Proposed Changes to the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance
PROPOSED CHANGES TO THE FAIRFAX COUNTY ZONING ORDINANCE
What is the Zoning Ordinance and How Does It Affect Me?
The Zoning Ordinance of Fairfax County contains the regulations that prescribe the way land can be divided and used in order to promote the health, safety, and general welfare of the public and to implement the adopted Comprehensive Plan for the orderly and controlled development of Fairfax County. The Zoning Ordinance specifies acceptable uses (residential, commercial, or industrial), density of uses, building heights, placement of buildings (setbacks from lot lines), and parking.
There are two projects underway that affect the Zoning Ordinance. The first is the annual Zoning Ordinance Amendment Work Program, which was initiated in 1983 and outlines requested changes to the Zoning Ordinance from the Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals, citizens, industry representatives, and county staff. These changes can be major reviews of specific portions of the Zoning Ordinance, the addition of provisions to accommodate new ideas or uses, or minor changes of a clarifying nature.
This year’s Work Program includes:
- Agricultural Districts and Uses – community gardens, sales and distribution of garden/farm products, and agritourism uses
- Older Adult Accommodations and Services – an initiative from the 50+ Plan to create a new district or use to accommodate the full spectrum of Continuing Care Communities, which typically includes independent living, assisted living, nursing/memory/hospice care, medical care, and the related uses such as retail sales, food service, and recreation; and the related area of adult day care services
- Short-Term Rentals – home sharing or renting done through such platforms as Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO, FlipKey, and Roomarama (see below)
- Parking – parking rates for non-Tysons transit station areas, administrative approval for certain shared parking agreements, and other provisions
- Rear Yard Coverage (see below)
A second parallel effort is the Zoning Ordinance Modernization Project, known as “zMod,�? which was described in last month’s Beacon. In addition to reformatting and restructuring the Zoning Ordinance to make it more user friendly, specific zMod initiatives include:
- Minor Modification Provisions (see below)
- Use Categories – grouping similar uses into broad categories for consistency and flexibility—the first will deal with distinctions between eating establishments/fast food
- PDH District Regulations
- Sign Ordinance – the first phase will be in response to a court decision related to content neutrality
- Building Repositioning/Repurposing—a particular interest of Supervisor Cook
A similar process is in place for changes proposed in both the Work Program and zMod. A small work group of citizens from each magisterial district will look at the proposals. Public meetings will then be held to discuss proposed changes. The proposals will ultimately be considered at public hearings before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. For additional information and specific schedules for the proposals, go tohttp://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpz/zoningordinance/workprogram/.
Feedback Wanted on Short-Term Rentals
Fairfax County is considering new Zoning Ordinance regulations for short-term rentals. A short-term rental refers to any home, condo, apartment, or portion of a home rented for less than 30 days, typically on websites such as Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO, FlipKey, and Roomarama. Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed legislation clarifying that local governments like Fairfax County have the authority to require registration of short-term rentals.
Currently, the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance prohibits property owners from renting their homes as short-term rentals unless the Board of Supervisors approves a Special Exception for a bed and breakfast use. A Special Exception use can only be considered in the R-P through R-2 or PDH or PRC planned development districts.
As a result of the General Assembly action, a working group has been created to craft a draft proposal which seeks to balance residents’ interests to protect the character of their neighborhood with the interests of those who want to operate short-term rentals within their residences. The regulations may address:
- Where short-term rentals would be allowed in the county
- How often spaces could be rented out
- What types of properties could be rented out
- How many people would be allowed to stay at a property at any one time
The county wants your input to help develop a proposal. Please take a short, 10-question survey by August 31, 2017, by going to: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/short-term-rentals. You may also email your comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This survey is just the first step in the effort to draft possible rules. The Department of Planning and Zoning will be seeking more public feedback this summer. Any proposed regulations must ultimately be approved by the Board of Supervisors, and hearings are not expected until late this year. For more information on short-term rentals, including a link to the DCC website that explains the complaint/enforcement process on existing short-term rentals, the status of the proposed Zoning Ordinance Amendment to regulate short-term rentals, and schedule of community meetings and public hearings once confirmed, please visit http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpz/short-term-rentals.htm or call the Zoning Administration Division at 703-324-1314, TTY 711.
Public Meetings Scheduled to Consider Minor Modifications to Approved Zonings
The first zMod Amendment addresses minor modifications to approved zonings. Typically, land use actions are approved with a set of conditions, termed “proffers�? for rezonings and “development conditions�? for Special Exceptions and Special Permits. These conditions address site-specific and/or operational aspects of the proposal. These may include conformance with a specific layout or design, outlining an environmental area to be preserved, specific uses allowed, or limits on such things as hours of operation. These proffers and conditions become part of the zoning of the property and any development must be in substantial conformance with them. However, it is frequently the case that modifications to an approval are requested, either based on the detailed design and engineering done at the time of construction or because needs have changed over time. The Zoning Ordinance allows what are termed “minor modifications�? to be approved administratively by the Zoning Administrator to address these issues. However, sometimes additional flexibility is needed to respond to changing circumstances, and this proposed amendment would address that need while retaining protections for the community.
This proposal would add more staff flexibility to the existing provisions in four areas:
- Exempts solar collectors and other innovative energy technology structures less than 10 feet in height from building height and rooftop coverage limits (for example, where solar collectors on the roof of a multi-story office building would have exceeded the allowable building height)
- Excludes from the definition of gross floor area and the calculation of FAR any incidental increase in interior space created by the replacement of a façade material on an existing building (addresses an issue that arose in the repurposing of an existing office building, where the replacement of the precast façade with a glass façade increased interior space, resulting in a floor area which exceeded the maximum permitted)
- Permits staff to change color of signs and typeface (for example, where an amendment was required to change the color of signs for a bank when the corporate colors changed)
- Increases the allowable size for minor building additions and simplifies the provisions.
It would also give additional flexibility and streamline the process by allowing the Board to act on specific minor requests, following public notice, as an action item at a Board of Supervisors meeting.
Two public meetings will be held to present and solicit feedback on the concepts and draft language of the proposed Zoning Ordinance Amendment for Minor Modifications to Approved Zonings. The first meeting will be held on July 10 at the McLean Governmental Center, 1437 Balls Hill Road, McLean, in the Community Meeting Room at 7:00 p.m. A second meeting will be held on July 12 at the South County Government Center, 8350 Richmond Highway, Alexandria, in the Main Conference Room (221) at 7:30 p.m. Additional information is available at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/zmod/minor-modifications.htm.
Modification of Minimum Required Rear Yards
Rear yard coverage is now limited to 30 percent for single family detached dwellings. It has become increasingly common to have more hardscaping and other outdoor amenities in backyards, including patios, decks, and pools. The Zoning Ordinance Amendment currently being discussed would clarify how yard coverage is calculated; consider increasing or eliminating the limit, particularly for small-sized lots; and consider creating a new Special Permit to provide residential property owners a means for requesting relief. You can find more detailed information at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/bosclerk/board-committees/meetings/2017/may23-development-rear-yard-coverage.pdf. Look for more information on this proposed amendment, including a schedule of public meetings, later this summer.