Scarborough Corp., a division of Weyerhaeuser Corp., is planning on "testing the market for affordable town houses" in suburban Fairfax County.

The corporation is planning to build 14- and 16-foot-wide town houses mixed in with normal-width 18- and 20-foot units in a new 44-acre development at the intersection of Compton Road and Centreville Road near the Fairfax-Prince William County line.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors this week approved the necessary special exceptions to allow Scarborough to build the narrow units, which are expected to sell in the $60,000 price range. "There is a pretty hungry market out there" for homes in this price range, explained Charles Shumate, attorney for the developer.

"Our young families really need this. I hope it goes well so our young couples can get a start," said Springfield Supervisor Elaine McConnell. "There are so many that just cannot afford the $90,000 house that has been called by many as a 'good starter home.' "

Housing in the $50,000 to $70,000 price range is hard to find in Fairfax County. For many months, members of the board of supervisors have discussed ways to make construction of so-called affordable housing more attractive to builders. "With the high cost of land throughout the area, it's hard to attract a builder who is willing to put in those lower-priced units when he knows he can build a bigger unit and yield a higher profit," one local builder said.

"We plan to test the market for the 14- and 16-foot-wide models," Shumate said. "If we can accomplish this, it will be good for all of the county."

McConnell pointed to the problems young couples have buying houses, citing the number of parents who are doing more than simply helping their children make down payments, as has often been the practice for many American families.

Many parents have to set up so-called equity-sharing arrangements, paying full down payments and perhaps helping their children make monthly payments, one Fairfax real estate agent explained.

The Scarborough project will include 263 town houses, of which 66 will be 14 feet wide and another 66 will be 16 feet wide. The units will not be built all in a row but scattered throughout the development among the more traditional 18- and 20-foot-wide town-house units, Shumate said. "The narrow town houses will be kept on the interior and spread throughout the development to help mitigate whatever impact there might be," Shumate said. He said he thinks it will be hard for the average person coming into the development to tell from the exterior which town houses are narrower.

Shumate said the idea of homeownership in Fairfax has become remote for many older people as well as younger people. Many renters have found that they cannot purchase homes at today's high interest rates. However, Shumate expects many buyers to be young, with incomes under $30,000.

McConnell noted that there are a lot of jobs in the western part of the county and that more will open up with the rapid development that is projected along Rte. 28 leading from Fairfax into Loudoun County and the site for the governor's Center for Innovative Technology.

However, not all of those who work or will work in the high-technology industries that are expected to spring up will have salaries in the $60,000 to $70,000 range, McConnell said. She cited the importance of having affordable housing near those jobs as a way of helping keep new workers off what she called "already busy" Fairfax roads.

Shumate said the development also may accommodate some older or retired residents who are ready to move out of their homes but have been unable to find affordable town houses. "We think the product is readily marketable and badly needed," he said.

"This is a good effort to build a moderately priced starter home," McConnell said. "We have mentioned so many times that we need this kind of housing desperately in the western part of my district."

She predicted that, if this project is successful, other builders will offer homes in similar price ranges. "The key to the project is affordability," Shumate said.

In January, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved construction of the town-house project. After surveying the market, the developer came back to the board for a special exception that would permit construction of the 14- and 16-foot units, Shumate said.

Scarborough is building at several sites in Northern Virginia, including Lake Ridge and Countryside in Loudoun County. In Maryland, Weyerhaeuser's development company is known as Winchester Homes.