Interpretations of Approved Zoning Applications

Guidelines for Submitting Requests for Interpretations Related to Approved Zoning Applications (Rezonings, Special Exceptions, Special Permits and Variances)

Interpretations of Approved Zoning ApplicationsSubstantial Conformance

The Zoning Ordinance requires all site plans, subdivision plans, building permits, and occupancy permits to be in substantial conformance with the governing zoning application as approved by the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commission, or the Board of Zoning Appeals, respectively.

"Substantial conformance" with an approved zoning application is a determination made by the Zoning Administrator, upon consideration of the record. However, substantial conformance does leave a reasonable margin for small changes, or "minor modifications."

Minor Modifications

A minor modification may be determined to be in substantial conformance with an approved zoning application provided that:

  • such modification is consistent with and does not materially alter the character of the approved development including the uses, layout and relationship to adjacent properties depicted on the approved special permit plat, special exception plat, conceptual development plan, final development plan, development plan, or proffered generalized development plan;
  • such modification is consistent with any proffered or imposed conditions that govern development of the site; and,
  • such modification is in accordance with the requirements of the Zoning Ordinance.

The Zoning Ordinance provides that minor modifications to an approved zoning may be permitted when it is determined by the Zoning Administrator that such are in substantial conformance with the approved zoning and that such are in response to issues of topography, drainage, underground utilities, structural safety, layout, design vehicular circulation, or requirements of the Virginia Department of Transportation or Fairfax County; or are accessory uses; or are accessory structures or minor building additions.

Please refer to the specific Zoning Ordinance sections below related to minor modifications for:

Special Permits: Article 8, Section 8-004
Special Exceptions: Article 9, Section 9-004
PRC (Planned Residential Community) District: Article 16, Section 16-203
P (Planned) Districts: Article 16, Section 16-403
Proffered Conditions: Article 18, Section 18-204

The Zoning Ordinance does not contain specific minor modification provisions related to variances, although substantial conformance determinations may still be requested.

The Interpretation Process

The determination of whether a proposed modification is in substantial conformance with an approved zoning application is made through the interpretation process. The Director of the Zoning Evaluation Division serves as the duly authorized agent of the Zoning Administrator for this process. In order to submit a request for an interpretation related to an approved rezoning, special exception, special permit, or variance, please submit a letter addressed to:

Barbara C. Berlin
Director of the Zoning Evaluation
Division Department of Planning and Zoning
12055 Government Center Parkway, Suite 801
Fairfax, Virginia 22035

Submitting an Interpretation Request Letter

A fee of $520 is required for the processing of interpretation requests. A check for the fee amount must be included with your request, made payable to Fairfax County. The letter requesting an interpretation related to an approved zoning application should include the following information:

  • Clear identification of your name and how you may be contacted.
  • A reference to the specific property and zoning application which is the subject of the interpretation. Identify the property by address, tax map number, and complete zoning application number, if known.
  • A complete description of the question for which you are requesting an interpretation.
  • An explanation of the basis for the question or the proposed change, and how it meets the minor modification provisions of the Zoning Ordinance.
  • If the interpretation relates to a specific proffer or development condition, identify the proffer or development condition and provide a copy.
  • If the interpretation proposes a physical change to an approved plat or development plan, provide a graphic illustrating the proposed changes (ideally at the same scale as the approved plan). The graphic should highlight or circle in red any proposed changes, to clearly identify them.
  • If the proposed modification would change tabulations from those on an approved plan, such as open space, tree cover, or floor area, a comparison of the proposed versus approved tabulations should be provided.
  • For building additions or new accessory structures, an architectural elevation and/or a description of proposed building materials may be helpful.
  • For administrative approval of a minor building addition through the interpretation process, notification to affected adjacent property owners is required. An affidavit attesting to the fact that notice was sent or delivered must be submitted with the letter requesting the interpretation. For instructions and a sample affidavit form and cover letter, click here.

The average turnaround time for interpretation requests is 30 days. Requests that pose multiple questions, or alter the questions posed during the staff review process, may take more time to answer. By reviewing these guidelines and submitting materials that fully support and document your request, time will be saved in researching the answer to an interpretation question. If an interpretation request lacks one or more of the applicable elements listed above, unnecessary time is lost as staff seeks missing elements from the requestor. It should be recognized that these are general guidelines, and you may be asked for additional or clarifying information by staff.

If a proposed change to an approved zoning application is found to not be in substantial conformance, the filing of an application to amend the previously approved zoning application would be required to achieve the desired change.

If you have any questions, please contact the Special Projects/Applications Management Branch of the Zoning Evaluation Division within the Department of Planning and Zoning at 703-324-1290.

Contact Fairfax County: Phone, Email or Twitter | Main Address: 12000 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA 22035
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