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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fairfax County measure would bar RSUs from low-density neighborhoods

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted a motion by Mason Supervisor Penny Gross, co-sponsored by Chair Sharon Bulova to eliminate lower-density residential areas from consideration for residential studio units (RSUs).

The board matter calls for the Planning Commission to adopt a recommendation by its RSU committee to bar RSUs from areas zoned for lower density.

This is a huge victory for the Mason District Council of Community Associations (MDC), Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Association, and other community groups that battled a proposal to allow RSUs in stable, single-family neighborhoods. More than 300 people attended an MDC meeting on RSUs last week, and a petition circulated by MDC opposing RSUs in low-density neighborhoods has 682 signatures.

Fairfax County proposed RSUs—tiny efficiency apartments with a bathroom and kitchen but no bedroom—as a way to increase the supply of affordable housing and to alleviate homelessness. At least 80 percent of the units in an RSU property would be set aside for lower-income households.

At the BoS meeting Nov. 19, Gross said the board decided to include consideration of RSUs in all zoning districts “so we could hear from the community.”

“The community has spoken,” Gross said. “Where there is support for the RSU concept overall, there is deep-seated opposition to allowing them as a use in residential districts zoned for single-family detached neighborhoods. I’ve heard from many residents who are concerned, even angry, that the RSU ordinance as currently drafted might exacerbate overcrowding in some areas and dramatically change the character of their neighborhoods.”

While the RSU Committee wants to ban RSUs from areas zoned R-8 and below (restricting them from areas zoned for eight houses per acre or less), the board matter approved by the BoS Nov. 19 doesn’t specify a particular zoning category. “What we’re doing here is telling the planning commission we concur with the approach outlined by the chairman of the RSU community,” Gross said.

The BoS agreed to a revision by Supervisor Linda Smyth (Providence) that calls for RSUs to be also barred from lower-density townhouse developments, as well as single-family neighborhoods.

Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (Hunter Mill) is the only one who voted against the measure. She said it’s a matter of process, not the content of the proposal. According to Hudgins, the BoS should not amend the proposal before letting the planning commission do its work. Supervisor Pat Herrity (Springfield) suggested the income limits be raised so young professionals, including police officers, firefighters, and teachers, could live in these units.

The Planning Commission’s RSU committee has scheduled meetings on RSUs Jan. 6 and Jan. 22. Both meetings, at the Fairfax County Government Center, 7 p.m., are open to the public. The committee’s previously scheduled meeting for Dec. 9 has been cancelled.

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on RSUs in spring 2014. After that, the Board of Supervisors will schedule a public hearing.

Banning RSU’s from stable, low-density neighborhoods is a huge, positive step, but there are still a lot of concerns for homeowners, such as where these units can be located in areas zoned for multifamily and commercial uses, how these properties will be managed, and how code violations will be enforced.

17 comments:

  1. they are not being banned from "stable single family neighborhoods". They are being banned from ALL single family neighborhoods, period. There is nothing in any zoning category that specifies if a neighborhood is "stable" or not. The repeated use of the word "stable" here is just a way to imply that RSUs would "destabilize" neighborhoods, which may or may not be the case.

    And lets be clear, "stable" is a euphemism. Literally stable means not changing rapidly. But is anyone concerned about neighborhoods rapidly rising in value? About neighborhoods that have lots of turnover, but without changing economic status? Or even of change in ethnic groups as long as the SES stays the same (as has happened to many neighborhoods) No, destabilizing here means getting too many poor people, with all the consequences, real and imagined.

    and your last paragraph shows that the community associations are limited in their willingness to compromise. They will likely be fighting RSU's in multifamily and commercially zoned areas as well.

    As for how code violations will be enforced, is it not clear that it will be the same way as code violations in any other property? The notion that RSUs will be particularly vulnerable to code violations, has no basis that I can tell, and is a way to free associate discontent with current code enforcement issues with RSUs.

    Since after all both are about poor people "destabilising" us.

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    1. What's your beef anyhow? Do you want to see even more over-parked streets and crowded schools.

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  2. This is great news, and we must give a deserved shout-out to Supervisor Gross for her critical assistance. Her leadership was invaluable.

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    1. Mrs. Gross collaborated with the other supervisors to get us into this mess to begin with.
      She could have gone to the communities to test out these ideas...She did not give a thought to how this would effect any community.
      She went to the recent meeting and saw the handwriting on the wall and backed off.
      There are lots of other problems with this legislation and we owe no thanks to Supervisor Gross or the Planning Commissioner from Mason District..
      Good thing we found out about it.
      We obviously have a lot of teaching to do with our elected officials who seem to be
      smitten by staff. (Not unusual after many terms.) Good thing they have the public to give them comment. This is a fantasy that RSU's will have no effect on the district or the county. (How many of these do you think will sprout up in McLean?)
      Zoning will be in charge of enforcing the laws?
      That is not their record.

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    2. So Supervisor Gross listened to her constituents, does the right thing, and you still criticize her. I guess no good deed goes unpunished...

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    3. Having attended that meeting at Sleepy Hollow, it seems to me that the process worked, sort of. Ms. Gross may have not anticipated the blow-back -- perhaps she should have -- but at least she got it, with both barrels.

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  3. Fairfax is unable to enforce anything. Code violations get reported. They investigate and nothing happens.

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  4. I think it is about keeping streets from becoming parking lots, traffic calming, etc. I know that in the areas with large apartment complexes the congestion is atrocious. Fairfax is putting in more and more high density living areas - it causes overcrowding of schools, increases traffic, etc.

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  5. Thank you Supervisor Gross!!

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    1. The necessary thanks goes out to the 682 concerned citizens who signed the petition against this terribly written proposal as well as to community organizations like Mason District Council and Fairfax Federation who alerted and mobilized citizens. The Planning Commission and the Board were forced to respond to the outrage.

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    2. I would encourage high attendance at the meetings scheduled for 6 & 22 Jan. I learned long ago not to put too much trust in what county officials say & that especially applies to Penny Gross. They often say one thing and do another. So, let us not be lulled to sleep here, lest we awake to discover that what we think they are saying is not really what they meant!

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    3. Have you been following what has been going on? Gross was caught trying to be sneaky. Thank you Mason District Council and all their volunteers. Please give the thanks where it is well deserved.

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  6. If a system works after 20 years of mediocrity and misdirection can you really say it is working? If you conclude that that is working, it’s important to note how and why it ‘worked’. Vice-chair Supervisor Gross and Chairman Bulova were responsible for pushing this developer designed near disaster, stealth amendment under the public radar before we the people had a chance to react. That in itself is about as shameful an act as a public official can devise. Supervisor Gross is not the hero, in this disgraceful act she is one of the principle villains. Saying OK I got caught and I’m sorry does not cover this “egregious” attempt to bypass the public’s involvement in the political process.

    The opposition, basically the vast majority of Fairfax County home owners, was not informed until July 30, 2013 with a Planning Commission vote scheduled for September and a Board of Supervisors vote in November. It is well known that July is the worst time to schedule even minor Planning proposals because the neighborhood association members are busy with their families and vacations. This was a deliberate attempt to shut opposition out of the approval process. That is not ‘working’. It takes months for 80 to 100 work hour per week households to get up to speed and organize on complex and pernicious issues like this.

    Only the courageous objections of other Board members stopped this from becoming a done deal. Supervisor Gross voted to proceed apace and continued to deceive the voters.

    No feasibility studies were done. That omission is unconscionable with a paradigm shifting zoning proposal of this dimension. If any effort had been made to model this thing in the subject neighborhoods, it would have become immediately apparent what a disaster the proposal could be for unsuspecting communities and, given some of the horrendous decisions coming out of the BOS under Chairman Bulova and vice-chair Gross, what a disaster it would in fact have been.

    The primary advocates for this proposal, including Bulova and Gross, had years of involvement in the development of this proposal, one which they very enthusiastically supported, so they knew or should have known what it would have meant for Fairfax communities. They must have known for instance that the proposal would have allowed over 50 studio apartments to be built on a one acre residential (R-1) lot. That is a rental only, low income, 50 unit commercial building with a 50 car parking lot, on-street overflow parking, two commercial signs totaling about 40 square feet, 150 tenants where there was previously one house, one family. 25 windows and 25 sound systems 20 feet from your property line. 150 (permitted) tenants living three to a room in 500 square foot apartments. The building would never sleep. 24 hours of coming and going. That isn’t ‘destabilizing’, that’s a residential disaster. You would have to really hate the people of Fairfax to support that possibility, unless you never knew because no feasibility studies were done. Supervisor Gross ridiculed the idea of studies. Ridiculing the interests and concerns of citizens is a common theme with Supervisors Gross’s team (except Fran, she is always very nice).

    Why would they do that to us? How about a net present value (time and risk adjusted profit) for the above project of about $12,000,000 for grateful developers. Not to mention direct proffers to the County of about $250,000. This is not an example of the system working. It hasn’t been working for decades. It is an example of distracted BOS leadership trying to lead us off a cliff. We were only spared by a rare and miraculous effort on the part of a few courageous Supervisors and citizens’ groups like the Fairfax Federation, some attentive District Councils and in particular the Mason District Council lead by Mollie Loeffler and her dedicated and tireless Board. It wasn’t working, we were just lucky this time.

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    1. Thank you Jon for stating what is on the minds of so many of us who fought this disaster that Gross and Bulova have been working on for years. Their lack of character and low morals have been exposed.

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  7. Stable means most homes are owned. There is not a high percentage of transient renters. RSU is designed to provide housing for transient renters (6 mos to a year). Most homeowners want to see people in their neighborhoods who care about what they look like and want to keep them maintained. Transient renters don't have the same motivation.

    I also get tired of the backhanded comments that we are fighting the change in ethnic groups. Our one block street has at least 7 different ethnic groups on it already. We are not fighting that. Keep to the real issue and don't cast aspersions on our motives.

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  8. I do not want to give a lecture here, but it would be helpful if folks learned more about the process, instead of just shooting from the hip. In this case, the process seems to be working exactly as it should be.

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    1. Indeed, in my neighborhood, one lot has been used as a business for thirteen years. There are eight complaints for "Business In A Residential District" and seven entries of "Compliance". The Department of Code Compliance claims an 86% success rate. Seven is 87.5% of eight. That's how the system "works" exactly as it should be, but not so well for us.

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