Thirty-one years ago, Charles and Daisy Barndt bought a cottage on a quiet Fairfax County cul-de-sac, planted fruit trees in the yard and set down roots to last a lifetime.
The Barndts methodically fixed up the house in the Baileys Crossroads neighborhood to keep them comfortable in their old age. They watched their son grow up and move away. Meanwhile, condominiums filled the space at the end of Madison Lane, where a farmhouse once stood, and the narrow drive began to bustle with traffic.
Now, development's rising tide laps at the edges of the Barndts' property, and the elderly couple is bracing for a flood. Other Madison Lane homeowners are hoping to sell their land as a unified parcel, but the Barndts are refusing to budge.
If a developer's plan receives county approval, their house will become an island in a sea of town houses.
"We worked for this our whole lives," Daisy Barndt said. "It would kill the both of us to try to pack up and move everything to another place."
Madison Lane, off Columbia Pike near Lake Barcroft, is a pocket of 1940s suburbia that has aged much in the years since Baileys Crossroads grew up around it. Longtime residents recall its idyllic past, but add that they see no future for the neighborhood in its current incarnation -- invaded by traffic and transient tenants and held in limbo by landlords waiting to sell for a profit.
In 1984, homeowner Ben R. Hester considered the street's condition and imagined what would happen if events took their natural course. The neighborhood would continue to deteriorate as residents moved out one by one, selling their houses to speculators at depressed prices. Inspired by an example set elsewhere in Northern Virginia, Hester, a manager for C&P Telephone, outlined an alternative in a letter to his neighbors. If they pooled their property and marketed it for development, they could command a premium price, he said.
Last August, 11 Madison Lane homeowners signed agreements to sell 14 lots to Concord Development Inc. of Alexandria, contingent on Fairfax County changing the area's zoning. Concord Development wants to build about 200 town houses on the 10-acre site, according to the firm's vice president, Alexander Keyes.
The contract promises the sellers about $10 per square foot of land, or a total of about $4.4 million, Keyes said.
Hester, whose house and 0.368-acre lot were assessed at $42,655 in 1987, would make about $160,000 from the deal, which other neighbors said would be typical for them, too. If they chose to participate, the Barndts -- who own three lots on Madison Lane, including two rental properties -- would profit more than anyone in the neighborhood, except for one absentee landlord. Their property would be worth more than $684,000.
But the Barndts are not at all interested, they said, and after meeting with them this week, the developer said he would not try to change their minds. Instead, Keyes said, he will build on both sides of the lot in the middle of the block where they live. The development would stop short of the parcels at 3702 and 3704 Madison, the Barndts' rental lots, which are at the end of the lane.
According to Hester, several potential buyers rejected the Madison Lane homeowners' offer to sell because the Barndts' land was not included. Although those lots might make a denser development possible and raise the sale price, other Madison Lane residents said they have abandoned efforts to win the Barndts over to the deal. The dispute has strained relations between the Barndts and some of their neighbors.
Daisy Barndt, who is 63, said she cannot match the comfort and economy of her home, which was assessed at $40,150 last year. The high windows discourage burglars, the low front steps make coming and going easy and the insulated walls keep them warm at minimal cost, she said.
Charles Barndt, a 67-year-old retired network television engineer, is recovering from heart surgery and could not handle the strain of moving, she added. While they continue to worry that rezoning and development will increase their taxes, the Barndts are adjusting to the prospect that theirs might be the last detached single-family house in the old neighborhood.
Another couple, Russell and Dorothy Anderson, have not agreed to sell, either. But for the right price, they would happily leave the house they built 40 years ago, Dorothy Anderson said.
"It's not a pleasant place to be," she said.
As the county's comprehensive land use plan now stands, Madison Lane may be developed at a density of 8 to 12 units per acre, and higher densities may be considered if all the parcels on the street are consolidated. Keyes said the residents are seeking an amendment that would allow Concord to develop at a density of more than 20 units per acre without the Barndts' property.
Thomas M. Davis III, the Mason District supervisor, said he supports the idea of developing Madison Lane and predicted that the Barndts would not be an impediment to its transformation.
"The reality is the area is changing. We can sit by and watch it change, or as citizens we can step forward and have a hand at shaping that change," Davis said. "Mrs. Barndt doesn't get to veto the revitalization of that area."
The zoning question is currently before a citizens' committee, which will make a recommendation to the county. The development would require a vote of the Board of Supervisors, and any groundbreaking is at least two years away, Keyes said.
Concord is still negotiating with the owners of an adjacent commercial property that Davis and others would like to see included in the package and converted to residential use.
Residents of Steppes of Barcroft, the condominium complex at the end of Madison Lane, have argued that the proposed construction of $160,000 town houses should be modified to include a smaller number of more expensive units. Another factor under consideration is the development's impact on traffic in the community.
As Madison Lane's would-be sellers await a ruling from the zoning authorities, some harbor reservations of their own.
"We are only selling because the rest of the neighbors are selling," said Elva Smith, 61, a retired Fairfax County school bus driver who has lived on Madison Lane for 16 years. "It's not because we really want to sell.
"When we bought it, we were thinking this will be our home when we get old and we can't get around ... We don't want to be left here with town houses built all around us," Smith said.