Citing concerns that the driveway of an adjacent property owned by the same developer fronted on a busy intersection, the Vienna Town Council voted 5-2 Nov. 14 to deny a final development plat for a two-lot subdivision at 204 Courthouse Road, S.W.
Applicant Shane Revelle of Land Design Consultants Inc. had sought to build two single-family houses at the 20,432-square-foot (0.47-acre) site, which is owned by Apex Developers LLC. The houses’ resulting addresses would have been 204 Courthouse Road, S.W., and 217 Cherry St., S.W.
Connor Sekas of Apex Developers LLC said the firm had been approached by owners of the former Tiny Tots property, which shut down because of the pandemic and other factors. Apex Developers bought the property and sought to divide it into lots measuring 10,001 and 10,431 square feet, raze the existing circa-1952 house and construct two single-family homes. The site would have kept its current zoning in the RS-10 residential district.
The homes would have been located next to three others the company is building. Apex Developers planned to execute the project without interfering with groundwater at the location and will construction stormwater controls to boot, Sekas said.
Council member Charles Anderson said the developer bought the properties at 200 and 204 Courthouse Road, S.W., on April 29 and the Council days earlier had approved a lot-line adjustment between them, making the property at 204 Courthouse Road, S.W., sufficiently large to be subdivided.
“Because of the lot-line adjustment, the property at 200 [Courthouse Road, S.W.] now has a driveway entrance going straight into the intersection” at Locust Street, S.W., Anderson said.
Had the property assemblage been treated from the start as a subdivision, the Council could have adjusted where the site’s driveway entrances were and solved the problem, he said.
“It’s just bad design to put a driveway in an intersection,” Anderson said, noting the Federal Highway Safety Commission and Virginia Department of Transportation recommend against doing so. “I see this as an integrated, unified project that should have been brought under the subdivision provision.”
Council member Howard Springsteen also did not favor the application.
“You’re forcing us into a bad situation,” he said. “The driveway I regard as a public-safety issue. You’re dumping it into an intersection.”
The developer should have put all the properties together first and gone for a subdivision, Springsteen said.
“I think your firm really has more or less pulled a fast one on us,” he said.
Council member Steve Potter wondered how the driveway’s location got approved.
“It’s just plain common sense that you don’t have a garage that has a very short driveway and is within feet from a crosswalk,” Potter said. “I don’t know how whoever buys that home is going to be able to get in and out of that driveway at an intersection that at times backs up as far as you can see.”
Some residents at the Planning Commission’s public hearing earlier this fall expressed concern that driveways and curb cuts for the site had been installed before town officials approved the proposal, said Vienna Planning and Zoning Director David Levy.
“This is bad planning,” said Council member Ed Somers. “I don’t get it.”
The Council’s difficuly was that the curb-cut issue applied to 200 Courthouse Road, S.W., not the proposed subdivision.
Lot-line adjustments are common procedures for property owners seeking to subdivide their lots, said John Sekas, father of Connor Sekas and a prominent Vienna builder.
“Sometimes when you build something, it looks different than when you put it on paper,” he said, adding that the company would be willing to improve the driveway at 200 Courthouse Road, S.W.
The proposed subdivision at 204 Courthouse Road, S.W., was legal, by-right and met all requirements, said John Sekas, who took umbrage at some Council members’ remarks.
“There was nothing underhandedly done here and I will defend our company – period, on the record, today, tomorrow and the next day,” he said. “I take extreme objection to someone using the word ‘underhand’ and the word ‘Sekas’ [together] because it’s never happened one time, nor will it.”
Anderson responded later he had not used the word underhanded and said the applicant, who is developing all three properties, should have provided more details during the earlier lot-line discussion.
Acting Vienna Public Works Director Christine Horner said the department already has begun looking at ways to make the curb line at 200 Courthouse Road, S.W., safer.
Patel, who noted Sekas had built her first house, moved for the subdivision’s approval, but it failed on a 5-2 vote, with Anderson, Potter, Springsteen, Somers and Ray Brill Jr. voting nay.
John Sekas was unhappy with the outcome and asked on what grounds the Council had denied the subdivision. Mayor Linda Colbert offered to let any members who voted nay explain why.
“My reasoning is that by splitting this into two, form was elevated over substance,” Anderson said. “Substantively, this is an assemblage and a subdivision is a whole. Therefore, we were not given the right to review, basically, ingress and egress for 200 [Courthouse Road] . . . It may not be legally tenable, but that’s the reasoning behind my vote.”