Clouds Gathering Over Fairfax County Land Use Planning?
March 23, 2021 - ZMOD is Enacted
The Board of Supervisors voted 7-3 to approve the zMod changes to the county zoning ordinance. The zoning ordinance changes take effect on July 1, 2021.
Board of Supervisors Dicussion and Vote:
March 21, 2021 - Postponement and Clarity:
The March 9, 2021 Board of Supervisors meeting saw an unusually high turnout of 70+ speakers on the topic of zMOD, nearly all opposed in one way or another. A vote was postponed until March 23, 2021.
Clarity then reached Friends of Accotink Creek in the form of a letter from a respected environmental professional whose comments to the Board of Supervisors clearly outlined how the proposed changes relate to watershed issues. We have incorporated this letter into the Comments submitted by the Friends of Accotink Creek.
January 25, 2021 - Citizen opposition grows before Planning Commission hearing:
★ Planning Commission Hearing devoted entirely to this issue on January 28, 2021. ★
The Board of Supervisors make the final decision, and are scheduled to vote March 9th, 2021.
Have land use revisions become a juggernaut lumbering toward enactment without the citizen comprehension and consent such monumental changes demand? Will opportunities for public input be curtailed to the detriment of natural resources?
These proposed major changes to land use planning are dauntingly complex and of such comprehensive scope as to defy understanding by lay citizens or even supervisors. Some citizens who believe they do understand them are alarmed at the unintended consequences and have organized as Act4Fairfax Network to sound a warning.
Make your comments and concerns known to the Planning Commission by emailing Plancom@fairfaxcounty.gov by January 28, 2021.
Reach your Fairfax County supervisor by March 9, 2021.
August 22, 2019 - An informed and concerned letter adds insights:
"To be clear, this is locked in and has been in the process of implementation over the past five years. The separation of Land Use from DPWES took place in 2017. The new Director of the newly restructured Planning & Development is implementing Gartner. You can find the monthly meetings & agendas of staff and NVBIA & NAIOP (the development community) here under Gartner Deliverables:
Notice the "Gartner Study Deliverables" Noted in Red HERE – past agendas and ongoing “collaboration” apparent.
Final version of the Gartner Report
All that is left now is to sell it to the public and that phase has already begun with the strategic planning process and finally the outreach to the Environmental Quality Advisory Committee who weren’t consulted at all during this five year process until now that all that messy restructuring has been completed. It is important to note that no public input was sought from anyone working on environmental issues. And the taxpayer who pays the Land Use staff were completely left out of the process.
This is manifesting in proposed changes to the Chesapeake Bay Ordinance and the Stormwater Ordinances taking mandatory regulations and moving them to the Public Facilities Manual. What is next but not mentioned here is the next step which is the FLEX PFM which means the developer really doesn’t have to do anything anymore if these changes are implemented. Fairfax County has been very proud that our rules were stronger than the state requirements, this will make them weaker but “consistent” with the state requirements. A big problem is Land Use – famous for not inspecting erosion & sediment controls when it rains – or Code Enforcement which allows work to continue even under a stop work order as on 8211 Little River Turnpike – proposing to make DPWES responsible for the long term water quality - ironic when Land Use are the ones permitting all of this work. Water quality should not be in the same category as building inspections for electrical or plumbing issues, the latter two only impact the facility while the first impacts all of us with water quality.
These CHANGES to the Cheasapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance and Stormwater Management Ordinance are currently in front of the Planning Commission with the public record remaining open until the 9-12-2019 meeting where a decision will be made. This is written to be weak and non-committal at the behest of the developers per the Gartner Report."
August 12, 2019:
The latest Fairfax County Zoning Ordnance Modernization (zMOD) draft has been posted. A link to this draft can be found on the zMOD website
More information on zMOD outreach and public meetings
Information on Zoning Amendment outreach
Interrelated issue: Public Facilities Manual Flexibility Project
NOTE: As of July 1st, 2019, the Department of Planning and Zoning merged with the Office of Community Revitalization to form the new Department of Planning and Development.
Comments of the Friends of Accotink Creek on the related question of Amendments to the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance and Stormwater Management Ordinance
August 9, 2019
Thought-provoking - A recent posting by Reston 20/20 poses difficult and complex questions about the future of citizen participation in Fairfax County land use planning decisions.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Original source, Reston 20/20: Citizens Envisioning Reston's Future
Tuesday, July 30, 2019
A Brief Look at Fairfax County Efforts to Reduce Residents' Participation
in Land Use Planning & Approval Decisions
As we pass through the pre-election doldrums of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, we should all understand that both the current and the prospective County Board are in the process of reducing our involvement in critical land use decisions from community planning to project approval consideration. We don’t yet know if Democratic Board candidate Walter Alcorn, almost certainly Hunter Mill District’s next supervisor, will be swept up in this drive despite his campaign commitment to involve the community. (His website promises to “Engage the Community to Plan and Approve Projects that Make Sense.”)
This drive to accelerate county land use decisions in part by reducing public involvement began with Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova. The Board’s frenzy for rapid, unfettered urban development goes back to at least 2012. In a report on a February 2012 Board retreat, the Washington Post noted,
“County officials outlined the need to rewrite the rules that govern land-use decisions, an effort backed by Bulova. She said that the current process, which allows for intense deliberation and wide public involvement, was better suited to the days when much of the county was farmland.
Today, Bulova said, Fairfax is a more urban and densely populated suburb and requires a more flexible approach that encourages redevelopment, particularly in areas targeted for intense growth, but preserves public engagement.”
“Preserves public engagement” is what one calls lip service that meets the legally required minimum public involvement in land use decisions.
With that encouragement, the Board proceeded “to rewrite the rules that govern land-use decisions.” So far, the county has made the following changes:
Fairfax Forward. This Board planning initiative began shortly after the Board’s retreat. The initiative aimed to correct what was viewed as a too rigid parcel-specific development nominations process that only marginally involved the community.
Yet, as the Annandale blog reported, “A staff report on Fairfax Forward issued in February (2013) ‘was disturbingly silent on several critical avenues of citizen and community involvement in reviewing land use proposals,’ states (the Providence District Council) PDC’s comments. “Without amended language to ensure full and meaningful community review, PDC fears that Fairfax Forward could be construed in a way that reduces, rather than expands, community involvement in charting Fairfax’s future.” In 2016, the county staff acknowledged, “(o)utstanding questions about community participation in (the) process,” but claimed the new system provided a “(c)learer process for citizen participation.” No changes to improve opportunities for community involvement were added.
"Minor Modifications”. And then came “zMod,” the county’s ongoing process to re-write the county’s zoning ordinances. In its first step, zMod consultant Clarion Group developed a “streamlined” process for handling “minor” changes in zoning decisions that the Board approved in 2017. From a resident’s perspective, there are several points that stand out:
There is no requirement that the county notify the community or even adjoining property owners about proposed zoning changes, only the district supervisor.
There is no Planning Commission review, much less a public hearing, on the proposed changes, only a staff review.
In the Reston Planned Residential Community (PRC), the Board of Supervisors may approve, without a public hearing, proposed development changes, including dropping recreation uses to the minimum legally required, eliminating “ineffective or obsolete” technological or service proffers (Why would a developer proffer “ineffective or obsolete” technology or services—and why would the county accept them?), and changing architectural design.
All these changes are not supposed to “materially affect” the proposed development, but, of course, there is no definition of “materially affect?”
In short, the community is cut out of any opportunity for contribution to—even of knowledge of-- potentially important changes in a standing zoning decision concerning the development of a Reston property. Anything done without full public scrutiny is incredibly dangerous.
The 2016 Gartner Report. To bolster its Fairfax Forward initiative, the Board engaged yet another consultant in 2015, Gartner Group, to conduct “an independent review of current procedures and processes, effectiveness and efficiencies to identify opportunities for improvement which can further customer service and improve operational execution.” The “customers” are “land use development customers, from home owners to large-scale developers.” There is little room for residents or communities, who comprise more than one million people and hundreds of thousands of homeowners, in the considerations of this report.
Gartner’s final report is all about achieving Goal #3 of the county’s 2015 strategic economic development plan: “Improve the speed, consistency, and predictability of the Development Review Process.” Nothing in the report considers the impact of the plans—whether community or specific development plans--on the communities in which the development is to occur. Moreover, the proposed processes pay only lip service to public participation, limiting them to state-mandated requirements and the minimal limits of political propriety.
zMOD Zoning Ordinance Re-write. The major assignment Clarion Group is tackling is a complete re-write of the county’s zoning ordinance, including streamlining processes, without making substantive changes in the ordinance. Clarion presented its first draft of the substance of the proposed re-write on July 1, 2019. There are, in fact, substantive changes laid out in the draft’s summary covering accessory uses, electrical vehicle charging, and much more. (We strongly encourage you to read at least the summary of this draft report where the key changes are outlined.) On the other hand, there is no discussion of the process by which one legislates changes to that ordinance, including the role of public input.
Among the changes permitted in PRCs, including Reston, the zMOD draft newly permits new “live-work development” and “stacked townhouse” uses and excludes “community swim, tennis, and other recreational uses.” These beg questions regarding what the DRB will think of stacked townhouses and the future of that county regional recreation center that is supposed to be built in Reston. Also, the proposal to not allow recreational facilities puts Reston’s two golf courses in jeopardy. Certainly there will be much more to come, and we doubt that much of it will be to Reston’s advantage or promote its residents’ involvement.
It is vital that all Reston residents understand the proposed PRC zoning ordinance changes and their implications for our community. There is much to be concerned about. More broadly, we need to understand what changes, if any, are on the docket for the process for developing, vetting, and approving PRC zoning changes. It was only because of a huge community effort involving literally hundreds, even thousands, of Restonians that we were able to postpone indefinitely consideration of the recent Reston PRC zoning ordinance amendment that would have allowed unconscionable increases in our population.
One encouraging sign is that activists from all over the county are now organizing. Citizens from ALL Fairfax County districts are becoming increasingly alarmed at the county’s rush to approve development everywhere with reduced citizen review. The 2016 Gartner report has been read and raises huge concerns. It seems to be THE blueprint designed for and by developers at the expense of true public input.
Any county effort to reduce community involvement in the zoning amendment process will only make it that much more difficult for us to stop truly bad county decisions that would undermine the goals and principles of our master planned community.
Original source, Reston 20/20
| "Reston 20/20 is an independent Reston citizens committee dedicated to sustaining Reston's quality of life through excellence in community planning, zoning, and development."