ZMOD is the new zoning ordinance—the whole thing--that the Board of Supervisors intends pass for a second time within a few weeks! The Board’s first try was deemed illegal by the Virginia Supreme Court not on substance, but for failing to adhere to the procedures required for legislative approvals, specifically using only video hearings.
The nominal intent of zMOD was to “streamline” the more than 1,000 pages of the existing zoning ordinance which, on the face of it, is not a bad idea. However, the true intent of the zMOD effort quickly became apparent: It is intended to limit residents’ input to changes in the rules and project approvals. In short, it will expand the types of housing and other activities that may be developed in the county and severely limit your rights to have a say in what development occurs in your neighborhood and community.
Clyde Miller, a local attorney and President of the Holmes Run Valley Citizens Association, who wrote an extensive analysis of the proposed changes in 2021, put it this way:
The changes jeopardize neighborhoods by substantially expanding uses allowed while choking off means by which residents are able to protect their communities. The principal problems are:
• Proposals to change regulations without thinking through unintended consequences and providing effective protections for neighborhoods,
• Proposals to nullify current regulations that protect neighborhoods and the Board has authority to modify on a case-by-case basis,
• Proposals for administrative permits where special permits are required to allow resident participation in shaping developments in their communities,
• Proposed uses insufficiently limited in scope by ordinance language, and
• Inadequate provisions for county inspections where uses have a potential to damage communities.
This article relies extensively on his 39-page paper available via the link above.
The specific areas in which developer and county rights are expanded at the expense of residents include the following:
• Home-based businesses (HBBs)-- zMOD is proposing three unlimited/unqualified home business uses that should not be allowed, retail sales, small-scale production, and health and exercise. Moreover, zMOD senselessly has expunged provisions for county inspections from HBB (and ALU) regulations.
• Accessory Living Units (ALUs)—As ALUs would be allowed on any single-family development (SFD) property, one principal concern is the risk that SFD neighborhoods would be redeveloped at twice their current density. A second concern is that ALUs, with their second kitchens, are attractive candidates for conversion into boarding houses, dwellings with many more occupants than allowed by the ZO. Double-density redevelopment and boarding houses easily would destabilize neighborhoods
• Freestanding accessory structures--The current ZO allows a single-family dwelling one enclosed freestanding accessory structure. The floor area may not exceed 200 sq ft. zMOD proposes to allow, by right, any number of enclosed freestanding accessory structures with a combined floor area up to 50% of the gross floor area of the dwelling.
• P-district regulations—This specifically includes Reston’s PRC (Planned Residential Community). zMOD proposes to delete the requirement that P-districts must taper down in density and provide compatible landscaping and screening at their peripheries. Yet the county’s comprehensive plan for TOD areas states, “TOD area(s) may be generally defined as a ¼ mile radius from the station platform with density and intensity tapering to within a ½ mile radius from the station platform, or a 5-10 minute walk, subject to site-specific considerations. . . To protect existing stable neighborhoods in the vicinity of transit but not planned for transit-oriented development or redevelopment, and to focus density toward the station, Area Plans should include clearly delineated boundaries for transit-oriented development based upon these criteria.”
• Commercial Revitalization District regulations—In Reston, Lake Anne Village Center is a CRD. A proposal for CRDs would allow a reduction of setbacks from the current 25-40 ft to 20 ft and would allow an increase in building heights in C-6 and C-8 districts from 40 to 50 ft, i.e.—more density, less open space.
• Food trucks--zMOD proposes that food trucks, with administrative permits (i.e.—staff decision not requiring a hearing) should be allowed to operate on private properties of non-residential uses in R-Districts. The issue here is similar to the promise that, in issuing administrative permits for HBBs, the county, in its wisdom, would allow only those that would not trouble neighbors.
• Cluster subdivision open space--In a cluster subdivision, the current ZO requires that at least 75% of open space or one acre, whichever is less, must be a contiguous area with no dimension less than 50ft. The draft proposes to delete the 50-ft requirement.
As highlighted in Mr. Miller’s paper, three themes emerge from the proposed changes in the county’s zoning ordinance:
• The first is an effort to push residents out of the process making land-use decisions affecting their neighborhoods. Decision making would be moved to staff where supervisors can get their hands on them.
• The second is a disregard for repercussions for quality of life in residential neighborhoods. How else could zMOD propose changes to accessory dwelling regulations without thinking through the consequences?
• The third is a goal to change regulations for the sake of changing regulations. Why else would zMOD propose to delete provisions for county inspections?
There are MANY MORE CHANGES to the zoning ordinance outlined in Mr. Miller’s analysis of the revised 581-page zoning ordinance. PLEASE refer to his work at this link to learn HOW this ordinance change WILL affect you IF BOS passes it in early May. They fully intend to do so with little warning to us, Fairfax County residents.