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Friday, July 12, 2013

Board of Supervisors approves Fairfax Forward land use process

Board hearings take place in the Fairfax County Government Center.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a new, more comprehensive process for reviewing and making changes in the county’s land use plan. The new system, known as Fairfax Forward, replaces the current Area Plans Review (APR) system for updating the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

Fairfax Forward includes a pilot work program prioritizing areas for planning studies within the next three years. It makes a distinction between commercial “activity centers,” such as Annandale and Seven Corners, and neighborhood-based planning studies.

According to Megan Van Dam of the Department of Planning and Zoning, Fairfax Forward expands community involvement and there would be task force or other advisory body to review the plan for each area. Both Fairfax Forward and the pilot work program would be evaluated in two years.

Mason Supervisor Penny Gross noted that the Seven Corners Land Use and Transportation Task Force is in the midst of a visioning process and asked whether that could be incorporated into Fairfax Forward and was assured that it would be, even though it is not currently listed in the work program.

The board adopted a motion by Braddock Supervisor John Cook calling for the county staff to develop a formal mechanism for tracking planning proposals submitted by individuals or groups before the work plan is up for review. He said there needs to be a “parking lot” for these ideas so they don’t get lost.

People who want to make suggestions for an area that that is not scheduled to be looked at for 15 years need to be able to do that, and these recommendations need to be available publicly so people can comment on them, Cook said. “That is something we can easily accommodate,” said  Fred Selden, director of the Department of Planning and Zoning.

Three of the six people who spoke at the board’s hearing before the vote were from the Mason District.

Mollie Loeffler, speaking on behalf of the Mason District Council, told the supervisors that MDC supports the recommendations submitted on Fairfax Forward earlier by the Providence District Council, which urged the county to strengthen the requirements for public involvement and community outreach.

Loeffler said the county “should protect and preserve low-density residential communities,” called for more transparency in the land use process, and recommend that the task forces formed to review land use plans  include representatives chosen by community associations.

Further, Loeffler said, all areas in Mason should be included in the work plan. “We don’t want to be left behind,” she said. Currently, Lincolnia is the only area in Mason listed for study in the next couple of years.

She submitted photos and quotes from respondents to an MDC survey of Mason residents who expressed concerns about the poor condition of businesses, litter-strewn roadways, violations of zoning laws, lack of redevelopment, and the proliferation of laundromats, title lenders, and thrift shops. She cited the “broken window theory” that ignoring these problems “creates a sense of irreversible decline.”

Spencer Limbocker, speaking on behalf of the Hillbrook-Tall Oaks Civic Association in Annandale, urged the supervisors to strengthen the process in Fairfax Forward for engaging residents.

There needs to be a consistent, clearly understood process among the supervisors for involving citizens in advisory bodies to review plan changes, Limbocker said. Also, residents of surrounding communities need to be brought into the process. For example if the county is studying a plan for Lincolnia, residents of Annandale should be involved, he said.

Outreach needs to be improved, too, he said, and should involve community associations. “You can’t leave it up to developers.”

When there’s a vacancy on a task force, community associations should be able to propose representatives, added Rob Jackson, president of the Fairfax Federation of Citizen Associations.

“We believe the county needs input from people knowledgeable about land use and those in affected communities who may have never participated in land use issues before,” such as immigrants and small-business owners, Jackson said. He suggested advising churches about a land use study as a means of reaching more affected people, for example.

Debbie Smith, a members of the MDC board, urged the supervisors to restrict the use of “out of turn amendments” to the Comprehensive Plan, which have been used to support infill development in established neighborhoods.

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