|A tiny apartment in Seattle. [Photo from the Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif.]|
The Mason District Council (MDC) of Community Associations unanimously approved a resolution Sept. 9 calling for Fairfax County to prohibit residential studio units (RSUs) in low-density residential neighborhoods.
RSUs are zero-bedroom efficiency apartments no larger than 500 square feet. The county is proposing that they be allowed all over the county to address the need for affordable housing. The units would be targeted to people earning no more than 60 percent of the area median income.
“There is no doubt we have a need for affordable housing,” said Loretta Prencipe, MDC’s second vice chair. MDC’s concerns are with allowing this type of housing in single-family neighborhoods and a lack of transparency in the county’s process to impose RSUs without adequate opportunity for public review and input. The staff report by the Zoning Administration Division in the Planning and Zoning Department is confusing, overly complicated, and vague on key details.
Here are some of the key points in the MDC resolution, which closely mirrors a proposal to be considered Sept. 19 by the Fairfax Federation of Citizens Associations:
- RSUs should only be permitted in residential areas zoned R-20 or greater or in areas zoned for commercial or industrial uses.
- The conversion of single-family detached homes or townhouses into RSUs should be prohibited.
- RSU should be located within a quarter-of mile of public transportation (heavy rail or a major bus transit center), retail, medical facilities, and other services to support the residents.
- RSUs should not be exempted from open space requirements or any regulations on maximum density or intensity.
- RSUs should be limited to buildings with no more than a total of 60 units.
- No more than 10 percent of RSUs should have two occupants; the rest should be limited to a single occupant, and no RSUs should have three or more occupants.
Kathleen McDermott, a land use attorney, said there are a number of troubling provisions in the staff report. “Even if the board chooses Option 2 which appears to prohibit the conversion of a single family house into an RSU development,” she said, “there is nothing to prevent someone from tearing down a house and replacing it with an RSU or building an RSU development on a vacant residential lot.”
Prencipe cited some additional problems with the proposal as outlined in the staff report: Developers would only need to provide one parking space per unit, and there are indications that could be reduced even further. While the report says RSUs should be located near public transit, it doesn’t define what that means, it doesn’t call for a management plan for RSU buildings, and there’s no landscaping requirement.
Also, Prencipe said she has no confidence in the staff report’s assertion that it would be unlikely that the county would permit RSUs in residential neighborhoods.
The Fairfax County Planning Commission has scheduled two meetings on the RSU proposal, Sept. 25 and Oct. 2, and a public hearing on Nov. 23.
MDC has scheduled another public meeting on RSUs for Nov. 14, with a presentation by Donna Pesto, the county’s senior assistant to the zoning administrator and author of the RSU proposal. Meanwhile, the council urges people concerned about RSUs to contact county planning and zoning staff and members of the Board of Supervisors. Click here for more information.