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Planning Commission Defers Controversial Sign Changes

Fairfax County Government is currently mulling over changes to its sign ordinance that has everyone from schools and parks to local realtors concerned.

At a Planning Commission meeting last night (Wednesday), the commission deferred a decision on the new sign regulations until Jan. 16 to allow for more discussion on the impact of the ordinance.

Currently, county staff are reviewing changes to the zoning ordinance to make the language content-neutral. The change is in response to the United States Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Reed vs. Town of Gilbert, which ruled that localities that define sign categories based on the message expressed, or content-based, is unconstitutional unless it furthers a compelling governmental interest.

Rather than allow free reign for Fairfax residents of businesses to erect signs regardless of content, a proposed amendment would clamp down on sign regulations across the board.

Changes to the sign ordinance are widespread but often minor corrections. One of the biggest changes is that one freestanding building identification sign is permitted for each detached building and such signs must be limited to identifying the name of the building or the individual enterprises located therein, the address, trademark or identifying symbol of the building occupant.

According to county staff, minor signs (formerly referred to as temporary signs) were the largest challenge in the zoning ordinance rewrite.

“While staff acknowledges that the proposed language could negatively affect some developments that are currently exempt from regulation, we continue to recommend the language found in the draft text as it provides the closest level of regulation as the current provision.”

A representative from real estate investment company Macerich said at the meeting said the company had a laundry list of concerns but has been working with county staff to whittle those issues down. Another local realtor at the meeting said the new ordinance could push the open house signs and corner signs off of local lawns and into the already crowded right-of-way spaces.

The sign ordinance changes sparked concern with the inclusion of language that would remove government exemptions from sign ordinances.

“Staff has received comments from both Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) and the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA), neither of which is in favor of eliminating the current exemption status. Of particular concern to the Park Authority is the limitation on the size, number and location of minor signs permitted for non-residential uses in a residential district. These signs are used to announce summer concert series, camps and other activities at the parks. The schools have raised concerns with the proposed height of permitted freestanding signs for non-residential uses in residential districts which is proposed to be limited to 8 feet in height.”

As a result, staff said at the Planning Commission meeting that there would be modifications to the ordinance allowing some exceptions for schools and parks.

Planning Commissioner Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner said at the meeting he was generally in favor of holding Fairfax County government accountable to many of the same sign regulations as the public.

“There’s something to be said with us being able to model our behavior consistent with what we expect from the private sector,” said Niedzielski-Eichner. “There is a different benefit to be realized to the public with the park authority and public school [having] latitude with signs, but frankly I’m comfortable with them doing it within a regulatory context… not unfettered.”

Photo via Flickr/Alan Levine

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Residential Development Near Dulles Receives Nod from Planning Commission

With little to no discussion and debate other than fixing a typo, the Fairfax County Planning Commission unanimously approved a series of proffers for Woodfield Acquisitions’ redevelopment of Roland Clarke Place last night.

The Thursday vote sets into motion a series of waivers and modifications to allow a new residential complex to be built just south of the Dulles Toll Road. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will consider the project on Tuesday (Nov. 20).

The development will replace the office buildings at 1941 Roland Clarke Place and 1950 Roland Clarke Place. A 308-unit residential building will replace 1941 Roland Clarke Place, including roughly 37 workforce units. The application says 1950 Roland Clarke Place will be redeveloped as a small park until another development on the site can be planned.

Though no open space was required for the site, a little over two acres of the new development will remain dedicated as open space. In addition to two private courtyards within the residential complex, two smaller parks and a dog park surround the proposed residential building.

Among the waivers and modifications received for the site an allowance of a residential building 59 feet from the Dulles International Airport from the zoning ordinance’s minimum distance of 200 feet.

The existing office buildings on the site were constructed in the early 1980s. In 2008, the redevelopment of the buildings was planned into three new office buildings, but the plan was never implemented.

Photos via handout/Fairfax County Planning Commission

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Fairfax County Planning Commission Approves Midline Project

The Fairfax County Planning Commission unanimously approved the Midline, a mixed-use project near the Wiehle-Reston East Metro Station Thursday night.

The approval sets the project, which would bring 1.8 million square feet of development across 17..5 acres east of Wiehle Avenue and south of Sunset Hills Road, in motion for a Board of Supervisors’ vote on Dec. 4.

John Carter, the Planning Commissioner for the Hunter Mill District, lauded the development team, JBG Smith, EYA and Chevy Chase Land Co., for bringing a diverse mix of low-rise housing to the area, a feature that he said is lacking in other projects recently approved in Reston.

Four blocks with several buildings are proposed on land that is currently used for low-rise office buildings and surface parking. The plan includes 127 independent units, a 33-bed assisted living facility, a 225-unit multi-family building and a mix of townhouses. A 14-story office building and retail is also planned on the site nearer to the Metro Station.

Carter said the mix of affordable and workforce housing units, which is integrated throughout the site, is not intended to serve as a precedent for other projects. Due to the variety of housing options proposed, the developer has integrated several affordable units in the townhouse area and the multi-family building, creating a dispersed mix of affordable housing throughout the project, Carter said. Parking will be offered at a cost reduced by 70 percent of the price for market-rate units. The affordability tiers are also 70, 80, and 100 percent of the area median income — a distribution lower than the typical county requirement of 80, 100 and 120 percent of the AMI. Independent living and affordable units will have shared access for several amenities.

Following concern about limited public amenities, the development team also added additional dog parks, playing areas for children, and agreed to work with area developers to install street lights, updated curbs, and signage along Reston Station Boulevard. That road will extend into the Midline project and pedestrian and bicyclist access to the Washington and Old Dominion Trail will also be provided.

The commission deferred a decision on Woodfield Acquisition’s plan to replace office buildings on Roland Clarke Place with residential units to Nov. 15 in order to allow the developer to devise a better way to create a grid of streets in the area.

Photo via handout/Fairfax County Government

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Fairfax County Planning Commission Defers Decision on Reston Corner

The Fairfax County Planning Commission deferred a decision on an application to rezone 4.3-acres of land to build a 145-unit multifamily building on the southwest corner of Reston Parkway and Sunrise Valley Drive.

Reston Corner, the name of the project, would bring a seven-story, $30 million residential building and a 438 free-standing, above-grade parking garage to the area, which is currently the site of surface parking and stormwater management pond. The garage would serve three office buildings next to the property.

Members of the commission flagged several concerns about the project, including the possibility that lighting in the garage would disturb residents in the adjacent apartment building.

Eight business condominiums who own a building directly south of the development said they were concerned the residential building would produce additional traffic for the Cascades South Condominium Association. David Gill, the association’s president, said the development could add up to 200 cars per day on a road next to the association.

The project is also next to the Reston Crescent, a 36-acre project. Residents would cross through that development to walk to Metro.

The developer took issue with providing $10,00 for a traffic preemption device during site plan approval. Instead, Mark Looney, the development team’s representative said it was more appropriate for the developer to offer the money once development was imminent at the time of the issuance of a building permit.

MaryAnn Tsai of the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning, said the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department often request receiving funds for the devices when site plans are developed.

But Looney said it was unclear why the fire department needs the funds early in the development process but said the development team would be willing to comply with any requests. “If that’s the only point we’re arguing about, then the rest of the project is pretty darn good,” Looney said.

Other planning commissioners said they wanted to see other features of the plan, including the parking arrangement for workforce housing units, whether or not a tot lot would be shared by office tenants and residential units. Fairfax County Planning Commissioner Ellen Hurley also said she wanted to see a space for dog walking — an amenity the project did not yet have.

The commission will vote on the project on Oct. 18.

Photos via handout/Fairfax County Government

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Frank de la Fe, Former Fairfax County Planning Commissioner, Dies

Frank de la Fe, a Reston resident who served on the Fairfax County Planning Commission from 2013 to 2017, died on Sept. 18.

Born in Havana, Cuba, de la Fe was first appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 2001 and he was one of the architects behind bringing Metro rail to the Dulles Corridor. He grew up in Miami and became a U.S. citizen in 1958.

He worked for NASA in the 1960s and married Sarah Anne Prendergast in 1964. From 1969 to 1971, he created the Illinois State Bureau of the Budget and later established the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention. 

The de la Fe family moved to Reston in 1971 and de la Fe lived in the community for 47 years. He served on several local boards and committees, including Reston Association’s Board of Directors, Reston Soccer and Reston Interfaith, now known as Cornerstones. He was also chairman of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

His family issued the following statement following his death:

[We] are forever grateful that our parents chose to not only settle in Reston, but to fully embrace the vision for what the community could be – the hard work it would take to realize that vision. We learned the importance of service and a strong community. And, most importantly, we learned about family. Family you are born to and family you choose. The connections and friendships made in regency square, Reston soccer, swim team and St. Thomas are relationships and friendships that continue to this day…

In lieu of flowers, the family is asking individuals to send donations to the Fairfax County Park Foundation. 

He is survived by his daughters Catherine and Mary, son-in-law Dionicio and grandchildren Megan, Caitlin, and Juan.

Photo via Adams Green

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Church Still Plans Additional Parking in North Reston

Map of Church of Latter Day Saints proposal/Credit: Fairfax County

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter -Day Saints has filed paperwork with the Fairfax County Planning Commission to get approval to add nearly 40 spots to its parking lot at 115 Poplar Grove Dr. in North Reston.

The church wants to expand the southern end on its existing parking lot from 121 to 160 spaces and replace an existing shed. The inquiry has not yet been given a date on the planning commission calendar.

The proposal is really a continuation of a quest that began two years ago.

In 2013, the church inquired with Reston Association about buying three parcels of land on Fox Mill Road. RA did not formally consider selling the land.

RA’s Design Review Board (DRB) did, however, give the church permission in February of 2014 to expand the lot.

That decision did not sit well with neighbors in the Birchfield Woods Cluster.

Birchfield Woods residents appealed the decision, saying it will result “in a net loss of over 80 trees which serve as a buffer between the church and the Birchfield Woods Cluster.”

The DRB initially voted down the church’s proposal in November 2013, with specifics on how the church could revise their plan: reduce the number of proposed parking spaces, reduce the number of impacted trees, and produce a traffic study.

The original proposal offered adding 51 spaces new light poles and removing 117 trees.

The new plan calls for planting of replacement trees and shrubs to provide a 25-foot buffer, as well as a relocated storage shed. The church also reduced the number of additional parking spots to 39, for a total of 160 spaces in the new lot.

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On the Docket: Planning Commission Takes on Reston Plans This Week

The Fairfax County Planning Commission will decide Thursday whether to recommend the proposed changes to the Reston Master Plan to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

The Planning Commission heard from many residents, developers and members of the Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force and other interested parties in a lengthy public hearing two weeks ago.

After four years of work, the Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force recently completed the comprehensive plan amendment — a massive document outlining everything from density around three Metro Silver Line station’s to street patterns to recreational facilities — and there was no shortage of opinions,

The Planning Commission will either make recommendation to move it on to the county Board of Supervisors or tell the task force to make more changes. Task Force Chair Patty Nicoson says the group will also create its own staff report.

One of the main points of the plan: where to put the people. The plan calls for ratios of 50 percent commercial/residential within one-quarter mile of the Metro stations at Wiehle-Reston East, Reston Parkway and Herndon-Monroe. In the half-mile range, the ratio should be 75 percent residential, 25 commercial.

“We focused on total amounts of residential/commercial that can be within a district,” Nicoson told the planning commission at the public hearing. “We want to see new recreation center, a performing arts center. We are committed to the environment. We want to see the principles of Reston maintained as we look to the future. This will help us build on Reston as a planned community that was built with nature in mind.

“Some are concerned we have not focused on implementation,” she added. “First have to concentrate on the vision, then implementation.

The concept of implementation — just how the plan will be executed, who will pay and other details — came up often in citizen testimony.

“Planning without implementation is empty,” said Reston Citizens Association President Colin Mills. “It is not just a planning issue, it is a political issue. We support having a single entity responsible for implementation issues.”

Planning commission member James Hart reminded Mills, and the people assembled, that implementation specifics don’t need to be in place as the new Reston will evolve over 30 years and planning will get more specific when variables such as developer proffers, population growth and economic climate are known.

“The comprehensive plan regulates nothing, ” he said. “In Virginia, we are under the Dillon Rule.  It is probably inappropriate to put things in the plan like specifics if they have no force of law. The plan is intended to be a general guide. If we bear that in mind a lot of what is in this plan looks a lot better.

The task force is comprised of both developers and citizens – and all have concerns about the plan, even though they voted on the final draft.  There were several criticisms of the plan that kept recurring during the public hearing:

Park space: Based on future population analysis of 35,000 new residents, there should be 12 athletic fields built in the high-population areas. The plan calls for three.

“This has been of great concern to task force members,” Nicoson said. ” We feel some of the [existing] facilities could be enhanced to accommodate additional fields and add artificial turf and lighting. What we have proposed is that we do more work on this.”

A planning commission member suggested creative thinking, such as recreation facilities on the top of buildings [such as the Kettler ice rink in Ballston] and other urban-style uses.

Parking:  The limits on the number of parking spaces are too modest and won’t encourage people to take public transportation, making traffic problems worse.

“The more people who drive cars to and from [work near the Metro stations], fewer will use Metro,” said Terry Maynard, co-chair of Reston 2020, a citizens advocacy group that examines development issues. “We recommend explicit parking limits be restored to plan.”

Said Pete Ottenti, Vice President of Development at Boston Properties: “I personally advocate  no maximums. and a ratio of  2.4 spaces per 1,000 people in half-mile from stations to be implemented no sooner than 10 years. Developers are are already incentivized to build less parking. Maximums could have unintended consequences.”

Open space: Task force members were hoping the plan would say “a minimum of 20 percent.” The final draft says “a goal of 20 percent.”

Reston Association: New residents should be Reston Association members, said many who spoke to the commission.

“Reston is not two communities separated by transit areas,” said RA CEO Cate Fulkerson. “In order to integrate new residents, [the plan] should provide for integration into Reston Town Center Association or RA.”

Infrastructure:  The plan does not talk about who will pay for the road improvements and traffic enhancements the new Reston will need.

“The infrastructure needed to support development  in this plan must be completed concurrently,” Fulkerson said. “It must be completed by those who will profit. It should be kept in forefront of all discussion of changes to recommend plan text. Metro will only accommodate less than 10 percent of all commuting trips. The people of Reston must have road, pedestrian, bike and bus improvements.”

More:

Proposed Comprehensive Plan Amendment

RCA: Plan Gets a ‘D’

Letter to Planning Commission on Reston’s Future

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