Fairfax County is pushing to make parking lots and streetscapes greener

Trees shade a local street in Tysons (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County’s parking lots and streetscapes could look a little greener.

At a land use policy committee meeting on May 16, planning staff proposed a new update to the county’s landscaping and screening ordinance — the first major change in 40 years — that would make developers add more green landscaping to more parking lots and street frontages.

For parking lots, the current ordinance requires trees to be installed at any surface parking lot with 20 spaces or more. The new ordinance could expand that requirement to any lot with 10 parking spaces and increase the amount of tree coverage from 5% to 10%.

New parking garages, meanwhile, would be required to have 10% of their top decks covered with shade, although utilizing solar canopies could lead to a reduction in that percentage.

Landscape and screening ordinance update change to parking lot coverage (via Fairfax County)

The ordinance also introduces “street frontage landscaping” — requiring developers to provide trees on private property provided they’re along private or public streets, not internal drive aisles. Single-family dwellings would be exempted.

One small but meaningful change would also adjust the types of trees seen in these green spaces, as it turns out Fairfax County’s previous specifications weren’t evergreen.

“When it comes to transitional screening a lot of waivers are applied for to use existing vegetation because they have to have 70% evergreens and that’s not common in Fairfax County,” Sara Morgan, a planner with the Department of Planning and Zoning, said. “This allows us to review [developments] on a case by case basis as we want to further encourage the use of existing vegetation, allowing you to have a mix that is different than [the ordinance] today if you retain existing vegetation.”

Similar to the zMOD update approved in 2021 — then reversed and reinstated earlier this year — county leadership said the landscaping and screening ordinance update is a good step forward on fixing some outdated code.

“It’s been 40 years since we updated these,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “I think this is overall very, very good.”

The board approved new tree canopy standards earlier this year with the hope of encouraging private developers to plant more street trees in the public right-of-way.

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