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Supervisors Approve Higher Density Limits for County Transit Areas

by Karen Goff June 22, 2016 at 2:45 pm 12 Comments

Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins at Feb. 29, 2016 meetingThe Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a motion on Tuesday to allow up to 5.0 FAR — a mark of high density — in 22 areas of the county close to Metro stations.

The ordinance establishes a maximum FAR of 5.0 for Transit Station Areas and a maximum FAR of 4.0 for Commercial Revitalization Districts, (CRD), Commercial Revitalization Areas (CRA), and Community Business Centers (CBC).

The board also passed an amendment introduced by Supervisor John Foust (Dranesville), that says the McLean area can only build up to a 3.0 in its revitalization and community business district areas. Foust said allowing high density building in McLean would alter the area’s traditional smaller-town character.

While the vote for increased FAR (Floor-Area Ratio) sounds like skyscrapers are on the way, it isn’t, the supervisors reiterated.

Allowing maximum density, particularly in areas close to Metro or in need of revitalization, gives future developers flexibility, said Supervisor Chair Sharon Bulova.

Supervisor Kathy Smith (Sully) pointed out that development surrounding the Merrifield Metro is at a 2.25 FAR, and in the urbanized Mosiac District, it is 1.2. Those places could have been built at a 3.0 level, but development in Fairfax County also puts much credence into the limits of the comprehensive plan, she said.

“It just goes to show how very, very important the comprehensive plan is in this county,” said Smith. “That’s where citizens have input on density, design and traffic generation. Just because these numbers are in the zoning ordinance, it does not mean that developers came in at that level. They came in at the level of the comprehensive plan.”

Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins agrees the comprehensive plan is the real guideline for development.

“I am concerned the message that goes out of it is that we with a 5.0 FAR, everyone now will be going out there and developing at that level,” said Hudgins. “From our side, we should be helping the community understand that for the most part people are making investments here.”

“They won’t make an investment in 5.0 if it won’t work. This is not compelling anyone, anyplace to go to highest level. It allows those who are in the highest category to go to that area if appropriate.”

Reston, even in the midst of a transportation-related building boom, is protected by the limits of the comprehensive plan. In order to implement any new zoning ordinance, the Board of Supervisors would have to adopt an amendment to the comprehensive plan for the Reston TSAs after a public hearing before the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.

In Reston, TSA’s are considered within one-quarter mile of a Metro station.

  • Jason Rub

    So was the vote unanimous? And what reasoning was given for the McLean exemption?

    • Karen Goff

      It was not unanimous. Hudgins was against it but I do not have exact count. Foust concerned big building would change character and style of McLean.

      • Greg

        The first line of the article reads: “The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a motion…”

        Also, the part of McLean Faust may be talking about is not the Tyson’s part — it’s the part near Dolley Madison and Old Chain Bridge (the McLean downtown), no?

        • Karen Goff

          I think question above was about the McLean amendment. In any case, that was not unanimous. Yes. Foust was talking about older section of McLean, not Tysons.

  • Fairfax Watcher

    Dear Homeowners: Please read this increase in FAR as an increase in your property taxes. Simple math: more residents require more budget dollars. Several studies have shown that apartment renters who do not own cars do not pay any tax directly to the County and the taxes they do pay (VA state income) do not balance the books for their usage of County services.
    The Board of Supervisors(BOS) says this FAR of 5 will not result in tall buildings…..really? If the BOS believes this – they also believe in the Easter Bunny. The BIG cash developer who agrees to BOS desired proffers will be allowed to build tall as he wants…wait and see.

    • David Romero

      I’m interested in those studies so if you can link to one please do.

      Fairfax gets most of its money from property/real-estate taxes and sales tax. Renter’s definitely pay sales tax. Part of rent covers their landlord’s property taxes. So it seems dishonest to cast them as freeloaders.

      • Fairfax Watcher

        Thanks David for the question and your interest in Fairfax’s questionable future. The studies I mentioned were found on-line, I no longer have their link. Search for renter’s tax, etc.
        Renters are NOT freeloaders – they are just lucky NOT to want a life-style that includes a house and cars. The apartment owners are the ones that should have their tax rates increased to reflect the total cost of the County providing their tenants with all those County services.

        • reason

          House: a huge occupier of space per person occupying it, which reduces greenspace and increases the transportation burden of moving people and goods around (because they have to pass by the big occupier of space per person while doing so)
          Cars: a HUGE occupier of space, because it takes up space while driving, and also while parked in various places, and the public writ large has to accommodate all of the above for peak usage even though a car doesn’t occupy all those spaces at the same time. To say nothing of the damage done to the environment when it’s moving around on artificially cheap gas.

          Renters without cars: people subsidizing all of the above with their income taxes, while making the sacrifices necessary to navigate the car-centric environment your preferred policies create for them.

          You are the freeloader. Start paying for the huge public toll your house and cars create and pay your taxes. Be thankful every day that the government is there to make sure the infrastructure necessary for your resource-consuming house and cars are still there, day-in and day-out.

          • Greg

            Let’s be fair. Renters (and homeowners) without cars use transportation resources. There are bike lanes, sidewalks, pedestrian crossing signals, trails, airports, railways, busses, subways, school buses, jitneys, circulators, streetcars and more — all of which are paid for by taxpayers of all types and none of which are self sustaining.

          • reason

            I’d argue that none of those transit methods are even close to as inefficient per person as personal car travel (which I’ll distinguish from shared car travel like carshare or Uber since those don’t require the same kind of wasteful storage outside whereever the owner dwells, to add two more examples to your list), but sure. Nevertheless, we’ve been warping the costs associated with transportation (and, relatedly, low-density real estate) with heavy subsidies for a half a century, much of it in the form of federal highway money and the enforcement of market-distorting zoning laws.

            With federal taxes near all-time lows for that period, and with the population growing and with fewer groups being marginalized like they once were, the piper needs to be paid somehow. I’m not sure there’s any penalty too stiff when the mission is making people think harder about the resources their consuming when they drive or live in a detached house.

          • Greg

            I’d argue the opposite (empty buses driving about while burning diesel fuel…), but those are arguments on long-standing nationwide public-policy issues beyond the issue here which is that renters pay direct and indirect taxes, and many fees, to the county.

  • Thakur P Dhakal

    Great decision. We should move forward and towards the future of the development to accommodate more people, business and the industry. Less density would not happen anywhere in the foreseeable future. Rather, we should develop infrastructures for the higher density. We must push for public/mass transit system, that will reduce parking lots and creates more usable area. Walk-able community would help maintain healthy lifestyle.

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