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Tony Castrilli,
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Fairfax County Adds Flexibility to Make Minor Modifications to Approved Zonings

News Highlights

  • Fairfax County updated its zoning rules to allow homeowners and other property owners to make minor modifications to previously approved developments.
  • The proposed change is part of the effort called zMod to modernize the county's Zoning Ordinance.


Fairfax County approved a change to its zoning rules to allow homeowners and building owners to make minor modifications to previously approved developments. The Board of Supervisors signed off on the changes at their Nov. 21, 2017 meeting.

The change will make it faster and easier for property and building owners to react to changing market or site conditions while retaining the protections embodied in a zoning approval and expected by the community.

The revision is needed to make the Fairfax’s zoning rules more responsive and user friendly to current conditions, said Barbara Byron, Director for the Fairfax County Office for Community Revitalization. The “minor modification” amendment is one of the changes that make up the county’s multi-year zoning modernization project dubbed "zMod".

Typically, land use actions are approved with a set of proffers or development conditions to address site specific and/or operational aspects of a development proposal. It is frequently the case that modifications to an approval are subsequently requested, either based on detailed design and engineering done at the time of construction, or because needs have changed over time. The zoning ordinance allows what are called “minor modifications” to be approved by the zoning administrator to address these issues.  Zoning rules have allowed this authority for the past 30 years; the new changes modestly expand this authority.

The changes add flexibility to existing provisions in four areas:

  • Allowing rooftop solar panels or other innovative energy and environmental technologies that are less than 10 feet tall.
  • Excluding from the definition of gross floor area, any incidental increase in interior space created by the replacement of a façade material on an existing building.
  • Allowing a change in the color of signs and typeface provided they do not change the character of the approved sign.
  • Making the current provisions regarding minor building additions consistent for all types of uses up to 250,000 square feet, at an amount of up to 5 percent of the approved floor area up to a maximum of 2500 square feet; or up to 1 percent for all uses above 250,000 square feet.
  • Permit modifications that reduce setback dimensions up to 10% from that shown on an approved development plan.

This administrative authority is limited in nature and requires that any changes substantially conform with the approved proffers or conditions and do not materially alter the character of the approved development, reduce the effectiveness of landscape or screening, or adversely impact the relationship of an approved development to the adjacent properties.

These specific changes were proposed due to recent circumstances encountered by county zoning staff.

For example, Metro Park, an office park about two miles from the Franconia-Springfield Metro Station, wanted to install solar panels on the roof of one of its buildings to achieve a LEED platinum rating, the highest possible under this green building certification. The panels supported the county’s policy goal to encourage green building and environmental sustainability, yet they exceeded the proffered building height and therefore could not be approved administratively and required the filing and approval of a Proffered Condition Amendment application.

More recently, the Silverline Center’s owners sought to modernize their 44-year old, office building in Tysons. The upgrades were needed in order to keep the building competitive with higher class, new office space being built near the Metro stations.  The owners replaced the office’s old concrete façade with floor-to-ceiling glass. Because glass is thinner than the old panels, the building’s overall square footage would have exceeded the maximum permitted. To address this, the interior lobby and other spaces needed to be decreased in size. The Silverline Center’s successful transformation helped to advance the county’s plan to redevelop Tysons and encourage the repositioning or reuse of older office buildings.

The zoning ordinance amendment also would allow the Board of Supervisors to approve certain requests for minor variations to proffers, as action items with public notice:

  • The addition or modification of a use which is not specifically precluded by proffers or conditions, if the new use does not have a greater land use impact than the approved uses would, based on factors such asparking, trip generation, vehicular circulation, or hours of operation. This would grant flexibility to allow for new uses in places such as shopping centers.
  • An increase in building height based upon final engineering or design issues, provided the resultant height does not exceed 15 feet or 15% of the approved height, whichever is less,  exceed the maximum height of the zoning district, or have a materially adverse impact on adjacent properties.
  • A modification to minimum yard dimensions, building setbacks or distances from peripheral lot lines, but only if the modified dimensions would not have a materially adverse impact on adjacent properties or other proffered conditions.
  • The addition, modification or deletion of active or passive recreation uses at the request of the property owner or owners association, if the request is consistent with the objectives of the original zoning approval; does not reduce the recreational or open space below the minimum required for the zoning district or otherwise required by the Zoning Ordinance; and does not delete an approved but unbuilt facility.
  • The modification of proffer commitments to technologies (such as computer business centers) or services (such as transportation shuttles) that are underutilized or have become ineffective or obsolete as circumstances have change
  • Modification of architectural design, character, color, features, or materials for buildings and signs provided such modifications are of equivalent quality and do not have a materially adverse impact on adjacent properties.

The county’s parking garage at the Innovation Center Metro Station is an example of why officials are recommending the provision to allow for a small increase in building height. This garage that will serve SilverLine Metro riders was approved to be 50 feet tall. However, bedrock was found on that site, which would be very expensive to remove. As result, the county sought to raise the building’s height by eight feet, requiring the submission and approval of a Proffered Condition Amendment application, which added time and expense to the project.

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