Quiet Citizens Can Define Community
Make a Commitment; Get Involved
By: M. Callahan
What does it take to become a community? Neighbors who support one another? Leaders who safeguard those least capable of taking care of themselves—the elderly and the very young? Or, simply people who interact in a common location? However best defined, Annandale is more that an urban village; it is a community; and, one that recognizes that every act of compassion and volunteerism makes a difference.
During the past election season, much bantering was heard about code compliance. Unfortunately, outside the Chamber, Annandale’s Revitalization Committee, and the Mason District Supervisor’s Office, little attention is paid to making code compliance actually work, when it should be a concern that receives consideration from all residents & homeowner associations.
What is meant by code compliance in Fairfax County? Code compliance, in the most general term, is an unfunded mandate. In other words, the Board of Supervisors has enacted certain codes for residential housing, parking, commercial signage, etc. but does not have the funds to hire enough inspectors to seek-out the violators. Since the laws are on the books, it quite simply takes a citizen to report a violation in order to begin the chain of inspection, citation, and remedy.
You can report violations via phone at 703-324-1300 or by filling out a complaint form online at: www.fairfaxcounty.gov/fido/complaints/comp_detail.aspx?catid=14&probcode=2 . Just look through the various violation areas and click what applies. In either case, it takes less than 4 minutes to register a complaint. OCC will not give out your name or contact information, but they will report back to you with updates on the progress of your complaint.
The Office of Code Compliance (OCC) investigates most neighborhood quality of life complaints, including parking in the grass, junk in the yard, too many people living in a home, uncut grass, building without permits, and hoarding. It also investigates excessive or unpermitted signage in commercial areas & improper placement of dumpsters. It enforces zoning, property maintenance, building, blight, grass, fire and health codes all within a single department. Unlike in past decades when you would have to contact many different departments to cover all these code violations, you now only need contact OCC, and in a few cases the non emergency number of the police department at 703-691-2131. It’s simple, if the violation is on the road or if it involves graffiti and gang related spray painting, call the police, anything else call OCC. You can read more about vehicle violations at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/code/vehicles/.
One local organization ran a residential survey to ascertain the level of understanding the average resident commanded of code compliance. Unfortunately, the responses confirm that too many residents, and their homeowner associations, haven’t even a tangential grasp of the procedures taken by this rather hard working and dedicated department. The survey results suggested that violators should be ticketed and fined. In fact they are. Often a warning is initially given for minor violations with the thought that it is better to first educate, but if compliance is not forthcoming, they will be cited. If the violation concerns matters of health or safety, the remedy will be imposed immediately.
The second survey suggestion was to increase the amount of follow-up by investigators requiring them to stay in touch with the complainants until resolution. Actually, they already do this faithfully.
Third was to enhance the system, hiring full time inspectors throughout the county. Well, that would be nice, but that would also mean hiring another 24 officers (county wide), purchasing additional county vehicles, and providing outfitted offices. Should that cost come out of the school budget, or should we simply ask the fire department to respond only to every third fire in order to pay this tab? How about putting the snow plows into mothballs and eliminate that service?
This survey claimed that calling in a code violation is thought to be a, “waste of their time.” Clearly this is an example of too many talking heads, when what is needed is for our valiant citizens to roll up their sleeves, get involved, and help make the system work. No formal citizen task force is really necessary if every association and organization regularly reports violations in their own back yard.
Violations will always creep-up. Consequently, there is a need for a long term commitment to Annandale by all residents. If we ever hope to attract quality developers and projects that will deliver new space attractive to the vendors and bistros everyone wants, then we need to show Annandale off in her best light.
OCC responds quickly and efficiently, reports back to the complainant, and follows up to see that any cited violations are remedied. Again, it takes less than four minutes to file a complaint. Get involved, after all, it is your community.
Confused about what is a violation? OCC personnel are more than happy to put on a briefing; it only takes an organization or homeowners association to make the call. The Chamber and Annandale’s Revitalization Committee have hosted 5 briefings in the past 7 years. Encourage your organization or homeowner-civic association to follow suite. You will learn the procedure, and discuss just what are and are NOT violations. It is human nature to think that just because you do not like the look of something, that it must be a code violation; that is not always the case. Let OCC help you learn. And, be nice to these people, they are on our side; diligently working to keep our communities safe, clean, and respectable.
(Copyright © 2012 Annandale Chamber of Commerce. All rights reserved. Reproduction of this article, in whole or in part, requires the written permission of the author. Photographs & images, on this page, and on this website, are not available for use by other publications, blogs, individuals, websites, or social media sites.
Violations to Watch
(Copyright © 2012 Annandale Chamber of Commerce. All rights reserved. (Photographs & images, on this page, and on this website, are not available for use by other publications, blogs, individuals, websites, or social media sites.)