Fairfax County poised to approve new tree requirements for parking lots and streets

A parking lot in McLean (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County is moving forward with updates to its landscaping and screening requirements along streets and parking lots.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission recommended the approval of changes to the ordinance at a meeting on Dec. 6. If fully approved, it would be the first major change to the ordinance in 40 years and could make parking lots greener.

Planning staff proposed the update to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at a land use policy committee meeting back in May.

At the planning commission public hearing, Sara Morgan with the Department of Planning and Zoning, said the introduction of “street frontage landscaping” would require developers to provide a planting strip on private property parallel to a public or private street. Single-family dwellings would be exempted.

“It is on private property. It’s 10-foot wide with one tree for every 30 feet,” Morgan said.

The current ordinance requires trees to be installed at any surface parking lot with 20 or more spaces. The update would expand that requirement to surface lots with 10 or more parking spaces. It would also increase the required tree coverage from 5% to 10% “to address some of the urban heat-island effects and other environmental impacts,” Morgan said.

For parking garages, the new ordinance would establish shade structure requirements. New garages would need to have 10% of their top decks covered with shade.

“The parking structure could be a canopy, a canopy with vegetative roofs, solar collections systems or trees,” Morgan said.

To incentivize the use of solar power, developers that add a solar system on top of a garage would only need to cover 5% of the structure instead of 10%, Morgan added.

The Great Falls Citizens Association raised an objection to the substitution of shade structures as an alternative to natural landscaping.

Morgan said this was included because often, trees planted on top of parking structures do not grow to the extent where they provide adequate shade.

“So, we are looking at ways where we can achieve that shade through the means of possible trees, but also through the canopies or the solar collection systems,” she said.

Other changes in the ordinance include a preference for native tree species as well as environmentally tolerant species. During outreach, the county heard from individuals who wanted more species that have the ability to withstand high heat and high-drought flooding, according to Morgan.

Braddock District Commissioner Mary Cortina proposed amending the ordinance to specify that preference be given to environmentally tolerant species “where appropriate for site conditions.” The commission unanimously approved the amendment.

Cortina praised the timing of the proposed changes, calling it a good decision to follow up the county’s approval this fall of new off-street parking standards

“And I think this decision alone is really going to change how these parking lots look,” she said.

The ordinance will now go to the Board of Supervisors for approval on Jan. 23.

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