An artist's rendering of what our dome will look like. It will actually be on a different spot now (see pink zone on grading plan), but it has trees there, so won't make for a good photo.
(Well, really my rendering, but I am an artist.)

Tuesday 8 April, 2003

The good news: we got a hearing date!

The bad news: It's 9 July.

The worse news: Just kidding, that's the planning commission hearing. Your hearing before the Board is 21 July.

The insane news: That makes six months on an expedited SE. Oh wait, they don't count the two months they futzed around. Make that four.

Did you see Mystery Men? I'm Mr. Furious right now.

Friday 28 March, 2003

Good news!  Our SE was accepted. 
 
It has not been assigned yet to a staff coordinator nor hearing date, but has been sent to planning commission who will do so.
 
one more step!!

Wednesday 26 March, 2003

So we're "moving forward", but it was a long way in coming. Observe:

6 February 2003 - Submitted Special Exception.

7 March 2003 - called Department of Zoning and Evaluation (DZE) to ask if the packet had been given a number yet. The lady who answered looked it up and said that it had not finished being reviewed, but that all the pieces were there. (i.e. checklist complete) I mentioned it had been a month since submission and that I was told it was only a month-long review process. The lady said that it normally was. I asked if she thought it was due to the snow. She said that she would like to say that that wouldn't make a difference, but it probably did. She suggested I call back in a week.

12 March 2003- called DZE. The SE had still not been given a number - no other information available.

17 March 2003 - called DZE. Woman on the phone said it was listed as "deficient." She said we should have gotten a letter from the County - I told her we had thus far gotten no letter. I mentioned that the month review period was more than passed, and it had not been listed as deficient only a week earlier. The woman suggested I speak with Yet Another County Official. I was put through to his voicemail and left a message.

18 March 2003 - Yet Another County Official returned my call - I was not at my desk - he left me a message. I returned his call, and we spoke. He asked if we had received a letter from the county regarding the deficiency and seemed surprised we had not. He mentioned that the SE was deficient for two reasons. The first, that the tax map had a different acreage than our SE. (15.5 vs. 16.7) I mentioned that the tax map had been known to be in error, and we had addressed this problem. The second issue he mentioned was that this SE required a variance due to article 2-414.4 of the Zoning Ordinance. I told him that we had already addressed the issue of the variance in our statement of justification. He said it sounded like we had done our homework and that he would be in touch with his superiors. He said the determination must be done by the Zoning Director. He said he would call me back either at work or at home that evening when he had more news.

19 March 2003 - Having not heard back from Yet Another County Official, I called him. He mentioned that he had no news for me, but that he was certainly working on it. I told him that we just wanted to do whatever we could to make the process smooth, and asked that he call me if they needed any additional information or help. He said he would, and gave no indication of there being any items the County required from us.

- Feeling like the County might be able to stall and stall without giving our SE a number, I called Supervisor's Aid in County Supervisor's office. I summarized my conversation with Mr. Yet Another County Official, and asked her if they could indeed stall indefinitely. She said they couldn't. She then added, however, that County Official 3 had called DZE to follow-up on the SE since it had been longer than the month review. He was told by County Official 4 that she was waiting to hear back from "Our Nextdoor Neighbor" on some issue. I told County Supervisor's Aid that I was not aware that the DZE had tried to contact any of us for any reason, and that Yet Another County Official had certainly not led me to believe that they needed to contact us for anything. I told County Supervisor's Aid that I would see if "Our Nextdoor Neighbor" had been out of town.

- I called "Our Nextdoor Neighbor" and he said that no one had tried to get a hold of him. I gave him the DZE phone number, and told him apparently County Official 4 was trying to get a hold of him for some reason. "Our Nextdoor Neighbor" mentioned that he found that strange, considering he signed me as his agent in this matter. He also didn't recall his contact information being on the SE. I agreed.

- I called County Supervisor's Aid back and told her that "Our Nextdoor Neighbor" had not heard from anyone. I also mentioned to her that I was the agent. She agreed that that was odd, and told me she would let me know if she had more news.

20 March 2003 - "Our Nextdoor Neighbor" called County Official 4 and left a message indicating that he had heard she needed to get a hold of him, and to please give him a call back.

21 March 2003 - I called Yet Another County Official. He said he had no news for me yet, and that our SE was now in the hands of his supervisor, Ms. Ruffner, and Mr. Langdon. He said that they had found the section in the statement of justification that referred to the variance for "Our Nextdoor Neighbor"'s driveway. I told him that I had heard someone had tried to contact my neighbor, "Our Nextdoor Neighbor", and I was wondering if it was normal procedure not to inform the agent of such a thing. He assured me that he was not aware of anyone trying to contact anyone, and that if they were, I would be the only person they would contact. He said even if they needed to contact the engineer, they would advise me that they were doing so. I thanked him, and wished him a nice weekend.

25 March 2003 - "Our Nextdoor Neighbor" let me know that as of today, County Official 4 never returned his phone message.

- I called County Supervisor's Aid to let her know that Yet Another County Official indicated that they did not need to hear from us, and the County Official 4 never returned his call. She is going to speak to County Official 3 about it today and let me know.

26 March 2003 - I received a voice mail from County Official 4. She said County Official 3 told her we had some questions on our application. She checked with Virginia today and she said we were in pretty good shape. Everything is ready to be accepted at this point, it should be accepted today or tomorrow at the latest. She said we should be processed accordingly. She asked me to call her back if I had any particular questions.

- "Our Nextdoor Neighbor" also received an voice message from County Official 4. She apologized for the delay getting back to him; she wanted to look over the SE to see if anything was needed. She said it looks like we have everything they need to proceed; the SE will probably be accepted today or tomorrow - and given a case #. She said, as far as the variance he would need because of the proximity to the railroad, that would just be stated as a condition of the SE (i.e. I would request a variance before the Board of Zoning Appeals at the time I'm ready to apply for my house to be built on a specific location).

- I called County Supervisor's Aid to thank her for her help and support. She was happy to know that things were moving along. She told me that we should be getting a planning commission number, and a date when it will go before the Board.

- I also called Yet Another County Official to thank him for his help on our case.

Done and done! Oh, what's that? No problem with the acreage? Nothing about the variance? That's what I thought. Am I having a home brew this evening? You bet I am. (By the way, this text was provided by Jeano, my astute and persistent better half)

Thursday 6 February, 2003

Jean took the day off today and spent the ENTIRE day going from one place to another getting the proper signatures, photographs developed, documents notarized, etc., so we could submit the Special Exception today. She got it in just under the wire, at 4pm today. They close at 4. Whew!

If there are any problems, we'll hear from them within a few days, otherwise it will take four weeks or so for everyone involved to review it.

We'll probably get a hearing date in front of the board for Juneish.

Wednesday 15 January, 2003

We've been published! Check it out.

Tuesday 10 December, 2002

Jean wrote an email to The Supervisor's Aide:

"Dear Supervisor's Aide,

As you know we spoke last night during the public comment period of the Board meeting.  I feel that the Board understood our situation and is compassionate towards us.  Although the general consensus was that we should probably seek a special exception, we were able to meet with County Supervisor and Supervisor Gross a little more after the meeting.  Once we explained how the exception would be to a rule that should not apply to us,County Supervisor mentioned that she would be willing to speak with Mr. County Attorney regarding his recommendation to County Official 5 about our site plan. Granted, Ed and I will be starting the special exception process regardless, but if there is any way to avoid it, you know that is the most preferable course of action for us.

We passed out packets that include very telling photographs of how the entire road washes out past our driveway, on the way to the Stonecrest subdivision where 5 other houses have been approved in the last year, before the water level ever reaches our driveway.  I am happy to send you extra copies of those photos as needed.  I also mentioned to County Supervisor that I had sent you a copy of our attorney's letter to County Official 5.  If you need another copy, of course I can send that as well.

In the event that your office does have a chance to speak with Mr. County Attorney about our situation, I have listed here our 3 most important points regarding oursituation:

1. Our site plan, which was subject to their review, had no portion of it in the floodplain. Our house site, and the part of the drive that access it are outside the one hundred year floodplain. However, they site floodplain regulations 2-9-03subsection B (access to site) as the reason we cannot build. They should not be citing floodplain regulations to reject a plan that lies outside of the floodplain.

2. The Public Facilities Manual, specifically section 6-0704.1, was cited again as a reason for denial.  Our plan was not denied on the basis of the PFM, it was denied on the zoning ordinance.  However, this PFM section states, "The developer must provide factual information that any proposed structure will not adversely affect the existing 100-yr flood level; and that adequate emergency access is available to the structure during periods of maximum flooding...."  Considering the fact that 5 houses have been approved in the last year whose access is even more limited than ours, I would submit that we have "adequate emergency access."  It is certainly more adequate than everyone else's, and adequate is a very subjective word.  Furthermore, we have offered to keep a boat and build a bridge.  Our local fire station keeps a boat and has access to a helicopter.  If those do not qualify as "adequate" I would like to ask what in the world adequate emergency access our neighbors who were approved provided.  Fairfax County has already set its precedent for our neighborhood.  They should apply it to our plan accordingly.  Continuing with the PFM, the letter from Mr. Ayoubi states that our hold harmless letter is for ZO 2-903 (8) for accessory structures.  This is simply NOT true.  It seems the County was incapable of reading a mere 3 paragraphs further down in the PFM.  Not only does it clearly state in  6-0705.3 that the County is not liable, "additionally, the grant of a permit or approval of a site, subdivision or land development plan in an identified floodplain area or flood hazard area shall not constitute a representation, guarantee, or warranty of any kind by any official or employee of the County of the practicability or safety of the proposed use, and shall create no liability upon the County, its officials or employees;" it mentions that we can submit a hold harmless agreement, and we have done so: "6-0705.4 In the event that the Director issues a permit under the provisions of the PFM, the applicant may be asked to execute an agreement holding the County harmless from the effects caused by the construction or existence of the permitted use. Such an agreement shall be recorded among the land records of the County."  They cannot reject our hold harmless agreement by saying it applies to accessory structures only.

3. Our last pointis that the driveway is over 150 years old and needs no improvements. For at least the last 20 years it has been observed by Ed and his family. (20 years ago predates the 2-9-3 access to site requirement) The driveway has always been used. People ride their horses on it, hike on it, it was the entrance to a functioning Christmastree farm for many years, we use it to accessour lot, hunters use it. It has never been abandoned. AsFairfax County’s OWN definition of a driveway only stipulates that the road must access a lot, NOT access a dwelling, this road has been in compliance of that definition for at least 20 years. It is therefore a pre-existing, non-conforming legal use and should not inhibit our building.  The letter from Mr. County Official 5 states that the "use of the driveway for recreational use of the property is simply inapplicable to the proposed principal residential use."  This is simply not true.  It was used as the entrance to a functioning business for many years.  Furthermore, the County's own definition of a driveway makes no such distinction. 

I strongly believe that these 3 excruciatingly important details, coupled with the fact that we have been so mistreated and ignored by the DPW&ES and deserve to finally build on our lot ­ not to mention that we got the impression the Boardwould most likely approve a specialexception ­ leads me to believe that it is only logical for the DPW&ES to approve our plan and not make us jump through more hoops.

I hope this makes sense. I also hope this works. Ed and I are working on our Special Exception packet, but it would be wonderful if DPW&ES could see the logic in our argument before we spend at least $3000 more dollars and wait yet another 6 months.

Thanks so much, Supervisor's Aide. I really cannot stress how much we value and appreciate yours and County Supervisor's continued support for our situation.

Thanks,
Jean"

The Supervisor Aide's Response:

"Jean:

Thanks for providing the information; I will provide your "points" to Mr. County Attorney as requested. I do believe, however, that seeking a special
exception is your best course of action. It would appear, from your e-mail
below, that you have gained some understanding from the Board, and with
County Supervisor's support, your special exception may, in all
likelihood, be approved. You will then be able to move forward and build
your home.

I suggest you speak with the folks in the planning and zoning department to
move forward on filing your special exception.
If you have any questions or just want to talk, please call me. We are here
to help you through this process as needed.

Warm regards,
Supervisor Aide"

 

Monday 9 December, 2002

This evening we took advantage of the Public Comment Period at the Fairfax County Board of Supervisor's meeting. Jean, myself, "Our Nextdoor Neighbor", and my mother and Kathy (combined) all had three-minute comment periods.

I spoke first. I showed them the maps of the area as well as photographs showing how Colchester Road floods between our driveway and the Stonecrest subdivision much before our actual driveway would flood..

It took a lot of convincing before we got our main point accross - that no part of our proposed plan involves any activity inside the floodplain, and that our driveway is a pre-existing non-conforming legal use. (read: it's been here for over a hundred years - it shouldn't have to comply to a 10 year old law.)

We all spoke somewhat extemporaneously from our prepared speeches and managed to gain some favor in the eyes of the supervisors. Some of them even stayed after the comment period to learn more about our situation.

Although the main theme was that they still want us to apply for a spcial exception to a floodplain ordinance that does not even apply to our situation, they are at least willing to revisit our land use attorney's legal argument. We will go ahead and fill out the special exception packet, pay the County their $3000.00 and wait another 4-6 months. At the same time, though, we will hope that our supervisor will be able to convince the attorney and the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services of the truth - that no floodplain ordinance applies to our case because we plan not to build in the floodplain.

Here's to hoping!

Sunday 1 December, 2002

We officially received the latest county rejection letter this past week (A turn-around time of just four and a half months). Same old logic, same old innane argument. We've scheduled three minutes for each of us: myself, Jean and our neighbor, so as to be able to present the entire situation in an organized manner. Wish us luck on the 9th!

Our attempt at getting some written confirmation of a rescue boat and access to a helicopter was met with bureacratic backpedaling from the Fire and Rescue Chief for Fairfax County. At first we tried skimming the surface and eventually had to explain it in depth, all the while reiterating we didn't want them to be involved in our situation, only to affirm the boat and helicopter thing. The Chief didn't recognize that at all, only kept saying he didn't know why they are blocking us and doesn't know the extent ofthe situation...

Saturday 23 November, 2002

As of this week, we have more fodder to support our argument. From VDOT:

Department of Transportation
14685 Avion Parkway
Chantilly, VA 20151

Dear Ms. Phillipson:
I have been asked to respond to your inquiry regarding the future plans for Colchester Road, Route 612. You did not indicate which property you were particularly concerned about, but the location, south of the Southern Railroad underpass, was clear

Please be advised that VDOT does not have any plans to improve this roadway. To the best of my knowledge, Fairfax County does not have any plans to upgrade this roadway either, as it is not slated for improvement in the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan.

I have traversed this section of road in the past and do recall that the overpass is very narrow and somewhat low by today's standard. If any improvement were to be made, I would guess that the roadbed would be lowered, to provide more clearance for large vehicles. Raising the roadbed would only exacerbate this condition. It would also be difficult to obtain the necessary wetland permits.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at the above address or by phone at 555-555-5555.

Sincerely,
VDOT Guy 1, Manager
Land Development Section

Tuesday 12 November, 2002

So we have three minutes in front of the board on December 3rd. The latest is that the most recent County rejection letter is speedily headed our way (only took three months) with Mr. County Attorney and County Official 5 concurring on eachothers' logic.

Recent information directly from the Fire Department responsible for our neighborhood suggests the officials at the county are blowing smoke. The FD doesn't have a rescue plan involving land rescue vehicles during a 100 year flood because "we have a boat and helicopter." Also, the logic that the neighbors can walk out is ludicrous. Hopefully we can present this written information at the hearing...

Tuesday 5 November, 2002

Two years have passed, but we're not giving up just yet. Word is that the County Attorney will be returning a response (most likely negative) by next week sometime. It only took three months. What happens then? Do we have Land Use Lawyer file another letter just to be rebuked again? We don't know. We just don't know. What would you do? We will probably move out of the Phillipsons to a townhouse or apartment rental, as long as it has a yard for the pets. We won't sell the land just yet-I mean, where else can you find 13 wooded acres with a stream, 30 minutes from the city without paying a fortune? F&*k the county.

Wednesday 16 October, 2002

Land Use Lawyer is back from some time off:

Dear Jean,
 
    I am back in town.  This is great!  I am drafting a letter today for tomorrow which will address their ethical obligation to release the permits and site plan.

Jean had written about the County Attorney's fiduciary responsibility to protect the County, but only under the law. They shouldn't be able to block our building, and we shouldn't have to fight for it.

Tuesday 1 October, 2002

Land Use Lawyer pounds away at the County, and Jean has been talking with Supervisor's Aid again:

Jean,
Thanks for the kind words and letter. We have trying to determine the attorney who is handling your case withing the County Attorney's office.
I'll let you know when we find out. We will also determine what the status is of your case moving forward. I respect your decision to proceed as you have with the County Attorney. I hope that your actions prove fruitful. As you mentioned in our conversation yesterday, you are acting on your principles, and I respect that. Just don't forget that you want to build a house, too. :-)) I truly hope this works out for you. Please know that we will do everything we can to ensure you are given due process.
Regards,
Supervisor's Aid

And later...

We understand that Mr. County Attorney is handling your case. He will be
calling us to provide us with information and status.
Supervisor's Aid

Wednesday 28 August, 2002

Land Use Lawyer is still working diligently for us. November marches even closer.

Tuesday 20 August, 2002

An email from Land Use Lawyer:

I just placed the first of what will be many calls to County Official 5.  He has had long enough.  I will make him so tired of getting my messages that they will have to answer.

Two months, 10 days until our drop-dead date. (D-Day)

Tuesday 6 August, 2002

Land Use Lawyer wrote another letter to the county last week asking that they respond to our first request pronto. Nothing yet.

Thursday 1 August, 2002

It's been over two weeks now, and Land Use Lawyer says that's "no time at all for what we're trying to do" (in essence, declaring their floodplain laws illegal and asking for immediate approval). She says we're going to have to wait "a while longer." Translation? I guesstimate two months more at maximum. Heck, by then it will be October. If we haven't made headway by November, we're outta here. There are some nice plots of land and some with Cedar sided prow houses already on them for under $300K out 30-45 minutes West of here...

Monday 22 July, 2002

Land Use Lawyer submitted our letter to the County over a week ago and we're all waiting for what they'll say. We've decided to scrap the deal if we can't do it through the lawyer. Based on recent meetings with the County, we don't think they'll approve the SE. It's either lawyer or bust now. Wish us luck...

Wednesday 10 July, 2002

Land Use Lawyer spoke with us and met with me at Hearthwood yesterday to get a better bearing on her argument. She has found that the County's flood plain ordinance is illegal in that if they tried to enforce it, they would be changing zones or boundries that only the National Flood Insurance Agency can change by a vote.

It would basically be like a company being started and writing by-laws that dictated only people of one race could be hired in the future. They haven't hired anyone new yet, but if they do, it will be illegal.

She wanted to make sure the drive was still in use for motor vehicles. She says we can safely count the times we've driven on it for whatever reason-trash pickup, kayak retrieval, surveying, etc. "Our Nextdoor Neighbor" also uses it to drive his Jeep back to hunt occasionally during the season.

Monday 8 July, 2002

Our meeting today with County Official 4 was not as "slam dunk" as "Our Nextdoor Neighbor" put it, as our meeting last week. Today County Official 4 explained that even though the County tries to be logical in their approximation of the law, perhaps their definition of logic is not the same as ours. This defines our relationship with the County.

Take a situation as thus: A teacher is attempting to teach physics to Briscoe County Junior, a promising young highschool student with a stubborn streak and complete lack of street knowledge (also known as common sense).

Teacher: So you see that since gravity exerts a force of 9.8 meters per second, second (9.8m/s squared), your object, in this case a house, if suspended 100 feet above the ground, will fall and be destroyed. I wouldn't recommend you attempt this.

County: That's not really how I see it. See, I only have jurisdiction over how large my house is, where it is, etc. The gravity exerted by the air molecules around my house really has no effect on it-see, I have it alll worked out here in my formula. The earth's gravity really doesn't come into play here-that's Nature. My logic dictates that my house will be fine.

Teacher: But your house doesn't exist in a vacuum! Of course the earth's gravity will have an effect on it. Gravity has set precedence over ALL other things on earth. How is this case different? Just because your logic excerpts doesn't erase the over-all common sense that your logic is moot.

County: The only way it would affect me is if the gravity exerted by the particles directly around my house were to increase exponentially, bringing it into Nature's domain. Who knows, Nature could lessen the force of Gravity it exerts and then if I hadn't taken that into account, I might be out of compliance! At least I'm sticking to my logic consistently here.

And so on.

Essentially County Official 4 nailed down all the things we need (and Civil Engineering Firm 3 needs) to submit the SE. "Our Nextdoor Neighbor" has backed out of this, so as to speed the process through and not present "increased use" to the drive in the SE package. We are still pursuing the route with Land Use Lawyer as well.

We are (again) asking ourselves, "Is Fairfax County a place we really want to live? Want our children to live? Don't first impressions count for something here?" Would you eat at a restaurant who charged you to get in on the promise that the food was great and then took two years to send out the appetizer? We're not quitters by far, but it may be time to call it a life.

Wednesday 3 July, 2002

So we have a meeting with one of the women with whom we spoke on the 1st for Monday the 8th. Our Civil Engineer, Civil Engineering Firm 3, is coming and hopefully we'll get all teh details laid out as to what we need to submit with our SE. The packet we got lays it out pretty well, but we want to make sure we do this right the first time, so we get the earliest hearing date possible.

One plus from this-no more dealings with County Official 5 ("bless his heart") or County Hydrologist Guy.

Tuesday 2 July, 2002

Two things of major import yesterday:

1. We had our meeting with County Supervisor. And County Official 3. And another guy. And a woman. And another woman. From the start they began talking "special exception." You remember, right? No? I'll refresh your memory: basically a sheet of paper saying we can do something contrary to their regulations and they are ok with it. We've been quoted anywhere from 3 months to a year and $3k-$30k for the ordeal.

While effusing warm and fuzzy goodness, they all but managed to ignore our pleas and logic that it may be the case that a special exception wasn't needed, and perhaps their underlings were being a bit over-zealous in thier enforcement of the regulations. Norm said that bringing attorneys into it would only slow things down and be more expensive, while an "SE" would be "quick." How quick? "The sooner you get it in, the faster you will get a public hearing date." When is the soonest date? "November." Gee, so quick means five months? And another building season lost.

And the cost? $2900 fee for the county, man-hours to our Civil engineer, probably another $2k. Fortunately we can have the Civil Engineer do the SE, which is less expensive than the attorney. We simply can't afford the legal fees.

Needless to say, we aren't thrilled. We're pursuing the SE anyway, concurrently with Land Use Lawyer's efforts (as the county advised us to). That leads me to point two:

2. From Land Use Lawyer on her belief that the county is enforcing the regulations a bit over-zealously:

FEMA has officially confirmed my interpretation of the Code of Federal Regulations, i.e. the National Flood Insurance Program has no requirement that access to a structure be out of the floodplain.

So now we pursue this option as well. Hopefully it will be less than five months.

Now let's all step back a minute and think about this. Distilled, the County wanting us to do the SE it would mean the past two years have gone as such:

Has anyone questioned why we have to do an SE so we can USE OUR DRIVEWAY? It's not like we are adding fill, or even adding FREAKING GRAVEL!!! It's already there!!! I jog that thing EVERY DAY. The County, in its infinite wisdom and grace, is chopping my arm off with a sharp sword instead of using a rusty spoon. Thank you. So now we've got a bunch of old County officials saying "they're young, what's a few months?" It's not a few months, it will have been two years of our mid twenties. Two years we should have been hiking, gardening, HAVING KIDS, growing together, becoming local activists, having parties at OUR HOUSE, learning the joys and pitfalls of construction, unpacking our stuff that's been in storage for TWO YEARS, feeling like real people, not mooching off our parents, enjoying the turning of the seasons AT HEARTHWOOD, and LIVING AT HOME.

Jean and I have reached a new level of Zen consciousness.

Monday 1 July, 2002

So our meeting is today. Land Use Lawyer has been decent about giving us an idea of what we'll be dealing with, but it wasn't exactly a week:

Well right now I am still in the research/review mode. I am looking at the National flood Insurance requirements to see if they also make access a condition of the flood boundary. Once I answer my own questions, I will craft a response. By the way, I had a general flood boundary conversation with John Friedman -- essentially about how the Nat. Flood Insurance program fits into Fairfax County. I told him I would be having a case come up in Fairfax, but did not tell him anything about it. Got some insight into his thought process.

and more...

The county has flood regulations because the national flood insurance act requires it.  therefore, the county should use the grounds of the the NFIA (I think this is what it is called. at any rate, it's close.) in its interpretation of the law.  Our attorney has worked on flood issues for many years, and know that it is not the intent of the NFIA to prevent people from building on lots that can be marooned, simply that there is some form of protection.  Her stance, then, will be that the county is being overzealous in its enforcement and not abiding by the intent of the law.  she also plans on pointing out that the county already determined how strict it would be when it approved stonecrest and the Dyer's lot.  they have already set a precedent and should stick by it. 

"Our Nextdoor Neighbor" is coming with us. We'll let you know how it goes...

Tuesday 18 June, 2002

We have a meeting for 1 July at 3pm with County Supervisor and staff! Hopefully we can resolve the issue via Land Use Lawyer before then, but if not we have an audience with County Supervisor.

Friday 14 June, 2002

We met with Land Use Lawyer yesterday (Wednesday's meeting was preempted for a last-minute hearing) and gave her our info. She'll get back to us by next Friday on whether it's a yes, no, or maybe.

As of now she thinks we have a shot because of "legislative presumption"(?) or something to that effect. Basically it says if the County enforced a law before, it was obviously intended that way and if it didn't, then it wasn't-follow? How it applies is this: my parents built 18 years ago on the same drive across the street, albeit a bit higher (226-230ft as opposed to 220-228ft above sea level), but still with a good portion of the drive in the 100 year flood plain. The county didn't have a problem with it then (and no laws have changed since) and so shouldn't now-bada bing. Another reason is that Federal Flood Insurance laws don't require "access to the site" as County laws do AND Federal trumps County.

Benevolent Friend called and left a voice mail detailing that she was setting up a meeting with County Supervisor (County Supervisor) and staff. Apparently County Supervisor is upset that County Official 5 sent us a negative letter without first telling her. (Benevolent Friend telling her about the letter was the first she'd heard about it!). We'll let her know about Land Use Lawyer and what our plans are and hopefully County Supervisor will decide we are too much trouble to deny again and order the reviewer to approve the plan.

Becky turned 22 yesterday-how time flies!

Tuesday 11 June, 2002

Land Use Lawyer, the other woman whose name we were given is an attorney with whom we're meeting on Wednesday at 5:30. She approximates no more than 10 hours of her time to bowl the county over on this issue. She says the county has no right to restrict access to property based on flood laws and such, and that Federal laws trump state laws in all cases. She (like all others) is amazed that we have been doing this for a year and a half. Cross your fingers.

Thursday 6 June, 2002

Banker Guy 3 has let us know our loan is approved! We have only to give him a general disbursement schedule and then we can close. This brings us into a sticky situation: we don't want to sign a loan if we are putting money down and may not be able to build. On the other hand, it took us three months for this loan to go through and it's not often that one can find a lender willing to go with a self-built dome home...

So the word of the day is "time-sensitive," as in we need Benevolent Friend to get back with us by friday or we call another attorney whose name we've been given. We can only stall the bank about a week or so before we're going to have to come up with a firm close date, as much as two weeks after that.

Friday 31 May, 2002

Banker Guy 3 assures me the bank will let us know by next Tuesday at the earliest. We can then arrange a closing date to take off work so we can sign the paperwork.

An email from the Washington Post reporter:

Jean, I do find this situation very interesting and I appreciate the e-mails. I'm sorry I haven't gotten back to you sooner. I cover county government infrequently but may stay on top of this issue. Just to cover the bases I forwarded your first e-mail to News Woman 1 who is our Fairfax County gov reporter. She also sits about three feet from me. I discussed it with her. I'm going to forward this e-mail as well. We'll see where it goes.
News Guy 1

Wednesday 29 May, 2002

Banker Guy 1 no longer works at Bank 2, but apparently they are still working on it. The bank had to go to committee, last Thursday and "Chip" let me know he just spoke with the representative working on it and he said it should be a done deal by tomorrow!

County Official 5 FINALLY sent a response letter (dated 16 May!!) to our Civil Engineers at their old address (noting our absence on the CC list infuriates me) basically stating that they couldn't find a loin cloth big enough to cover their rear and that they couldn't recommend our property for approval of the grading plan. Complete B.S. that this is going on. I am sick and tired of the county's beaurocratic antics.

Jean has just called Benevolent Friend, who is quite understandably, exhasperated like we are. She already has to meet with County Supervisor on another issue and is going to try to line up some time for Jean, Benevolent Friend and myself to meet with her directly before that. We're to get all our ducks lined up to have everything accessible before that.

Tuesday 28 May, 2002

So Supervisor's Aid says the county sent the letter to our civil engineers ("your representative") even though we were the ones leading the meeting (remember, back in April?!!). A quick call to Civil Engineering Firm 3 confirmed no letter had been received from the County, but that these can take as much as ten days in transit. Alan called the county and asked a copy to be faxed as soon as possible. He left a message with County Official 5 and has not yet received a call. If we were on Mars, we would get faster communication than this.

A recent article (this is a PDF file) in the Washington Post whose subjects are in a similar situation as ours.

Friday 24 May, 2002

Still no word from County Official 5 or Supervisor's Aid on County Official 5/Code Analysis's response. Supposedly County Official 5 sent a letter out a week ago-by snail courier perhaps? How long can this charade go on?

Thursday 16 May, 2002

Benevolent Friend called Jean today. She apologized for not being able to get in touch with us. She was hoping that we'd say "yep, it's all solved, we're building now!" No such luck of course, and she was extremely dismayed. She said she'd call Ms. Jones this afternoon. We asked her if County Official 5 sends us a letter simply saying we can't build that we would like to hire her, but she said she hopes it doesn't come to that, as it would be very expensive. This woman is extremely generous and we appreciate her efforts immensly. We'll see what tomorrow holds.

Tuesday 14 May, 2002

I called County Official 5 today and left a message to call me. He wasn't in later either.

Banker Guy 1 says the underwriter should be calling him before 5pm EST today. He will probably call tomorrow.

Friday 10 May, 2002

An email:

Jean: Please feel free to contact me at anytime. Yes, I did hear from County Official 5 and they did meet, I believe, as planned. He did not tell me anything other than that he was writing a letter to you answering many of your questions and addressing the concerns and issues you've raised. As I mentioned before, he will be copying our office on this letter, so I should see it within the next week. Again, write or call anytime. I'm here from 8:30a - 4:30p M-F.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Supervisor's Aid

Sounds like County Official 5 is just like the rest: he can't face us in person. Hopefully all this means is that they have come up with a footbridge standard for us to use and are naming certain conditions we need to meet. Something tells me that may not be the case...

Wednesday 8 May, 2002

Banker Guy 1 says he should hear this afternoon from the lenders (now not Bank #1 but someone else) if they want to go with the laon and he says they probably do. Then he'll FedEx the "truth in lending" statements, (a slightly different deal of course) and we're off! We'll sign and close sometime next week hopefully!

No news yet from the county-stay tuned.

Thursday 2 May, 2002

Banker Guy 1 of Bank 2 says the underwriters of the lender they chose aren't comfortable with the comparables in the area (domes with acreage), so the appraiser has called the lenders directly and they should say yes or no by this afternoon. If no, Chesapeake will simply try another lender and Banker Guy 1 assures me that it will only take a couple of days.

Ironically enough, they are going through the wholesale division of Bank #1 which has better rates and doesn't have a problem with a self-built dome. Go figure.

An email:

"Subject: RE: Progress
No, this doesn't mean you can sit in this meeting. Sorry. I won't be in the meeting either. This is their work-in-progress. I've asked that they prepare a written response and sumLand Use Lawyer to you (and copy County Supervisor) once they've made some kind of decision regarding this issue. I appreciate your kind comments. Thanks.
******************************
Supervisor's Aid "

So we're still at the mercy of code analysis. What really bugs us is that Supervisor's Aid is more concerned that we got the run-around for a year than the fact that we need to be able to build. All that is water under the bridge, but if the County snubs us by declaring our land unbuildable (after taxing us at buildable rates I might add), we could go bankrupt.

If you haven't seen it, check out "construction" down at the menu. It goes over the steps of construction and will of course be filled in with photos and links to videos on the movies page as we progress. This isn't really a log, but more of a help section to dome-builders-to-be.

Tuesday 30 April, 2002

An email titled "Progress" (or lack thereof):

Jean:
Just wanted you to know that I spoke with Mr. County Official 5 and he has set a date for the meeting with the Code Analysis folks. It is for May 7 at 2p.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to call me.
******************************
Supervisor's Aid .

So, what happened to last week? When we originally met with County Official 5 on 12 April, he said he would set up a meeting for the "next week" (April 13-17). Now it's for next week (May 6-10), two weeks later than originally promised, almost a full month after we spoke with County Official 5.

They may have day-to-day business which to attend, but we have lives to start.

Monday 29 April, 2002

Bank 2 should be ready for us to close our loan this week. I spoke with Banker Guy 1 last Friday and faxed him some stuff this morning.

We should also find out what County Official 5 and the County have to say this week. Will we be building a footbridge or pursuing litigation? Still no word from Benevolent Friend.

We went kayaking with an ocean kayak in the creek yesterday. It had rained for over 12 hours straight and the creek had risen at least 2 feet: check it out.

3:49PM, an email:

"Jean:
Just wanted you to know I'm trying to follow-up with Mr. County Official 5
regarding your issue. I've left a voice mail message with him today and am
awaiting his reply. I will keep you "in the loop" when I receive additional
information. Thanks.
Supervisor's Aid
******************************
Supervisor's Aid
Administrative Aide
County Supervisor"

Upward and Onward.

Tuesday 23 April, 2002

Bank 2 just got our appraisal in yesterday and submitted it to the underwriters. They expect to have some questions, since they don't see domes everyday, but the appraisal came in high enough for our 80% loan-to-value and looks promising overall.

No word from County Official 5 or anyone else yet.

Saturday 20 April, 2002

A friend of Jean's is getting married today.

Jean called County Supervisor's (County Supervisor) office last week and spoke to a really nice fellow, County Official 2. County Official 2 handed us off to Supervisor's Aid, but not before speaking with County Official 5 and letting him know that County Supervisor would like to be "kept in the loop."

County Official 5 has set up a meeting next week (what was he doing this week?) with the Code Analysis people and he'll "do everything we can do to let you build on this property." Yay, let's see if he can find a loin-cloth big enough to cover his rear. If not, we're going in guns blazing with Benevolent Friend as our lawyer.

Friday 12 April, 2002

Where do I begin? Our meeting with County Official 5 and County Hydrologist Guy could have been better but at least they didn't flat out say "no, you can't ever build."

It basically boils down to they don't want to knowingly approve a grading plan that doesn't have "adequate" emergency access during a 100-year flood. "Adequate" is apparently not in their authority to much interpretation.

They are now going back to the Code Analysis (read lawyers) dept/whatever to see what kind of leeway we can get in using:

1. a foot-bridge from our lot to "Our Nextdoor Neighbor"'s
2. a boat
3. a helicopter

for emergency access. I have a feeling they will say footbridge if anything. I'm all tied up inside from this.

Part II: The County rejected our building plans yesterday because of a lot of nit-picky little things. Now we get to send them BACK to Oregon for a redraw (yay, more money!) and then they send them BACK to us and then we submit them again. Not like we're pressed for time or anything, because I'm sure County Official 5 and County Hydrologist Guy will take at least a month to tell us "no" and then we'll litigate. Who deserves to go through this?

Thursday 11 April, 2002

I'm dropping off the paper to go with our RLD at the county today.

We have a meeting with County Official 5 tomorrow (above County Hydrologist Guy, below County Official 1) at 10:30 and are calling on Bob Phillipson's hard-nosed attitude and hopefully on Benevolent Friend as well, to help us be more trouble than we're worth the time. Wish us luck!!!

Tuesday 9 April, 2002

I submitted the plans to Civil Engineering Firm 3 last Friday and they are in the County undergoing review as of Tuesday.

The Appraiser came out to take a look at Hearthwood today and seems like an amiable fellow, quite willing to help reasonably appraise a non-standard home like a geodesic dome.

We got the flipped plans yesterday from Oregon Dome. Now we have to go back to Home Depot to get the TJI's spec'd out again, as everything is a mirror image and the cuts are different.

County Official 1 is still incommunicado, but we haven't lost all hope yet.

Jean's Birthday is tomorrow!

Friday 5 April, 2002

We skimmed over the 148 page PDF file and blasted through the 25 question test (1 hour timed, open book) in 15 minutes last night, securing our Responsible Land Disturbers certificate.

It's yet another way the County covers its rear- it can say that we were fully informed of all practices and procedures for erosion control, so if something gets out of hand neither we nor any one else can sue the County for negligence. What a cop out. And they get money for it too: $75!!!

Wednesday 3 April, 2002

Steve Collins is now working for half of his old firm, Civil Engineering Firm 2; now "Civil Engineering Firm 3" or something. The plans should be approved by the Health Dept either this afternoon or tomorrow morning, at which time I'll go pay the fee, sign all the appropriate blocks and drop it in County Official 2's box.

The Health Dept wanted to make sure we have our RLD (we'll do it this weekend) and also commented on emergency access to the land, something they didn't mention before. County Official 2 has to write a response letter saying these things are being taken care of...

Wednesday 3 April, 2002

So County Planning Commission Guy finally called us back last night.

County Planning Commission Guy: "There are really a lot of issues...what with your house....emergency access..."
JEAN: "Well, actually there are houses being built right now at the end of Colchester Road that are in the same predicament, what with the bridge being lower than our driveway...Why are they allowed to build and we are denied?"
County Planning Commission Guy: "...and the C-Bay issue..."
JEAN: "Not to keep cutting you off, but that's no longer an issue, as we've resited the house..yes it's in the process of review right now..."
County Planning Commission Guy: "So I spoke to County Official 1 and she should be calling you soon. Don't worry, we're keeping this on the fBanker Guy 1t burner..."

Hmm. Sounds suspiciously like we just got handed off. Last time we spoke to County Official 1 was in spring or summer of 2001.

Remember the telephone game? Each person garbles the message a little more, so at the end no one knows what the original message was. Each link in our telephone game knows less about the situation and can afford to be more impersonal. By now it's probably "Two people (Are they married? They don't even have the same name) want to build a house IN the floodplain, maybe even in the creek. There's a bumper sticker in the Northern Sun catalogue that would fit well on any Fairfax County vehicle: "The buck doesn't even slow down here."

Sunday 31 March, 2002

I put up a small portion of the Dome Living video we ordered from Oregon Dome. Check it out.

Friday 29 March, 2002

County Planning Commission Guy finally returned Jean's phone calls: "This is pretty complicated, we should definitely have a meeting, I'll talk with you Monday!" A master of the obvious? Yes. Will he help? Maybe.

Saturday 23 March, 2002

So still no word from County Planning Commission Guy, an elected official at the County: "I have a full time job you know, I'm not getting paid for this." Gee, that ought to be the County motto.

If he doesn't get back to us by COB Monday, we'll call Benevolent Friend again to see what her opinion is.

We had a whirlwind of a ski-trip in Beaver Creek, CO. No iMovie (it's nearly 30 minutes) but we made a DVD on our new iMac, yes, OUR NEW IMAC:) Neato. So if you're in the area, you can request a showing.

Monday 4 March, 2002

I'm in Detroit for the whole week on business and have been since Friday. Yuck. At least I get to look forward to a ski trip at the end of the week with Jeano and the Phillipsons. We'll be sure to post videos and photos when we get back!

Thursday 27 February, 2002

I found a deed at the county documenting the easment onto our land (and surrounding land) "for the purposes of ingress/egress...and all such utilities and services for the full enjoyment of said parcel." Pretty much solidifies our case for our driveway use being ok.

We're going to re-site the house so we don't have to file for a C-Bay waiver, as that's County Hydrologist Guy's leverage. That means more time and a bit more money, but nothing huge. It went through the health dept. once, it will go through again, perhaps faster this time. The view may not be as nice, but as Jean said, "I'd rather have a house on a pretty piece of land than just a pretty piece of land."

Chesapeake Investment and Mortgage looks to be the winner of our "Who Wants to Fund a Dome?" contest. They didn't balk at all when I spoke to them on the phone about a "panelized housing system wherein the manufacturer erects the custom pieces and we do the rest..." and after our meeting today showing them the letter from Fannie Mae about selling domes on the secondary Civil Engineering Firm 1 & 1/2et, the list of comparable domes in the area, the house plans, and the full-color catalogue, they seemed rather hunky-dory!

None of this "well we'll try to convince our underwriters" or anything. Just "We'll get our appraiser (or one you want) out there and see how much money we can lend you," in a very good way. And they aren't charging us an arm and a leg. Can we say, "Good-bye Bank #1" in a big loud voice now? Good.

Wednesday 27 February, 2002

Hope is a good thing; maybe the best of things. And a truly good thing never dies--Andy Dufresnes, The Shawshank Redemption.

Benevolent Friend has given us that-hope. Jean, Kathy and I went to talk about our dilemna with her this afternoon. This came about on the off chance that Bob Warhurst mentioned her name when speaking with Kathy and who should be right there, but Benevolent Friend!

She used to be on the board of supervisors for Fairfax County and is now a land use Consultant for Adams & Associates. She told us "This will happen," meaning our building on Hearthwood. She told us that it was obviously a political decision that County Hydrologist Guy has made and that she would help us get through this. It just might take some time. Time we have.

Jean and I are alive again.

Thank you Kathy, for meditating or whatever you call it:)

Wednesday 27 February, 2002

Hey, I know a good strategy for making friends in the workplace. I'll do the bare minimum of work to get the job done and cover my ass instead of doing what's right. That's County Hydrologist Guy's approach. He's the County official who is the burr in our rear right now. He doesn't have to do anything to deny the right to build on our land, but to do what's right would mean some risk on his part. He would have to grant a waiver and that might come back to him some day. So it's better to hunker down, plug his ears, and pretend he isn't causing us hardship. I hope he sleeps well at night.

Thursday 21 February, 2002

Bank #1 is (once again) not returning my phone calls and our loan officer is out of the office on training this week. I can see where we fit as far as their priorities go.

In the meantime, we have two promising bank leads and neither have a problem with "partially self-built panelized housing systems where-in the manufacturer ships us the shell, erects it, and we do the rest."

Also, the County has thrown another curve ball at us-a problem soils thing. Since our house is sited within 25 feet of a problem soils area (type A), the County needs a Geo-technical soils survey (or a certified third party to vouch for the validity of a diagnosis on the soils, deeming them "non-problem," should the data be old and flawed) which would take time and money. So can you find Waldo? If you can, it would be easier than relocating the house (check out the grading plan) 25 feet from problem soils, another specified amount from the 100 year flood plain, and also out of the RPA to boot. Oh, and see if you can still give us a nice view from the deck.

Of course, all this is moot if Kyum Kahn (Chief Hydrologist of the Western District) doesn't like the fact that our existing driveway is in the floodplain, (but can't do anything about it legally) and decides to fault us on something else. That's the reason we'd resite outside of the RPA.

Do we push on or scrap it because we're going insane living with my parents (and driving them insane in the process)? Do we push the "living with your parents envelope" or sell Hearthwood in a fire-sale to the highest bidder (lunch plus air fare to the nearest state with lax building laws) and skip town? Find out in the next episode of Oh Who Cares about the Dog Pee in the Corner, I live in the Attic?

Thursday 14 February, 2002

So either we have to explain it better to Bank #1 or get a different bank, or go through a contractor for the sake of the bank. They aren't biting yet.

We've put up some more photos of Hearthwood, along with the photo illustration to the left.

Monday 11 February, 2002

Assuming the bank takes a month or so for the loan application, we're looking at a tentative ship date of 23 March for the dome kit. That means we'll need help unloading it. That's a Saturday, and since the truck is too big to come through the RxR tunnel, we'll need to unload it (I'm currently arranging where) and then load it into pickup trucks to transport to the site, some 2 miles away.

We'll be sending out an email when we find out the date for sure, so if you'd like to help and you don't get one, let us know by emailing us on the contact page.

We'll probably only need four people, but that means four all day, so if it turns out to be four who show up and can help in the morning, then four who show up later to help in the latter half of the day, so be it. We've got two pick-up trucks already, and could probably use two more.

Assuming THAT date sticks, we're also looking at a 13 April (also a Saturday) date for the dome raising. That will entail the work of six able-bodied folks to help the people from Oregon Dome, Inc., who will be assembling the dome.

For both dates, please bring a pack lunch, and we'll provide hot dogs and hamburgers for dinner, along with soda and water.

Friday 8 February, 2002

We're set to hear from the County by the 19th of February. WHEN we get approved, we'll immediately begin clearing and grading the site, as well as clear for NOVEC's electric line.

We've just about finished the budget (95%) and are submitting our loan application next Wednesday.

Friday 1 February, 2002

Triple R Construction has the septic bid. I've been studying plumbing.

I've put up Grump's 87th birthday video on the movies page.

We sent off the proper info to NOVEC for temp electric hookup, and the plat off to the Land lawyers and Walsh & Colucci for recording a deed on it.

Wednesday 23 January, 2002

I've submitted the grading plans, so now they are officially undergoing review.

The County has thrown a small curve ball at us: as of July 1, 2001, all projects require the person overseeing the land disturbance (read, building stuff) must have a certificate of compliance issued by the Dept. of Conserrvation and Recreation, the "E&S Responsible Land Developer Program."

Apparently it's not too hard to get one though, and it can be got online for $75 by answering a 25 question test. The County needs this before final approval to build can be issued.

http://www.dcr.state.va.us/sw/es_rld.htm

Triple R Construction almost has a bid on the Septic tank and drainfield installation.

Ground Water, Inc. has gotten back with a bid on the Well Drilling.

Tuesday 22 January, 2002

Civil Engineering Firm2 has just called me to say I need to submit the plans to the county myself, as there are about 18 signature blocks requiring my autograph. Tomorrow I guess, b/c the County closes in 15 minutes.

FEMA (Federal Emergency Managment Agency) has approved the official update to our plat, noting that our building space is out of the floodplain, contrary to their previous map. That will help tremendously when the banks underwriters look at our loan request.

We'll probably have to get our "hold harmless" letter (letter holding the county harmless in the event of a flood, wherein the county can't get to us with their rescue vehicles) recorded in a deed and notarized. We'll wait on that until we know what, beyond what we've written, it needs to say in legalese, exactly.

We've received an estimate for the well drilling-about $11K. We're now awaiting an estimate for the septic tank and drainfield installation.

We're still looking at Mid-February for approval from the County on the plans.

A scan of the grading plan and the elevation of the dome on the plans page this evening...

Upward and Onward!

Thursday 18 January, 2002

I've just picked up the approved plans from the Health Dept, paid their fee, and dropped them at Civil Engineering Firm2's box at Plan Control. Civil Engineering Firm2 will submit them for County review tomorrow. Hopefully approval in mid-February! Yay!

A new iMovie on the movies page as well. Check it out.

Monday 14 January, 2002

Happy New Year!

Either the plans are at the Health Dept. or at the Herrity Building, having passed the Health Dept. Either way, we're running a tad late. Civil Engineering Firm2 has said mid-February for approval, so that means we dig the footers then.

Of late, we are putting together our budget for application of the construction loan. We're going with Bank #1 (the evil people-seriously! Last months payment for the land was $666.66!) even though they are a pain, b/c they don't require a General Contractor and since we took out the first loan with them, they'll be less stringent and the process will go faster. Less time and money.