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Series of Citations Draw Ire from Residents in Birchfield Woods Cluster

by Fatimah Waseem June 21, 2018 at 12:00 pm 59 Comments

A series of citations about the design and maintenance of homes in the Birchfield Woods Cluster, a townhouse community built in the late 1980s, has some residents concerned.

Residents say the citations are inconsistent with past inspections and were implemented in a confusing manner, especially given some homes were cited for issues and others were not. One citation concerns changing a backdoor that has been on the property for 25 years.

The inspection of Birchfield properties and common areas was conducted by Reston Association on May 4. Residents were notified of the inspection on March 5 and given 90 days to address violations.

Shellon Copeland, a cluster resident, said the financial burden of correcting citations on the single parent’s home on Poplar Grove Drive is concerning and that requests for deadline extensions have not been met.

“It’s not just the financial part,” Copeland said, “It’s the added time and stress [from[ getting estimates from reputable roofers, etc.”

Joanna Simon, a Reston resident since 1971, said she was concerned RA’s Design Review Board “overstepped the bounds.”

“The process is confusing, take[s] time, [and] requires photo and other technology skills unavailable to some of Reston’s residents,” said Simon, who is also on the cluster’s board and was speaking as a resident only. She was cited for having a dark brown finish on her deck and installing a new light fixture.

The cluster board was also cited for mailboxes that are not approved and old signage at the entrance of the cluster. Residents said most homes in the community were given at least one citation.

At the request of residents, a meeting at Armstrong Elementary School with the cluster board was held on June 18. Residents have requested extensions to correct citations, which must be corrected by August 24.

Mike Leone, RA’s director of communications and community engagement, said RA’s advisors are working with homeowners to get violations fixed.

“Homeowners will not get escalated to RA’s Covenants Committee if they are showing progress in fixing violations,” Leone wrote in a statement.

The walkthrough request was made by Birchfield Cluster Board President Marcelo Borda. Inspections are intended to ensure properties are kept in good order and repair in order to ensure the appearance is consistent with RA’s design guidelines and in conformity with nearby properties.

Residents said they were irked the cluster board was not involved in the decision to conduct inspections.

Borda said concerns will be discussed with an RA representative. A response about why the inspections were requested and how the board is working with the community to address concerns was not immediately provided.

Inspections occur “no more than once every five years, or as time and resources permit,” Leone wrote.

Photos by Shellon Copeland

  • Sam

    I agree that 90 days may be tough depending on repairs needed, especially since we were given 18 months to replace our DRB-approved light fixtures. BUT as a resident of Reston, it’s your responsibility to be aware of and follow through the DRB process as applicable. Some folks may not agree with cluster standards or maintaining the look of a neighborhood, but there are plenty of us who bought in Reston because of it. Our cluster is working on making process and information more transparent so that we don’t run into issues like this.

    • Guest

      What’s the matter, Sam? Afraid that our decks are not the requisite shade of Russet Brown? Sad!

      • Sam

        I was referring to the overall concept of DRB standards. I’m not splitting hairs on which shade of brown to use. From first glance at photos above, brown doesn’t really fit the elevation. Just like a white deck wouldn’t fit in my neighborhood of browns and greens.

    • 30yearsinreston

      We didnt buy into multiple 24 storey buildings either

    • The Constitutionalist

      I’ve never really understood the mentality of buying a home because of what your neighbor’s house looks like… but to each his own.

      • Why do you bother?

        I didn’t – I bought my house because I liked it and the neighborhood. As I said above/below, if you aren’t prepared to comply, buy a house elsewhere. I knew what I was buying into.

    • Comments continue after the ad

      I can relate to what you re saying but let me add that it appears that some have weaponized the DRB to fight their neighbors over some petty beef which took years to resolve. Just my guess but there should be better ways to do business.

      • Sam

        Totally agree. Sounds like one person here acted on their own behalf instead of the cluster.

    • Why do you bother?

      When you buy a home with an HOA, you agree to abide by its bylaws and rules. I don’t have much sympathy for people who couldn’t be bothered to check those rules before updating their homes.

      Don’t like the rules? Don’t buy a house in an HOA – especially a Reston HOA.

      • Buyer beware

        And especially not if its tied into RELAC although there is a mandatory mold disclosure form in VA.

        • Greg

          RELAC — four times the price for 1/4 the service — that’s the Reston way!

          And, of course, four times the energy required to run it, hippies!

    • FedUp2

      Sam-my email is [email protected] would you be willing to let me use your 18 month due date to change a light to help us get a 12 month delay?

      • JoeInReston

        Once Sam gets in touch with you, I would recommend removing your email address from your comment before a spam crawler harvests your email address.

  • Generic User

    Soooo the RA is still bothering to enforce the planned community requirements? I thought that was all over now that they have turned Reston over to the developers. I bet they are not issuing citations to the new high rises and town homes that are exploding all over Reston hat don’t conform to the old Reston way.

    • John

      Have to give the remaining bureaucrats something to do? The RA needs to be dissolved.

  • Guest

    Marcelo Borda was clearly concerned that her neighbors’ decks were not the appropriate shade of Russet Brown. *lol*
    My own neighborhood has had its share of tussling with the DRB in the past. The process Is indeed time consuming and potentially expensive. There have been (and still remain) members who are pointlessly inflexible.
    It sounds like the reasons for the initial inspection of the cluster were not properly communicated to all its residents. Sad!

    • Why do you bother?

      Taking the Devil’s Advocate role: Then where does “flexibility” end? One door? One door plus a fence? That’s not workable.

      The point of the rules is that no one gets special treatment. An HOA has to strictly enforce – otherwise the rules are moot. Now, Reston’s rules may be way too steeped in minutiae, but that’s an entirely different challenge: revamp the design rules, not enforcement levels.

      • FedUp2

        The inspection of our 108 townhomes in Birchfield was extremely irregular and inconsistent. I am NOT saying the work on my house doesn’t need to be done. We are not talking about community anarchy, with withering plants, garbage blowing in the wind, shutters hanging half off!

        Many many inconsistencies include: one owner had a rubbermade shed not approved with no citing, another shed was approved several years ago before being built and now cited and two cited for not following guidelines and have to replace or remove after not being cited through prior inspections. These issues are peppered throughout the inspections as well as some unfortunate new owners that are cited on multiple issues that were not cited when they moved in with an RA inspection and are basically being told by the inspector “we don’t know why but you need fix it”. There are many other issues too many to list. Are residents going to go through the finance of a lawyer and stress, time etc don’t think so. Now RA is back peddling and saying there is a process and “leniency” when we are showing the work is in progress but the inspection letter started off by threatening a lien if repairs were not done, period! This is very clearly harassing behavior and they have no oversight, no controls in place other than themselves, yikes. The houses in our neighborhood are days on the market when sold and many sold this year. Property values I think you have to stay based in reality, it’s not like it was prior to 2007. Also The church at the top of our road cut down 150 mature trees to make way for 30 parking spaces and we fought hard and lost appealing to the DRB. I thought RA was there to preserve the lovely appeal of trails, tress, green spaces and community, oh well.

        …Absolute power corrupts absolutely …

        • Greg

          The RA, or your board president, Marcelo Borda? He’s the one who ratted, no?

          • FedUp2

            I have heard several opposing responses from different board members but believe that it was some of the board not just the president and no vote was taken. I am Shellon Copeland who reached out to Reston now.

          • Greg

            I am sorry you and your neighbors have to suffer through this.

            I do hope that the RA board sees this and realizes that change is overdue at RA, its DRB and, especially, with covenants enforcement. After all, we pay dearly for this targeted harassment.

            The entire process, from ambiguous design “guidelines” to selective, capricious, and interpretive enforcement, and gross incompetence on the covenants enforcement team needs to thoroughly examined and evaluated.

          • FedUp2

            Thanks and agree

  • 30yearsinreston

    The DRB are not fit for purpose
    The glut of iconic monstrosities like the Blue edifice on Sunset Hills get a pass while they harass homeowners about shades of brown

  • “Village centers”

    Hats off to the journalist that wrote this article, hopefully no punk slip. The DRB is a very powerful and vindictive organization, their lack of compassion towards the older residents in our community is well known and talked about. A good portion of our fees goes towards this department and they have been very forceful in claiming their share of the budget. I am all in favor of dissolving that department and have each cluster work their own by laws.

    • Why do you bother?

      “hopefully no punk slip”

      Is that one with holes and safety pins in it?

      • Call the DRB

        Sounds like a petty beef to me.

  • restonista

    I certainly agree with the points that the developers are seemingly allowed to run wild with their designs while the rest of us have more strict guidelines. However, I do believe in those guidelines because when folks let their houses decay, have made poor design choices, and many other common issues, I want those guidelines to be enforced. It protects your investment and real property values. I went to see a townhouse for sale recently. The adjacent neighbor is clearly in violation and the sale price of that property will definitely suffer because it.

    • 30yearsinreston

      there is no prooof of that assertion

      • restonista

        Just speaking from 20 years of professional experience.

      • Why do you bother?

        There is a huge body of evidence nationwide that derelict houses affect neighborhood home values.

  • NotMyReston

    Weird they are so strict about paint colors but my neighbor probably mows his lawn about once every two months and have 6 adults and 4 children living in a 3 bedroom house and block the fire hydrant on a daily basis and no one says anything to them.

    • Why do you bother?

      If they are violating noise and/or occupancy regulations, report them.

      • Biker Sherlock

        and here we have the real problem…”report them”.

        We live in a community that no longer has neighbors and therefore no neighborhoods. Whatever happened to “talk to them” ??? You never even gave that option a thought but immediately reached for “report them to RA, report them to the county”. This is what is wrong with Reston. Poor neighbors make for a bunch of cranky curmudgeons policing each other. That is no way to build community.

        You are the problem.

        Please move to a retirement community where you can all sit on the porch and whine about old man Jones’ lawn ….

        • FedUp2

          Too accurate and this occurred I believe because of several (out of 108) complained loudly and repeatedly about “several” homes in disrepair.

        • Why do you bother?

          I merely suggested using the process in place for this type of complaint. Whining about it here doesn’t solve the poster to whom I was responding’s problem.

          Of course s/he should ask the neighbor to knock it off. But if that doesn’t work, there’s a process.

          I promise you that I am not the problem.

    • MakeRestonBetter

      Occupancy limit and fire hydrant issues aren’t RA issues, they’re County issues.

      • Why do you bother?

        So, report them to the county. The governing body isn’t the issue here.

  • JoeInReston

    In spring of every year in my cluster, the property manager does a property inspection with the blessing of the cluster HOA.

    Curious why Birchfield Cluster Board president Marcelo Borda didn’t do similar. Why did he involve the RA DRB over the Birchfield Cluster HOA? An HOA inspection would have likely maintained important property guidelines without some of the more obnoxious enforcement that comes with an RA DRB inspection.

    I don’t think Marcelo Borda will be receiving my Christmas Cards from his fellow neighbors.

    • Scott

      Not every cluster pays a property manager.

      • Why do you bother?

        Then the cluster board has that responsibility.

        • Scott

          No. The cluster board is not in charge of enforcing DRB covenants. Cluster Board members manage the business of the cluster and cluster guidelines (ie parking)

          • JoeInReston

            Can the Cluster Board enforce HOA covenants? I am wildly guessing that Borda was more concerned over the general state of some properties more so than whether a light fixture matched the accepted light fixture list.

          • Greg

            The cluster (the HOA) enforces its covenants and standards. It’s the cluster board’s duty whether done themselves or hired out.

            RA (the POA) enforces its covenants and cluster standards if they are on file with the RA. RA enforces covenants through the covenants staff, the covenants committee and (rarely) the courts for escalated matters.

            Problem is that the cluster standards are often outdated, reflect uneconomic or unavailable materials, and are not on file with RA (or the cluster’s members).

            Also, for reasons unknown, RA still strongly prefers Thomas Edison-era, 135-year-old, and wildly wasteful incandescent lighting.

            Today, there are all manner of LED lighting types fixtures that are 85-90 percent more efficient, many times longer lasting, and far more attractive than those from the 1960s.

      • JoeInReston

        Interesting, how are HOA rules enforced?

        • Why do you bother?

          Depends on the cluster. Read your docs.

        • Scott

          The board is in charge. Hiring of a property manager is at the boards discretion. A property manager is an administrative service provider and only provides a service to the board. They do not have any power to “enforce rules”. That is the board’s job.

  • Greg

    Ah, the capricious, inconsistent, and adversarial covenants team led by Anna Varone. Director Anna Varone?

    Is it amazing she has not been fired?

    Nothing like living and playing in Reston! Oops. I mean paying.

  • Greg

    I spy:

    1. unapproved paint colors and peeling paint on the light pole
    2. dead trees
    3. overgrown vegetation
    4. unmaintained turf / bare earth.

    That paving is looking shady too, but RA and cluster design and maintenance of improvements “guidelines” are interoperable, no?

    • FedUp2

      Right what’s up with that!

  • Bethany

    One of the reasons I left Reston. We got cited for a flower box – despite it having been on the house when the previous owners sold it to us – and then trying to get approval to replace our siding glass window with a like window took over a month and only was approved after the manufacturer finally found the actually blueprints for the windows.

  • Scott

    First day in Reston?

  • Noval

    It’s all about exercising power over others who do not live properly. We must require them to do as we see fit in order to control how they live their lives. An excellent next step should be to ban any and all tobacco products and alcohol from Reston. We can then hopefully do a re-zoning to eliminate all churches within the bounds of Reston. It would be much better if RA seized those underutilized properties used by superstitious Christianists and converted them to community centers open to all persons, especially those belonging to communities of color and diverse underrepresented groups.

    • JoeInReston

      Yes, one can paint a dystopia of an HOA run amuck. One can also paint a dystopia of a cluster without any HOA rules or enforcement where residents are free to do what they want. The ability to paint a dystopia from an idea in its worst rendition does not necessarily invalidate the idea.

    • Greg

      Tobacco and alcohol are already banned on Reston’s common elements.

  • SouthOfTheTracks

    My gripes with DRB inspections are the inconsistency. I had a next door neighbor cited for an issue which I was not even though I had done the same thing. I have been cited three times for something that had been approved by DRB and conveyed to me when I bought my house. I had one inspector cite my property for some things that a later different inspector said were now fine even though I hadn’t changed anything yet. I called DRB for clarification on am issue and the person couldn’t really tell me so the issue was removed drom my to-do list.

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