Capping a Zoning Ordinance Modernization (zMOD) Project that began several years ago and drew sharp reactions from some civic organizations, the Board of Supervisors on March 23 approved a new Fairfax County zoning ordinance that supersedes rules that have been in place since 1978.
The new streamlined ordinance is designed to be more comprehensible and less intimidating for residents and to address technological and demographic changes that have occurred in the county during the last four decades, supervisors said.
“It was very hard for the public, and for anyone really, to use the zoning ordinance,” said Supervisor Kathy Smith (D-Sully), who chairs the board’s Land-Use Policy Committee. “What a long, strange road it’s been,” she added, citing the 102 public meetings held about the changes.
The new ordinance will be accessible via computers, tablet devices and telephones, and will be more user-friendly, with more graphics and easily comprehensible language, Smith said.
While many of the changes clarified language, consolidated information and eliminated duplicative elements, proposals in three categories garnered negative reactions from some residents.
• Accessory living units (ALUs): The new rules allow interior ALUs to be approved administratively, instead of via a special permit from the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals. County officials also eliminated previous provisions allowing only people at least 55 years old or with disabilities to occupy such units.
Under the new rules, ALUs may occupy entire basements or cellars, but only up to the existing size of those areas as of July 1 this year, when the ordinance takes effect.
ALUs must not exceed 800 square feet of gross floor area or 40 percent of the principal dwelling’s gross floor area, whichever is less, Smith said.
• Home-based businesses: The new zoning ordinance follows a Fairfax County Planning Commission recommendation to allow customers at home-based businesses only by special permit, instead of administrative approval.
Exceptions would include instructional activities associated with specialized instruction centers or health-and-exercise facilities, which would be allowed up to four students at a time and eight overall for one day.
Home-based businesses with on-site customer visits must provide at least one designated off-street parking space for those clients. Such visits will be restricted to the hours between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.
The new ordinance prohibits visits by customers and clients of home businesses if a home day-care facility is established on the site.
The Fairfax County Health Department would have to sign off for home businesses located in areas served by wells or septic systems.
Sewing and tailoring will be the only personal-service businesses allowed by right. Barbershops and hair salons will need special permits and will not be allowed ancillary functions such as nail or massage services.
Home-based businesses will not be allowed to store, use or generate inflammable or combustible liquids, explosives or hazardous materials in amounts that would require a permit under the county’s fire-prevention code.
• Flags: Supervisors decided to maintain the current limit of three flags per lot and not adopt new rules regarding flag size.
Flag poles will be limited to 25 feet tall on lots with single-family and manufactured homes, and 60 feet tall for lots with other uses. Property owners may petition the BZA for special permits allowing taller flagpoles.
The new rules also permit inoperative motor vehicles on residential lots only if they are kept in fully enclosed structures or are screened completely from view. Vehicles covered by tarpaulins still are considered to be in outdoor storage, Smith said.
The Board of Supervisors passed the zoning-ordinance modifications on a 7-3 vote, with members Patrick Herrity (R-Springfield), Walter Alcorn (D-Hunter Mill) and Daniel Storck (D-Mount Vernon) voting nay.
Herrity said he opposed the new zoning ordinance because of “deep and broad” community opposition. Removing age and disability requirements for accessory living units and allowing them via administrative approval “takes the residents out of the process because it opens up our neighborhoods to increases in density and the problems that come with increased density, including traffic, schools and parking,” he said.
Supervisor Penelope Gross (D-Mason) said administrative permits do not equate to automatic approval.
“You have to meet certain parameters and staff would go over those each time, so it is not a rubber-stamp permit,” she said.
Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) supported the provisions regarding inoperative vehicles and said the new ALU rules supersede existing ones that are too stringent and provide a needed housing option.
ALUs would provide rental income for seniors living on fixed incomes, which “could be the difference that allows them to cover the costs of staying in their homes,” he said.
“I believe that these modest, logical changes are ones that will change the lives of our residents for the better, agreed Supervisor Dalia Palchik (D-Providence), citing rising housing costs.
Foust agreed with critics, including the McLean Citizens Association, that the new rules for home-based businesses go too far toward commercializing residential neighborhoods.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D) disagreed.
“Many people, especially as a result of this pandemic, have been forced to create home-based businesses to financially survive and we should be encouraging that kind of entrepreneurship as long as it doesn’t trample the serenity of our communities,” McKay said.