James and Judy Jandreaux were excited about the prospect of moving with their three children to their new, four-bedroom home in the Mount Vernon area of southern Fairfax County.
After signing a $189,000 purchase contract in February, the couple was told by the home's builder, Fairfield Homes, that their house would be ready for them by late June or early July.
The Jandreaux also were pleased that they had sold their Dale City house, and were able to time it so that they would not have to move out until the end of June.
In the meantime, however, a bitter dispute surfaced last spring between Fairfield Homes and the subdivision's developer, William Breeden, that left portions of the roads in the development unpaved.
As a result, Fairfax County has refused to issue occupancy permits for the 10 homes that have been completed or are nearing completion in the development, called Raceway Farms, located just off Telegraph Road near Fort Belvoir.
Without the permits, the Jandreaux family and nine other buyers are unable to move into their new homes, even though most of the families already have sold their previous homes, and are, according to one of the prospective home buyers, "effectively left out on the streets."
"The homeowners are being held hostage," said Judy Jandreaux, whose family was forced to move from their old home last month. With all their furniture and belongings in storage, the couple had been house-sitting for a friend. But with their friend back in town this week, they've been searching for a new place to stay until the dispute is settled, which, according to all of the sides, is not expected any time soon.
"When you are living out of your suitcases, you become extremely frustrated," said James Jandreaux, an Army officer at the Pentagon.
"It's very frustrating and we've tried every avenue to solve the problem, but we are helpless at this point," said Judy Jandreaux, a Prince William County schoolteacher.
The couple and several other prospective Raceway Farms home buyers have taken their dilemma to Fairfax County officials, where so far help has been slow in coming.
"I understand why they are upset, but there's really nothing the county can do," said Irving Birmingham, Fairfax County's director of design review, whose office refused to issue the occupancy permits for the development's homes.
The controversy stems from a charge by Breeden that Fairfield Homes owes the developer at least $100,000, which a Fairfield Homes official vehemently denies.
Last year, Fairfield Homes purchased 10 quarter-acre lots from Breeden for $400,000, which have since been developed into the 10 home sites in dispute. At the time, Fairfield also signed an option to buy an additional 35 to 40 lots from Breeden in the same area. Fairfield then decided not to buy the additional lots -- allowable through an agreement between the two parties -- but Breeden claims he is owed $100,000 in lost interest because Fairfield reneged on the purchase.
"We don't owe Breeden a nickel," said William Howell, executive vice president of Fairfield Homes, which builds about 300 to 400 homes yearly in Northern Virginia and Montgomery County.
But Breeden claims that until he gets the $100,000, he won't pave the remaining dirt roads in the development.
"I don't have any problem. When Fairfield pays me the money, I'll finish the job," Breeden said. "The purchasers are hurting because of Fairfield's dumbness."
When asked how he felt about the dilemma facing the Jandreaux and other Raceway buyers, Breeden replied, "You call them and tell them to pay me the $100,000, and I'll pave the roads."
Breeden said that the unpaved roads serve as "a bargaining chip" to force Fairfield to pay him the disputed funds.
Meanwhile, Fairfield Homes has $2 million worth of new homes sitting empty, unable to settle with the 10 angry home buyers until the roads are completed. Fairfield has offered to pave the roads itself, but the county has rejected that proposal because it already has an agreement with Breeden under which he must pave the roads.
That agreement doesn't expire until next January. At that time, if Breeden still has not paved the roads, the county said it will complete the work using part of the bond money for the project that Breeden posted earlier this year.
Breeden said the bond money he put up totals $600,000, while one county official said the figure "is in excess of $250,000 . . . but less than $500,000."
The different sides cannot even agree on the name of the development. Breeden calls it Raceway Farms IV, the home buyers call it Raceway Farms II, and Fairfield Homes' Howell said he "couldn't remember" if it was called Raceway Farms I, II, III or IV.
But the angry home buyers say their patience is nearing an end.
"We were never told that there was a problem. We were led to believe that everything was going fine," said Barbara Picard, who expected to move into her new home last January along with her husband Leo and two children.
After selling their home in Springfield last September, the Picards agreed with their buyer to rent it back until they moved to their new home. Picard said they got a letter from Fairfield in June, setting June 25 as the closing date for their new home.
"We were given the impression that the county and Fairfield were trying to work things out," she said.
As a result, the Picards gave their landlord notice and packed up their belongings. It wasn't until the night before their scheduled move that they found out from Fairfield that the dispute had not been settled and the closing would have to be put off, they said. "We had to call our movers and tell them we couldn't move, and then call our landlord and beg to be able to stay," Picard said.
Their landlord allowed them to stay until Aug. 31, a date they say is fast approaching, especially because the dispute between Breeden and Fairfield Homes is no closer to settlement now. If they can't move into their new home by the end of August, Picard said they will have to put all of their possessions into storage and find an apartment or house to rent.
Leo Picard said the mortgage commitment for their new home, for which they applied more than six months ago, expired yesterday. As a result, he said, he and his wife fear they will have to go through the process again and be forced to pay for new appraisal and credit reports -- possibly facing the same delays as other borrowers in the backlogged mortgage industry, even though they already had a loan approved for the new house. "We have no say in all of this," Barbara Picard said. "I don't think they had the right to drag the homeowners into the dispute."