A group of 49 property owners in the South Hunting Ridge community, a collection of $130,000 homes sandwiched between Tysons Corner and McLean alongside the Dulles Airport Access Road, are banding together to try to sell their 19-acre neighborhood to a commercial developer.
As many as nine developers have already voiced interest in the site, some of the community's residents said. The properties as a whole could be worth between $14 million and $28 million, according to commercial land brokers in the Tysons area.
Many residents in the community, located just inside the Capital Beltway, have lived there since the late 1920s, when their closest neighbors were cows grazing on nearby farms that dominated the rural McLean/Tysons countryside long before the commerical boom hit in the late 1960s. Some say their fathers built some of the homes that would have to be demolished if efforts to redevelop are successful.
Over the last 20 years, the Tysons area has been transformed into Fairfax County's downtown and now boasts the largest collection of office buildings in Virginia. But for the residents of South Hunting Ridge, the opening of the extension of the Dulles highway last year has proved more consequential.
The four-lane roadway, which connected an existing section of the Dulles highway outside the Capital Beltway with Interstate 66 inside the Beltway, has literally become a barrier splitting the community from the McLean of which they once felt very much a part.
"The worst thing that happened was the Dulles Road," said Joseph E. Ramey, 63, who has lived in the area since his birth. "It's not Tysons Corner, it's the road. It came right through the center of the neighborhood. It took the cream of the crop of the houses ."
Ramey's father built many of the houses in the community, which now contains a variety of housing styles that reflect the building trends of the Depression days. The community also includes one new home.
The road has brought unwanted noise and dirt to the neighborhood, residents complain. It has cut them off from their friends and neighbors in McLean and created an enclave of dead-end streets with limited access to nearby major roads. South Hunting Ridge today is bordered by the Dulles Road, Chain Bridge Road, McGarity Road and high-density residential and commercial development along Anderson Road.
"The neighborhood has become pretty much isolated," said Mark M. Hughes, president of the property owners association.
"You do not see how cut off we really are from the residential part of McLean until you see an aerial view," said one LaSalle Avenue resident.
The 49 residents who have signed petitions asking that Fairfax County rezone their land for construction of commercial office buildings own 115 of the 127 lots estimated to be in the subdivision.
There are some out-of-town owners; Hughes said the association is keeping them informed about progress in reaching an agreement to redevelop.
Hughes said the association has explained "to all homeowners that we want to explore all options" for development. During recent community meetings, Hughes said, "nobody opposed that idea." One resident new to the community said he was not anxious to move, but, according to Hughes, would not stand in the way.
Hughes said the organization is not seeking to get power of attorney from property owners; all can act in their own interests in negotiations. "Any resident would have the option to refuse to sell," Hughes said.
The South Hunting Ridge community is just the most recent Northern Virginia neighborhood where residents have banded together in an effort to jointly sell their properties to developers. The theory behind such ventures is that a group sale will collectively bring residents greater profits on their properties than if they sold their homes individually.
Several groups have been successful in selling their homes around Metro subway stations in Arlington. In Fairfax, homeowners in the Random Hills community in the Fair Oaks area organized and sold their properties last year to Property Company of America; residents of the Fairlee community, next to the yet-to-open Vienna Metro station, are finalizing contracts with Lincoln Properties to buy their neighborhood en masse.
Elected officials in Fairfax have criticized and sometimes successfully killed efforts by residents to sell. Fairfax leaders have cited the importance of stabilizing single-family neighborhoods and containing commercial areas like Tysons Corner.
Ironically, the Fairfax planning staff planted the seed that has led to the request by the South Hunting Ridge Association to rezone its neighborhood. The controversial Tysons Corner Height Study, as proposed by the planning staff, calls for possible construction of a high-rise "gateway" office building on a major portion of the South Hunting Ridge community.
Stephen Hubbard, head of the McLean Citizens Association's planning and zoning committee, said his group opposes the staff proposal for a Tysons gateway building and also is against any changes in residential zoning in South Hunting Ridge.
That position could become a major test of the McLean association's power, which has been strong in the Dranesville district where most of its members live. South Hunting Ridge is in Providence district where few McLean association members live.
South Hunting Ridge residents were not represented on a citizens task force, which has recommended against development of high-rise offices in the community.
"People on the Tysons height study task force are still living in the 18th century," said Earl Allison, a Seneca Avenue resident who said he took an overseas assignment to Bangkok rather than live in his house while the toll road connector was being built.
The task force study and staff recommendations on the height study are set for a public hearing by the board of supervisors on April 17. Hearing dates before the planning commission have not been set.
Meanwhile, in March, the planning commission will tackle the South Hunting Ridge residents' application for a zoning change for their area when the panel starts screening proposed land use changes in county's comprehensive land use plan.
Hughes said the neighborhood now "does not lend itself to residential revitalization."
Although the citizens' request does not stress existing differences in zoning in their community, land in the area carries two different zoning designations. Some land is zoned for three houses-to-the-acre, while other land is zoned for one house per acre, even though many homes are built on lots as narrow as 50 feet, county land records show. In order to build more homes on the remaining vacant lots, a developer would have to obtain approval for numerous zoning variances, according to county officials.
Several residents, including Ramey, are stuck with small pieces of what were full-sized lots before the Dulles road extension claimed some of their land. Those sites abut the highway and rear yards of homes along La Salle Avenue. They have no road frontage. Ramey said he still pays taxes on his spits of land, even though he feels the Dulles road rendered them useless.
"This area is destined to degrade," said Don Loranger, a 20-year resident of the area. His house backs up to the Dulles Road. He said existing noise barriers do not keep out dirt or noise. "No major developer is going to come in here and put up $300,000 homes like are going up in the rest of McLean," Loranger said.