Tysons, VA

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to defer a vote on adopting a new county zoning ordinance after hearing roughly five hours of testimony at a public hearing on Tuesday (March 9).

The fate of the 614-page document will now be decided at 4:30 p.m. on March 23.

“We’ve been at this for a long time,” Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith said toward the end of the public hearing, which featured 71 speakers. “…By deferring for two weeks, that gives the board more time to consider what we’ve heard before we move on this on March 23.”

The additional time will let the board review input from the community and the Fairfax County Planning Commission, which put forward amendments last week related to flags and flag poles, home-based businesses, and accessory living units (independent housing on the same property as a main residence).

“I think we might have a fairly long mark-up on this, because my guess is there are going to be a number of issues, as a board, we might need to talk through,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said.

Launched in 2017, the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance Modernization project (zMOD) aims to update the county’s 40-year-old zoning code by making it easier to comprehend and incorporating new activities, such as electric vehicles and community gardens.

Proposed regulations on ALUs, home-based businesses, and flags have emerged as the most hotly contested changes, though speakers at Tuesday’s public hearing raised concerns about everything from food trucks to vehicle storage.

Fairfax County staff agreed with the planning commission that the draft should have a requirement that home-based businesses be approved by the county health department if the property has a well or septic system and a standard limiting the amount of hazardous materials they can have on site.

They also revised their recommendation for flags to allow maximum sizes of 50 square feet on lots with single-family dwellings and manufactured homes or 150 square feet for all other uses. Staff previously recommended limiting flag sizes to 24 square feet on single-family home lots and 96 square feet for other uses.

Community members took stands on both sides of the debate around ALUs. Some voiced support for looser regulations to enable them as an affordable housing option, while others worried about the potential impacts on traffic, parking, and public facilities.

“There is no guarantee that ALUs will equal affordable housing, but eliminating the current requirements will tax our already burdened public facilities,” McLean Citizens Association President Rob Jackson said. “…Adding more people without additional public facilities will degrade the quality of life.”

Many speakers urged the Board of Supervisors to follow the planning commission’s recommendation of retaining a special permitting process for interior ALUs, saying that allowing administrative permits would shut out citizens and neighbors.

“We really need more genuine outreach to engage the public in making land use decisions that directly affect communities, and not less,” Falls Church resident Kathryn Cooper said. “Residents do not want their involvement in land use decisions to be excised, as will occur under zMOD.”

Also a Falls Church resident, Coalition for Smarter Growth Northern Virginia Advocacy Manager Sonya Breehey argued that the county should go further in encouraging ALUs and that continuing to require a special permit for interior units, as recommended by the planning commission, would delay efforts to address housing affordability challenges.

“Accessory living units can offer less expensive housing options than renting or buying a single-family home because of their smaller size, and they provide housing opportunities in communities that might otherwise be too expensive,” Breehey said. “…As a homeowner in a single-family residential neighborhood, I want you all to know that I see ALUs as an opportunity to provide greater inclusivity in my neighborhood that I love.”

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