners association in the fall, saying that it owns the land where it wants to put the road and it has a right to build on it. A hearing on the case, filed in Prince William County Circuit Court, is scheduled for Wednesday.
"In our developments in Prince William County, we've made it a strong practice to engage homeowners to reach agreements and try to be good neighbors," said Mark Granville-Smith, Classic Concept's chief executive.
This is the company's first land-use lawsuit in the county. Classic Concept has been in Prince William County for 15 years; it builds about 40 houses a year.
"For whatever reason, we just haven't been to reach a compromise with the Riverview Estates homeowners association," Granville-Smith said.
The dispute, which raises issues of developer's vs. homeowners' rights, is the most controversial land-use question to come up in a year, said Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles), whose district includes the subdivision.
One-entrance subdivisions have caused other problems for the county over the years. As a matter of policy, the county prefers multiple-access subdivisions, county officials said.
Nohe said that Riverview Estates used to have at least one other access point, which has been inexplicably closed. If it had remained open, this dispute might not have arisen, Nohe said.
"It's a safety issue primarily. That's probably the biggest concern," he said.
The situation started early last year when Classic Concept decided to build a new subdivision on 50 acres near Riverview. At the time, the plot could legally hold only five 10-acre lots, according to county zoning. The developer wanted to build 19 houses but needed the land rezoned to do so. Those 19 houses would also need a wider access road than the one already at Riverview.
Then Riverview Estates stepped in, protesting the rezoning because it would require a road to be built through the community. The Riverview Estates homeowners association struck down the developer's request to tear down a house and build a road. As it turns out, Granville-Smith's wife owns the house that would be torn down to make room for the road.
Residents took their concerns to the Board of County Supervisors, which rules on rezoning applications.
The board, which Nohe said would usually approve such a request, decided to wait until the road situation is resolved before it makes a decision. Classic Concept has put its request to build the subdivision on hold until the legal fight is over.
"It's being watched very carefully," Nohe said, noting that Classic Concept has a reputation as a responsible, tasteful builder.
Building "large estate homes shouldn't be controversial," Nohe said, but "the neighborhood did a very good job of getting organized."
The circuit court will decide whether the homeowners association covenants can override the will of the developer.
Jill Clauss, president of the homeowners association, would not comment on the case except to say, "It's unfortunate we're being sued, and nobody likes lawsuits."
Not everyone in the community opposes Classic Concept's project. Five Riverview residents have expressed interest in purchasing the new houses, Granville-Smith said. And a Riverview real estate agent has clients who are interested.
Granville-Smith noted that his company has won several awards over the years, including for building environmentally sensitive housing. Last year, the company won an award from the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association for planning houses on 10- to 50-acre lots.
For Riverview resident Gina Binder, the crucial issue is homeowners' rights. She said she is also concerned about safety. The proposed road is near a hazardous curve that causes crashes every winter, she said.
"We do not want to become a corner lot, with the traffic from 20 homes passing by our house, with our children playing in the yard," she said.