County Moves Forward With zMOD Amid Citizen Concerns

The Fairfax County Board of Directors authorized the advertisement of the Zoning Ordinance Modernization (zMOD) project as recommended by the county’s staff during its meeting Tuesday.

This move will allow sufficient time to advertise the project before a planning commission public hearing on Jan. 28, 2021, and a Board of Supervisors public hearing on March 9, 2021, according to the authorized administrative request.

The zMOD project has been included on the Zoning Ordinance Amendment Work Program since 2016. The goals of the project “are to modernize the county’s zoning ordinance, to make the regulations easier for all stakeholders to understand, and to remove inconsistencies, gaps, and ambiguities” that have been incorporated into the current ordinance since its adoption in 1978, according to an executive summary of the project.

During a Hunter Mill district town hall on Monday, Department of Planning and Development planners Carmen Bishop and Casey Judge provided four reasons behind the update of the zoning ordinance:

  1. Unintuitive format and structure
  2. Outdated land uses and regulations
  3. Legal jargon and antiquated language
  4. Inconvenient on cellphones, tablets and other devices

The current zoning ordinance encompasses more than 1,200 pages. The project proposal includes streamlining the different regulations to make it user friendly, complete with hyperlinks throughout the document as well as tables and graphics that consolidate information.

The language within the current zoning ordinance may also convert to a “plain English effort,” according to Judge.

Though the board authorized the progression of the project, citizens are asking about the language and stipulations in the latest draft of the project.

On Nov. 25, a letter from Reston Association President Julie Bitzer to Hunter Mill district Supervisor Walter Alcorn listed areas of concern “that directly affect the Association and the larger Reston community.”

Among the areas of concern Bitzer listed is the timing of review and approval of the project. Bitzer raised issue with the “inadequate” amount of time to review and comment on the 741-page draft of the new ordinance before the planning commission hearings in January.

During the town hall Monday, similar concerns were heard about the speed in which the project is moving. Bishop and Judge assured the project has been discussed with people from all Fairfax County districts over the last two years.

During the town hall, which marked the 89th meeting about zMOD in the county, it was also explained that the project has been released in installments for over a year while some adjustments were made based on feedback from community engagement.

However, it was reiterated that the county is willing to continue meeting with the public to address concerns or continue to make adjustments based on feedback.

“We want the community engagement. The project has benefitted so much from the input that we have gotten, and so I don’t want to minimize the impact that citizens have already had on this project,” Bishop said.

“But we’re happy to continue the meetings and to continue to fine tune the document.”

Among the other concerns heard during the town hall and expressed in Bitzer’s letter were adjustments to accessory living units (ALU) and home based businesses.

The concerns specifically revolved around potential parking and traffic issues, and how proposed changes to ALUs and home based businesses may coexist with the rules set by homeowner’s associations (HOA) in the area.

Through the zMOD proposal, Judge assured that the project works to recognize “the residential character of these neighborhoods and making sure we don’t have people coming and going all day long.”

The proposed standards for the home based businesses include limiting each to two customers or clients at a time and six per day. The businesses will still require appointments only, each spaced 15 minutes apart. Each home based business will also be required to designate one parking space.

In Bitzer’s letter, she communicated specific concern about the option to remove the requirement that a person with a disability or a person 55 years or older live on the property to obtain a permit for an ALU. Bitzer expressed a belief that this adjustment may have “drastic unintended consequences,” including increased density and conflicts over parking and access.

During the town hall, it was clarified that dwellings with ALUs will be required to provide one additional off-street parking space for an interior unit approved with an administrative permit in addition to the off-street spaces already designated for the dwelling.

Another proposal stipulates that ALUs must meet health department approval and applicable regulations for building, safety, health and sanitation.

It was also clarified that each HOA will retain its covenants that will take precedent over the county’s regulations.

The final area Bitzer addressed in her letter was a point of support on behalf of the Reston Association for the proposed change requiring “the disclosure and showing of all easements on properties, regardless of easement width, on rezoning and entitlement plans being submitted for review.”

Image courtesy Fairfax County

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