1950s Suburb Evolves With Time
Old Trees Shade the Ever-Changing Houses at Pimmit Hills in Fairfax
By Susan Straight
Special to the Washington Post
Saturday, November 12, 2005; G01
At the time it was built just east of Tysons Corner on Route 7, Pimmit Hills was Fairfax County's largest subdivision. Photos from the 1950s show bare land, cleared of bushes and even grass. The new homes, light-colored with dark trim along rooflines and windows, stood starkly in the middle of treeless yards. The neighborhood was built with no sidewalks or curbs, constructed quickly for aspiring middle-class homeowners proud to own a little piece of suburbia.
Fifty-five years later, though, large, old trees shade the still mostly modest single-family detached houses on Pimmit Hills' quarter-acre lots. Some sidewalks have been added. And additions -- in some cases, dramatic new constructions -- are changing the look and feel of the neighborhood.
Of the 1,642 homes in the neighborhood, 1,280 were originally constructed on identical floor plans: three bedrooms, one bath, 883 square feet. These boxy, efficient homes had pitched roofs, three front windows and a front door set slightly off-center.
About 70 homes along Olney Road, the northern border of Pimmit Hills, were built in the early to mid-1960s. These homes were known as the Model A design, said Darren Ewing, the newly elected Pimmit Hills Citizens Association president. Model A homes were 1,750-square-foot, two-story structures on 1/4- to 1/3- acre lots. There are also a few old farmhouses sprinkled throughout the community, blending into the suburban streets that used to be rolling farmland.
By the 1980s, Pimmit Hills was showing its age and looking a little run down. But as nearby Tysons Corner grew, Pimmit Hills became an attractive location for home buyers. Now, new residents who have paid a premium to live within the Capital Beltway are creating momentum for getting the neighborhood in better aesthetic shape.
Few of the homes retain their original design. Most residents have made at least one addition. In the 1970s, it was popular to construct attached sheds, resident Cindy Kwitchoff said.
For six years ending last summer, Kwitchoff edited the Pimmit Hills Dispatch, the bi-monthly newsletter of the Pimmit Hills Citizens Association. One of her most popular series was the chronicle of adding a wide front porch and a great room to her own house, nearly doubling its square footage.
But all these home improvements have not come without occasional disagreements, particularly when new owners tear down the original modest homes and build what some neighbors call McMansions. Nearly every street in the community has at least one extremely large, recently constructed home that testifies to the fact that there are few formal restrictions on size or style.
While these homes do not violate Fairfax County zoning regulations, they run counter to the original Pimmit Hills covenants -- a set of traditional but unenforceable guidelines -- and some have engendered a certain amount of ill will. A recent meeting of the citizens association board included discussions about possible solutions to these structures, including the possibility of filing lawsuits. But that option seems unlikely.
"We don't want to litigate against something like that," Ewing said. Instead, the association asked a county zoning department employee to make a presentation to residents. At that meeting, residents learned about the proper permits to obtain when renovating or building additions.
The association prides itself on its hands-off leadership, relying mostly on peer pressure and positive reinforcement for maintaining and improving property, such as featuring photos and a story about Deanne Eversmeyer-Ellis's attractive garden on the association Web site ( http://www.pimmithills.org/ ).
"We shoot off letters if we have to, but we try to resolve things in an amiable way," Ewing said.
One of the most pressing issues for the area around Pimmit Hills is increasing traffic gridlock at Tysons Corner. Planners are hoping to extend Metro through Tysons on its way to Dulles International Airport, but the plan is expensive and controversial, and some question whether the development envisioned around the planned Metro stops, with its increased population density, would eventually alleviate or contribute to traffic.
For now, public transportation options for residents of Pimmit Hills include Metrobus, which runs throughout the community, and the West Falls Church Metro stop, about a mile from the border of the neighborhood. While residents can easily walk to Tysons Station shopping center for groceries, they feel that it's unsafe to cross the busy, six-lane Route 7 to the larger shopping center directly across the street. And though some residents walk to Tysons Corner just a few blocks away, the route along Route 7 and across I-495 is pedestrian unfriendly, Ewing said.
The community was built without sidewalks, street lights or a complete sewer system, according to county records. Though the community quickly gained a full sewer system, intermittent sidewalk construction still has not reached every block. "We ultimately want one hundred percent coverage," Ewing said.
Kwitchoff says the lack of continuous sidewalks does not stop walkers. "That's one thing people like about this neighborhood -- it's a great walking neighborhood." There are many informal walking groups and dog-walking friends. There are a number of small, county-maintained parks with jungle gyms interspersed through the streets, plus the adjacent Pimmit Hills Shopping Center, Tysons Station which includes several service stores, Trader Joe's and wireless- and sporting-goods stores and the regional county library.
The community is focused on making crosswalks at edges of the community safer. "We want to protect pedestrians and not cater to vehicular flow," Ewing said. "We want to make it safe for people to walk around and not put their lives in danger." The citizens association met last month with the county supervisor to get help making the crosswalks "more visible -- to get cars to slow down and stop," Ewing said. Possible solutions include fines for not stopping for pedestrians, crosswalks, florescent signs and highlighted crosswalks.
Membership in the Pimmit Hills association is $12 a year, mostly to cover the costs of printing and delivering the Dispatch, which has been published since 1952. One recent achievement is welcome signs recently erected at the Lisle Avenue and Pimmit Drive intersections with Route 7. These carved and painted wooden signs cost the association about $9,000. "They were something Pimmit Hills had wanted to do since the 1960s," said Kwitchoff, who found sketches for proposed signs in the citizens association records. "But it was so daunting dealing with all of the county bureaucracy just to put a sign up."
That is, until Joan Naleppa became first vice president of the citizens association last year. Naleppa, who bought her home in Pimmit Hills for $13,500 in 1963, ran the gantlet at the Fairfax County government center and with the Virginia Transportation Department. "I had a rough time, since we had no common ground" on which to erect the signs," she said.
The association was able to pay for the signs out of a fund left over from the 1960s plan to build a neighborhood swimming pool. "When we moved in, there was a swimming pool proposed for Olney Park," Naleppa said. But the pool never got built and the money "sat in a CD for years," Kwitchoff said.
The signs were erected this year, and Naleppa turned over her spot on the board late this summer. "It's her great legacy to this neighborhood," Kwitchoff said.