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Residential Construction

It is no secret that the Town is undergoing major upgrades, renovations, repairs and a reconstruction boom is taking place within our 4.5 square miles. Currently there are 97 active residential construction sites at some stage of progress. This can make for congested side streets, inconvenient travel, and for some, an anxious time in our lives. When Mr. Yeonas and others began constructing neighborhoods in Vienna the houses were well built, sturdy, and made to last a long time. Unfortunately, a long time does not mean forever and many homes have fallen into disrepair or residents have reached a time in life where it seems opportunistic to sell and relocate.

Many talented and caring builders, many of whom are Town of Vienna residents themselves, have begun buying those older properties, removing the old homes, and reconstructing new homes in their place. This process can bring with it some challenges for longtime residents, the Town government, and businesses within the corporate limits. The end results are the addition of some beautiful new homes and within those homes, we get some new and wonderful neighbors. During the process, however, you may observe some very unfamiliar activities and I would like to provide some insight into what to expect when a new home is being constructed near your residence.

The building process is a well-planned and thorough process involving many entities. Once a builder or resident purchases a property and elects to tear down an aging home and build another, he or she can have the utilities capped off at the site. This requires the digging of holes to locate and cap off the water line, gas line, electrical power, and sewer line. The builder then submits plans for the house demolition and new home construction to the Planning and Zoning Department at Town Hall. Once the plans are reviewed, modified, and eventually approved by the Department of Planning and Zoning, Public Works, and Parks and Recreation staff, they are then submitted to Fairfax County for review. Fairfax County then approves the plan and issues a building permit.  The Town Arborist is also involved to ensure that the plan meets the proper tree canopy requirements. Many builders and new landowners try to preserve the older, healthy trees as opposed to removing them. Sometimes this is not possible and trees are removed and new ones planted which will meet the canopy coverage requirements as outlined by the Town’s Tree Preservation Plan. A link to that document is provided:

Builders can elect to demolish the old home by hand without disturbing land. This is done without the use of large machinery on the premises and allows for the repurposing of materials from the existing home. No erosion controls are required at this point if demolition is done by hand. These pieces of hardware and lumber are then re-sold by the non-profit demolition team for use in construction at other locations. Sometimes builders will allow the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, in conjunction with the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department, to do a controlled burn of the existing structure for real life training exercises. The Vienna Police Department can also use the abandoned homes for training exercises.

After removing trees and installing the proper perimeter erosion controls such as silt fence, large rock construction entrances, and tree save protections, the builder schedules a pre-construction meeting with Town staff. Staff then meets on site to physically inspect the erosion controls and tree protection and discuss proper neighborhood etiquette, traffic flow issues, parking, and other pertinent topics with the builder and his staff. Once Town staff approves the controls and has the pre-construction meeting the builder is allowed to demolish the old home using machinery.

Demolition typically involves a large track hoe excavation machine if not done by hand. It munches and crunches its way through the home and then loads the rubble in to trucks for hauling. This can be quite a sight and viewing from a safe distance is usually permitted. This can also be a somewhat sad time for former residents or children that may have lived in the home or neighbors that were used to seeing a particular home for many, many years now being demolished. The demolition can also lead to a bit of anxiety about the unknown and is the beginning of the introduction of large mechanical vehicles, trucks, workers and unfamiliar faces in the area.

Rest assured that our staff monitors the progress of all the projects with safety and good community behavior in mind. We typically inspect each and every work site every 2 days to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations relative to erosion controls and the maintenance thereof. The black fabric silt fence you see around the sites is intended to filter larger particles of soil runoff to decrease sediment runoff. It is not a wall or dam type of control, but a filter fabric which allows fine particles of soil and storm water to pass through. This can create a brownish looking water and can sometimes be misinterpreted as mud running off site. While the controls can occasionally get damaged and fail, the brown water is normal and allowable by state and federal guidelines. Any accumulations of mud off site are the responsibility of the builder. The mud will be removed and grass or other damaged areas repaired prior to occupancy of the new home. Town staff is available to intercede on a resident’s behalf should any damage occur as a result of the building process. The builders in town are very understanding and accommodating. They are always willing to be helpful in establishing a good rapport and relationship which eventually paves the way for good neighbor relations once the home is occupied.

Town staff also makes sure that the workers are adhering to the proper start and stop times for construction as outlined in the Town’s noise ordinance. This ordinance, enforced by the Vienna Police Department, allows workers to begin active construction at certain times and requires them to end construction at certain times. The mere gathering on site or in the area prior to or after those hours is not considered a violation of law. The noise ordinance can be found using the following online address: or in print at Town Hall.  

All builders in the Town of Vienna typically require, at some point, the use of concrete trucks, cranes, large dump trucks, loaders, and other machinery to demolish and construct a new home. This can be a bit of an inconvenience for residents but is an essential part of the building process. Having a bit of extra patience, understanding, and being neighborly can go a long way to ensuring a great working relationship with the contractors and builders. We all know that some of the streets in Vienna are fairly narrow and require some polite etiquette to navigate at times, even when driving our personal vehicles. The same is true with the contractor trucks and cars and such. The contractors and builders all know what is expected with regard to behavior and accommodations to make the building process a success. Sometimes all it takes is a simple request to remedy a temporary situation which may inconvenience you or a family member. The neighborly behavior is a two way street, and it takes both residents and contractors to make sure the building experience is as painless as it can be. It is not a perfect science and issues can always be resolved if everyone involved is polite, respectful, and patient. The tear down and construction process is only temporary and typically takes between 6 and 9 months to complete.

After a home is completed it is checked by the Vienna Department of Planning and Zoning to be sure that the structure meets all the requirements relative to lot coverage, building height and other specifications. It is then inspected by a Town engineer from the Department of Public Works to make sure that the yard is properly graded, that sidewalks and driveway aprons are correctly built, that vegetation has been established and that storm water runoff is properly handled. This is usually achieved by the use of swales on either side of the newer, and typically larger home, and/or by piping the downspouts to the front or back of the yard. The new grading of the lot should not result in any concentrated flow of storm water runoff which could possibly cause erosion. It is simply runoff in the form of sheet flow which passes through established vegetation. The Water and Sewer Department then completes its inspections and the Town Arborist checks to make sure the proper tree canopy requirements have been met. Only then is an individual permitted to go to settlement and move in to the new home. If one or more of these inspections reveals an issue the occupancy is delayed.

Vienna continues to be a wonderful community and a great place to raise a family. As time marches on we all need to be mindful of the fact that structures deteriorate and need to be repaired or replaced. Vienna is a hugely desirable location to live as evidenced by the building boom. The Town government and staff work very hard to keep Vienna ranked as one of the top locations to live in the United States. It takes a village to progress and if we can all be patient and understanding with the temporary inconveniences, Vienna will forge ahead and continue to be great.