Fairfax County targets buildings that never get built

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Local,Virginia,Taylor Holland,Fairfax County

Builders in Fairfax are taking too long to finish their projects, said county officials who are looking to speed things up.

The source of the problem is a provision in the county's building code that allows builders to get an unlimited number of extensions on their projects as long as they show officials they're making progress.

That progress, however, can be limited to simply hammering a nail in a wall once a year, said Supervisor Jeff McKay, D-Lee, who's pushing to amend the county's code to limit the number of incomplete buildings around the county.

"The impact of these unfinished structures on a community is more than cosmetic," he said. "They affect property values, invite criminal activity, vagrants and squatters and animal infestation."

McKay has asked County Attorney David Bobzien to determine how the county can legally change its code -- whether by themselves or with the help of the General Assembly -- to prevent builders and residents who take years, sometimes even decades, to complete their projects from exploiting the county law.

The change will help neighborhoods look more complete, McKay said, and also encourage businesses to move into Fairfax County.

"There's no reason anyone should be subject to living in a construction environment for years on end," McKay said.

A building permit is required for anyone planning a construction project ranging from an addition on their home, such as a sun room, to a whole new house or commercial building. The initial permit gives the builder three years to finish the project, but the extensions allow work to go on indefinitely.

Jeff Blackford, director of the county's Department of Code Compliance, said current laws prohibit the department from doing anything to an unfinished structure -- even if no progress is being made -- unless it's a safety risk.

McKay's concern has been on the department's radar for some time, Blackford said, and they're willing to crack down on the building code if the law permits it. As it stands, the process "is under review right now," he said.

Other board members are backing McKay's effort.

"Someone can get a building permit, come out, move a couple bricks, put a nail in the wall, and then they can get an extension," Board Chairwoman Sharon Bulova said. "It goes on and on and on."

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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