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Thursday, June 12, 2014

RSU committee disbands after failing to reach a consensus

The RSU Committee in charge of developing a recommendation for a new zoning ordinance allowing residential studio units has been unable to reach a consensus. The group passed a motion at its June 9 meeting requesting the committee be disbanded.

That doesn’t mean the issue is dead; the Fairfax County Planning Commission could always draft a plan to allow RSUs, which are tiny, no-bedroom efficiency units with low rents meant to help alleviate the county’s shortage of affordable housing.

The Board of Supervisors authorized a proposed zoning ordinance amendment for RSUs in July 2013, although the issue had been under discussion for years. Several public outreach meetings were held last summer and fall, and the Planning Commission created the RSU Committee in October to study the issue further.

The motion passed by the RSU Committee notes that more 15 public meetings were held throughout the county and the committee conducted seven meetings.

“At this point, however, it is unlikely that the Residential Studio Committee will reach consensus on the proposed use,” the motion states, “as there remain a number of concerns about the districts in which the use should be permitted, the potential scale of the use, the special exception process, the potential for modifications and waivers of the standards, the nature of services which may be provided at the development, and the potential for impacts on surrounding properties.”

The RSU Committee recommends “that there be a broader community dialogue about affordable housing, including a discussion on how best to provide for a range of housing opportunities, including residential studios, that will serve the countys current and future residents at all income levels.”

The motion calls for the RSU Committee to “report back to the Planning Commission with a recommendation to adjourn the committee and their review of the currently proposed Zoning Ordinance Amendment regarding residential studios.” It also calls for the county planning staff to prepare a report summarizing the public outreach and the issues raised by the community and the Planning Commission.

The motion was approved unanimously with all of the committee members who spoke agreeing that it was time for a “cooling off period,” reports Debbie Smith, a member of the board of the Mason District Council of Community Associations.

“Basically, there was a general lack of support for the proposed amendment,” Smith says. A host of issues was raised about the feasibility of RSUs, including code enforcement, parking, compatibility with neighborhoods, proximity to transportation, the need for on-site management, and the special exception process for approving RSU developments.

Commissioner James Hart (at-large) expressed his frustration stating: “It seemed like before we ever got started, the opposition had pre-empted the discussion.”

Neighborhood groups in Mason District had been especially concerned that RSUs could lead to the further decline of older residential areas. There has also been concerns raised over whether RSUs are trying to serve too many separate populations with distinct needs, such as the formerly homeless, people in low-wage jobs, young people who cant afford apartments, people in recovery from substance abuse, people with disabilities, and the elderly.


  1. Another Fairfax bad idea, good ridden............return to sender.

  2. Please Please don't ever bring this crap back to the table.