Residents of the only single-family neighborhood abutting the Vienna Metro station have been working on a plan to sell their homes as a group.
More than 60 of the 69 property owners in the Fairlee community, south of what will be the Metrorail parking lot, have banded together in the last two months and have solicited proposals from developers rather than waiting for developers to come to them, according to members of a newly formed Fairlee Citizens Association.
Several residents said this week that they want to make sure their land is approved for the highest possible density, increasing its value and bringing them a higher sales price.
"The train is leavinv the station, and they are not on board" until they get a sales contract from a developer, explained Suzanne Paciulli, a commercial real estate broker who has been working with residents this summer.
At least five major developers reportedly are interested, and three said they have made, or plan to make, offers. Another reason that the property owners decided to try to sell as a group was the fear that the battle over their land could have turned into a circus if developers had approached them individually. Others cited the fear that some long-time residents would sell at "too low a price" just because developers' offers might seem so much greater than their original investment.
Residents interviewed a string of brokers before hiring Paciulli to represent them. They have applied the same tactics to potential developers.
Fairlee is a nearly rural community described by those who live there as "affordable." (Houses sold two years ago for as low as $80,000.) Most homes sit on half-acre lots among tall trees. There are only two streets -- Fairlee Drive and Maple Avene. A few yards from the dead-end stubs of those sterets today is the red, dusty dirt where bulldozers work daily to create parking lots for the Vienna Metrorail station scheduled toopen in mid-1986.
According to developers looking at the site, Fairlee is an unusual, almost-pie-shaped area bounded on the nroth by hte Metrorail parking lots and on the east by a large tract owned by Evans Co. and zoned for construction of 1.2 million square feet of office space. On the west is the Circle Woods town house community and another empty tract now up for rezoning for commercial use.
North of Fairlee and the future station in the middle of the I-66 corridor are the sites of two proposed major mixed-use projects: the Virginia Center project planned by Hazel-Peterson Cos. and one proposed by developer Reed Wills.
Several commercial brokers said this week that the Fairlee tract "almost leaps out" as a target for redevelopment.
However, preliminary drafts of consultants' proposal submitted to Fairfax county planners include conflicting predictions about the Fairlee area. One proposal said the area should stay unchanged, but economics indicate redevelopment is not feasible. A second option "bows to likely development pressure to redevelop the tract closest to the Metrorail into higher-density residential development," according to the proposal.
In a move that surprised county planners, Fairlee residents have come up with a formula that would allow every resident to share equally in profits made on the sale of the total package by establishing a formula allocating payments based on square footage owned by each property holder rather than on proximity to the rail facility, according to Paciulli.
Those living next to the station won't make any more than those who live near Lee Highway, the southern border of Fairlee, according to Kay Slade, a member of the Fairlee association's executive committee, which has been interviewing potential developers.
"This is not a bidding war. It is almost like a sealed bit," Paciulli said. We said 'we want your best offer. We are not going to be negotiating.'"
"Nobody is ready to leave right now," said Dave Williams, who said residents realize redevelopment could take many years. But the Vienna Metro Station Task Force, which includes developers and residents of the Vienna area, already is meeting almost weekly to develop a plan around the station including the Fairlee neighborhood.
"That is why they need a class-act developer now, who is willing to get involved in the process and stay involved," Paciulli explained.
"I do have roots in this area. I have a real support system from my local church," Slade said. She moved to Fairlee 13 years ago into what is still the newest house in the neighborhood. Now she washes construction dust down her house and deck daily.
For Bonnie Potts, moving will be traumatic. Her children are third-generation Fairlee residents. "Our school Mosby Woods Elementary is great," Potts said. Other residents said they will try to find new housing in the Oakton High School area.
When Tom Schach moved to Fairlee two years ago, he knew the Metro station ws coming, but the family-oriented neighborhood won him over. "I drove down the street. The family selling the house had a lot of kids. I looked at the chain-link fence around the big back yard and I thought my child could run free. We had been in an apartment on the third floor. Here were big shade trees," he said.
"And it was affordable. It was the first thing that offered the quality of life that is here," Schach added.
However, residents say the Metro station and high-density commercial development will change their life style.
Ironically, prominent Fairfax County developer John T. Hazel is a landowner in Fairlee. Two vacant lots that he said were some of the first land he bought are at the corner of Fairlee and Lee Highway. He has stayed out of the negotiations and said he will go along with whatever neighbors want. Hazel said he is "waiting to get his check."
Also in the Fairlee community is a small Church of God, a church that has "no mortgage," residents said. Any developer buying homes in Fairlee will have to accommodate the church, they added.
Paciulli and developers say they are reaching the final stages of negotiations. Each developer will make a community wide presentation on his proposal for the area. The association's executive committee will make a recommendation and then the residents will vote.
Sixty of 69 property owners have been involved in recent meetings, neighborhood leaders said. Some of those not actively involved are absentee landlords, Paciulli said.
Last December, Hazel-Peterson Cos. and Reed Wills filed zoning applications for their large mixied-use developments on the north side of I-66 and Metrorail.
The Hazel-Peterson plan, known as Virginia Center, included a 34-story building as the focal point of its proposed planned development commercial (PDC) plan for 2.9 million square feet of commercial development.
Ed Risse, Hazel-Peterson's senior vice president for planning and design, said this week that the building's height has been cut to 28 stories and other building heights reduced. Risse said developers "considered what we could do" after hearing complaints from residents of nearby town houses communities, including Country Creek and the town of Morefield.
The Hazel-Peterson site already carries high-density zonings that were approved several years ago, which those who speak out against intense development near the Vienna station sometimes forget, developers explained.
Several years ago, 50 of the 60 acres involved were approved for construction of high-density residential buildings. Approved were 19-story residential towers sittingi on top of three-level structure parking, 300,000 square feet of office space, 50,000 square of retail space and 11 acres of town houses.
The proposals for the Wills' site calls for construction fo 200 apartment units in multistory buildings, 33 townhouses and 450,000 square feet of office and commercial space.
This week the Fairfax Board of Supervisors approved the plan to guide development at the West Falls Church Metrorail station. Building heights there will be limited to six stories. And some county observers said that could be seen as a signal to ladnowers around the Vienna station that the height of development there could be limited.
However, Fairfax Board Chairman Jack Herrity said this week that Metro stations are designed to serve commuters rather than to stimulate growth, but he would not go along with land-use changes for a small part of the West Falls Church Metro station area proposed by the planning staff. The changes would have resulted in downzoning a part of the station study area already designated for commercial development. That decision can be read as a signal, too, said one land-use lawyer.
"Fairfax has to deal with what already has been approved for ladn near the Vienna station. Most people don't know that 19-story building could already be built," said one resident.
Hazel-Peterson Cos. and Wills are participating in the Vienna Metro Station Task Force.
Fairlee residents, now almost ready to cut a deal with a developer who is willing to offer them the best possible development package, said they want to be in on the decision-making and also in as powerful a negotiating position as possible.