Image from Bing Maps.

There’s an empty parcel of land near Seven Corners, adjacent to a bunch of townhouses. But neighbors so deeply oppose building any new townhouses that they’d prefer even the ugliest clear-cut subdivision.

The property lies just off Route 7, next to the Ravenwood Park neighborhood. A non-historic farmhouse used to sit on the property, which was torn down in December. The property owner is requesting zoning permission to build 12 townhouses.

Just to the north is a group of 33 townhouses; to the east, a church and a group of larger apartment buildings. To the south and west are single-family houses. Ellie Ashford reports that despite the other townhouses and apartments, neighbors from the single-family houses oppose any more townhouses:

Carol Turner, the co-president of the Ravenwood Park Civic Association, who led the meeting, says a higher-density development would mar the character of the neighborhood and would lead to more traffic and crime. The community members recognize that the property will be developed, but would prefer single-family houses rather than townhouses.

Supervisor Penny Gross wrote a column explaining benefits to the community from changing the zoning:

In a conventional by right subdivision, a developer submits a site plan and, after technical review, can get a building permit from the county. No development conditions may be placed on the property, no opportunity for proffers, and the community has no input into the layout, design, siding (e.g. brick vs. vinyl), buffer and landscape, etc. The developer could clear-cut the property, and back up the new homes as close as 25 feet to the neighbors’ property line. That would certainly change the view out the back window!

“Proffers” are Virginia’s way of capturing some of the value of increasing zoning. A developer basically makes an offer for what they would give the county and the neighborhood in exchange for building the greater amount allowed.

Clear-cutting trees? Houses close to the property line? Ugly vinyl siding and no landscaping? Apparently that’s fine as long as those evil townhouses can be banished. Ashford wrote,

Several people at the meeting announced they would accept those conditions as long as they can keep townhouses out of their neighborhood.

These particular residents are upset that in a meeting, Gross didn’t seem sympathetic to their argument. Some started talking about backing another candidate to run against Gross, who is up for reelection this November, and one potential challenger attended the meeting.

A commenter on the Falls Church News-Press article lamented “the depreciation creep that will befall Ravenwood… then on to Lake Barcroft” if this project is allowed to continue. Will adding 9 more families to an area, especially one with even greater density nearby, suddenly turn not only this neighborhood but the next one into desperate slums?

It’s sad to see this level of passion over preventing nine families from living off the nearby main street.

Often, the debate over townhouses versus single-family houses becomes a proxy for wanting people of particular socioeconomic groups and not wanting others. Note: I am not saying that this is the case here; however, it’s a factor in many such debates.

In this case, though, nicely-built brick townhouses with elegant landscaping could well draw more of what residents want than more cheaply built vinyl single-family houses.

9 more families on Route 7 could create a very small amount more traffic, but could also slightly increase the viability of improving bus service that already runs there. Or maybe the thought of people who might ride the bus also stirs up fears of “depreciation creep.”

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.