Land Development Services

CONTACT INFORMATION: Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. and Friday, 9:15 a.m. - 4 p.m. Please note that visitors may not be added to in-person queues past 3:45 p.m.
703-222-0801 TTY 711
12055 Government Center Pkwy
Fairfax, VA 22035
Bill Hicks


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Land Disturbance 101

Before You Dig!


What is Land Disturbance?

man looking at site equipment

Land disturbance is any man-made change to the land surface that may result in soil erosion from wind or water and the moving of sediments into our waterways and neighboring lands according to Chapter 104 of the Fairfax County Code, the Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance.

Vegetation, such as groundcover, turf and plants, protects and stabilizes our soil, preventing sediment from leaving a site. Removing vegetation, including trees, is also considered land disturbance and is further defined by the Ordinance as clearing.

  • Clearing:  removing all or part of existing vegetation
  • Grading:  ensuring a level base, or one with a specified slope
  • Excavating:  forming a cavity in the land by cutting, digging or scooping
  • Transporting and filling of land:  adding or removing dirt
  • Paving of existing pervious areas penetrable by water
  • Creating new impervious areas:  surface material significantly obstructing or preventing natural infiltration of water into the soil

Some activities are exempt as listed under Section 104-1-7(m), and include:

  • Land disturbance that is less than 2,500 square feet
  • Minor land-disturbing activities such as home gardens and individual home landscaping, repairs and maintenance work
  • Individual service connections
  • Installation, maintenance or repair of any underground public utility lines when such activity occurs on an existing hard-surfaced road, street or sidewalk
  • Septic tank lines or drainfields unless included in an overall plan relating to construction of the building to be served by the septic tank system (e.g., new single-family home)
  • Installation of fence and signposts or telephone and electric poles and other kinds of posts or poles
  • Emergency work to protect life, limb or property
  • Certain agricultural/horticultural activities


NOTE: The application of the above exemptions is very specific and generally requires additional guidance and interpretation from staff. For more information, please contact the Engineer of the Day via email or telephone at 703-324-2258, TTY 711. 


Fairfax County is subject to the Chesapeake Bay Act and as such all land-disturbing activities exceeding 2,500 square feet are regulated by the Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance and require an approved site-related plan BEFORE disturbance. The type of plan you submit depends on the area of land you will disturb and the complexity of your project.

For more information contact the Site Application Center via email or telephone at 703-222-0801, TTY 711.


how to calculate land disturbance
Click for larger image

How do I Calculate Land Disturbance?

To calculate the total disturbed area for your project, add the following:

  • Area of project footprint
  • 10-foot-wide work zone around all sides of the project footprint
  • 10-foot-wide access path from existing street/driveway to edge of project footprint
  • Area of stockpile footprint matching area of project footprint (only when project includes excavation such as for a pool or basement foundation)



For more information on how disturbance is calculated, see Letter to Industry #09-05 or contact the Customer and Technical Support Center via phone at 703-222-0801, TTY 711.


What Approvals Are Required?

Be sure to obtain all necessary approvals before beginning land-disturbing activity. Failure to obtain the necessary pre-approvals may result in a violation. Approvals may include the following:


What Else Do I Need to Know?

va811 logoBefore beginning any land-disturbing activity, regardless of size, contact Virginia 811 at or by telephone at 811 or 800-552-7001.

Free Dirt Could be Costly!

dump truck unloading dirtFill dirt companies often look for a place to offload excess fill material, but you as the owner could be found in violation of the county’s environmental laws if you accept fill without an approved grading plan.

When you are adding soil on more than 2,500 square feet of land, you must comply with the county’s erosion and sediment control law (Chapter 104 of the County Code) and you may need to submit a site-related plan to the County. When you are altering grade by more than 18 inches, additional laws apply. If a big enough storm hits, just one small stockpile of fill dirt can lead to eroded soil entering the stream.


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