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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

County proposes zoning ordinance changes for revitalization areas

The Board of Supervisors approved a revitalization plan for Seven Corners in July.
UPDATE: Donna Pesto announced Sept. 2 that the deadline for comments will be extended to close of business Sept. 14, “at the request of Supervisor Penny Gross, based on comments made primarily by residents in and adjacent to the Seven Corners area.”

Just a few weeks after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a Comprehensive Plan amendment outlining a blueprint for redevelopment in Seven Corners, the county’s Department of Planning and Zoning is proposing a change in the Zoning Ordinance that would facilitate more density and less open space in certain revitalization areas.

The zoning proposal, outlined in an Aug. 21 memo from Donna Pesto, senior assistant to the zoning administrator, is aimed at giving developers more of an incentive to take on projects in areas targeted for redevelopment, including Annandale, Bailey’s Crossroads, Seven Corners, and the Dulles Corridor along Metro’s Silver Line. 

Public comments on the rezoning proposal are due Sept. 4. Tentative public hearing dates are scheduled for Nov. 5 at the Planning Commission and Dec. 8 at the Board of Supervisors (BoS).

The Seven Corners plan amendment was developed by a task force and community working group appointed by Mason Supervisor Penny Gross. Those groups spent two years considering the best way to transform the aging, congested area into an economically thriving mixed-use commercial/residential area with space for parks and public facilities.

The BoS approved the Seven Corners amendment to the Comprehensive Plan July 29, after taking into consideration comments by local residents, including a slight reduction in density.  

Community leaders have expressed concern that the proposed zoning changes would undermine the redevelopment plan for Seven Corners, while county officials insist that it would not. 

Pesto’s memo now seems to “give free reign to developers at the expense of the community,” says a community association leader from another part of the county who wishes to remain anonymous. “It shows an utter lack of sensitivity to the community,” she says, and  by putting the proposal out at the end of August, with comments due Sept. 4, the zoning department “seems to be trying to pull one over on people.”

It “totally negates the opinion of the community, and by allowing the county to ignore the Comprehensive Plan, negates the whole comprehensive planning process,” the community leader states. She calls it the third strike for Pesto, who was also behind two other unpopular proposals, including RSUs (residential studio units) and a revised noise ordinance. 

Mason Supervisor Penny Gross, however, says the proposed change in the Zoning Ordinance “will have no bearing on Seven Corners.” It won’t change the Comprehensive Plan, she says. Any developer would still have to go through a rezoning process, and rezoning requests would still have to be approved by the Planning Commission and the BoS.

The proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance would increase the maximum floor area ratio (FAR) in areas zoned Planned Development Commercial (PDC) from 2.5 to 5.0. It would increase the FAR in Planned Mixed Use Districts (PRM) from 3.0 to 5.0. These increases would apply to PDCs and PRMs in a Commercial Revitalization District (CRD), Community Business Center (CBC), or Transit Station Area.

FAR is the total square feet of a building divided by the total square feet of the lot the building is located on. A building with two acres of floor area on a one-acre parcel would have a FAR of 2, for example. The higher the FAR, the more density allowed.  

The zoning changes, as described in Pesto’s memo, also would “delete the provisions in PDCs that require certain features like increased open space, unique design features, below-grade parking, etc., in order to increase FAR above the base level.”

The memo proposes that the requirements for open space be revised to allow up to one-half of the required landscaped open space to be above street level, such as on a building’s roof. Also, the amount of parking spaces could be reduced by up to 20 percent in revitalization areas.

Among other changes, the memo states, the BoS could reduce minimum yard requirements, provide more flexibility for corner lots, allow “commercial recreation restaurants” (like ESPN Zone and Dave and Buster’s) in PDCs and PRMs, and allow fast food restaurants in PDCs.

Clyde Miller, president of the Holmes Run Valley Citizens Association who has actively opposed high-density redevelopment in Seven Corners, states in an analysis of the proposed zoning change, that “the relaxed standards would substantially diminish the quality of Seven Corners redevelopment and would threaten the quality of life in our neighborhoods.”

He notes that the Seven Corners plan approved by the BoS requires 20 percent of the redevelopment area (15 acres) to be landscaped open space and that land would be in addition to a required 14 acres of parkland. The proposed amendment would “substantially reduce these requirements for parks and open space” by allowing the 15 acres of open space to count as parkland, he asserts.

Miller argues that the parking reductions in redevelopment areas would result in overflow parking on residential streets in surrounding communities. He also notes that a FAR of 5, which is currently allowed in certain highly urbanized areas like Rosslyn and Tysons, is not appropriate for Seven Corners.

When asked to clarify why the zoning changes are needed, Pesto explained in a written response to the Annandale Blog that “the proposed changes that are packaged as part of this amendment are specifically directed at establishing the implementation tools necessary to address the Board of Supervisors’ adoption of Comprehensive Plan changes that relate to the areas surrounding the extension of the Silver Line of Metrorail and for certain other geographic areas within which revitalization and redevelopment is anticipated.”

Those revitalization areas, she continued, include areas around Reston, McLean, Richmond Highway, Fairfax Center, Bailey’s Crossroads, and Seven Corners. The BoS has also endorsed additional design guidelines associated with the revitalization of Annandale, Bailey’s Crossroads, and other areas.

“All of these efforts laid the planning groundwork to enhance opportunities for redevelopment and renewed investment in older commercial areas and/or to promote quality, higher-intensity development along the county’s transit corridors,” Pesto says.   

When asked whether the zoning ordinance proposal would supersede the recently adopted Seven Corners plan amendment, she said, “absolutely not.” According to Pesto, “Everything that was adopted in the Seven Corners and all other planning areas remain unchanged by this amendment.” 

The proposed zoning change had been on the Zoning Ordinance Amendment Work Program since 2013 in recognition of the planning efforts that were underway in the revitalization areas, she noted.

Pesto also sent a letter to Miller in response to his concerns about the zoning proposal. The zoning amendment would not change any of the recommendations in the Seven Corners amendment regarding land uses, FAR, development design or any other factor, she wrote. “The proposed zoning ordinance changes are the implementation tools necessary to achieve the recommendations of comprehensive plan.”

According to Pesto, “The only way to effectuate any changes with regard to FAR is by way of a rezoning application, which is subject to compliance with the Zoning Ordinance, conformance with the Comprehensive Plan and the conduct of the requisite public hearings, with a recommendation by the Planning Commission and action by the Board.”  

“Without the proposed zoning ordinance amendment,” she says, “there is no opportunity to implement a number of the more recent comprehensive plan changes” relating to Seven Corners and other revitalization areas.

With regard to Miller’s contention that the zoning changes would increase density in Seven Corners, Pesto says, they “will not permit a developer to propose design guidelines in a rezoning application that would permit an increase in FAR beyond what has already been adopted in the Comprehensive Plan after much community input and Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors public hearings.”

“There is no proposed reduction in the minimum required parking and loading rates,” Pesto says. The amendment proposes a new provision that “permits a developer to make a specific request for a parking reduction of up to 20 percent in a mixed-use development (residential and non-residential) as part of a rezoning request to PDC or PRM district and only when the property is located in a CRD or the Lake Anne Commercial Revitalization Area.” Such requests are currently permitted only for non-residential uses.

Furthermore, Pesto states, “the specific percentage of open space required in the PDC and PRM district is not changing with this amendment,” although it “clarifies how the proposed open space in a particular development proposal is to be evaluated and counted toward meeting the open space requirement.” 


  1. Thank you Ms. Ashford for a very thoughtful article on an important new proposed governmental action.

    I feel one piece of information is missing. Did Molly - the Indepdent candidate running against Penny Gross in this year's election - have a statement on this proposed change? Was Molly asked for her thoughts on this proposed change?

    If you are able to update this news report with Molly's views, it would be greatly appreciated.

  2. I'm one of Mollie's supporters which is not to imply that I influence her campaign. In my experience, Mollie is a lot more responsive than Penny Gross. So, the best way to get an answer to your question would be to email Mollie directly. You'll likely receive an answer. I also hope your inquiry will prompt her to address this issue on her website.

  3. In my experience, Mollie will just say whatever sounds good for the crowd. So please go ahead and ask her, she will tell you exactly what you want to hear.

    Being a "community activist" makes being "responsive" very easy, please go ahead and contact her. But you should probably just contact Clyde Miller since he is the one who will provide her with what to say.

    1. You clearly don't known the Molly that I know. She is a community activist - emphasis on community. I personally have brought things to her attention that she has listened to and acknowledged but not necessarily put as part of her platform because she needed to see if there was broad constituent consensous on the issue.

      honestly, that sounds like how govenment should work to me.

  4. Unfortunately for those trying to politicize this, it does not affect 7 Corners if you actually read the response from the non partisan county staff. But that never seems to stop Clyde "I will stop at nothing to denigrate Penny Gross" Miller.

    1. If you read the 7 corners plan, it does call for FAR based planning in transitional and minimal change areas. so yes, it does impact 7 corners.

      please read the plan documents and dont just read/listen to staff.

  5. Oh my goodness! Our we next going to speculate that the Iran Deal will affect the 7 Corners Plan? What about the renaming of Mt. McKinley, does that affect it too? And I think we should blame Penny for the Redskins failures as well! Her constituents wanted the Redskins to win and she did nothing!

    1. 7 corners is impacted. please read the plan. FAR based planning is used in transitional and minimal change areas, so those areas would not be green-lit for developers to also put more density, which is beyond the scope of the opportunity areas extensively discussed as form based code.

    2. That should say "those areas would be" not "would not be"

  6. How can you make light of this very serious issue?

    Donna Pesto is talking out of both sides of her mouth in her defense of the County’s outrageous move to counter the desires of its residents.

    With the exception of Tyson’s, none of the revitalization areas mentioned have metro access yet the County insists on making it easy for developers to build up to FAR 5.5. This is insanity. Inside the beltway roads can’t take this density. Rooftop open space…what kind of accessibility it that for children’s play? How is it even accessible except for tenants?

    The inside the beltway communities should not be subject to such intense pressure. This density belongs along the Silver Line, which entirely precludes Mason District.

    One would hope that Supervisor Gross will back her constituents who were so vocal at the July 28 board meeting that intense density is NOT welcome.

    Oh, but I dream. It took 4 other supervisors to state they would withhold a vote for her plan unless she amended it to accommodate some of her constituent concerns.

    This zoning amendment smells like P. Gross.

  7. The economy, interest rates ...and an election will be the real factors in determining whether the developer's are able to build their high density apartments.

  8. As Jeffrey pointed out, read the docs and see for yourself what the County has planned for Annandale, Bailey's Crossroads and 7 Corners.

    Fortunately, Holmes Run Community posted it online for all to see.

  9. Regarding the update "Donna Pesto announced Sept. 2 that the deadline for comments will be extended to close of business Sept. 14, “at the request of Supervisor Penny Gross, based on comments made primarily by residents in and adjacent to the Seven Corners area.”

    I know of at least Sleepy Hollow Manor and the Fairfax Federation issuing responses requesting that the responses not be due until after November 3rd.

    This 10 day reprieve is NOT what we asked for.

  10. I agree a 10 day reprieve accomplishes absolutely nothing.

    I think the timing of this proposed zoning amendment is very intentional and certainly very hurried.

  11. To Anonymous 9/1/15, 7:43 PM

    Oh yes, this proposed zoning amendment will greatly affect us. Once passed the amendment becomes law.

    Then Gross and her developer cronies can raise density in Mason District, thus circumventing the residents and their desires. This would be a win-win for Gross and Cronies. Its a lose-lose for the residents of 7 Corners, Annandale and Bailey's Crossroads.

    The irony is that Gross has this ordinance on the fast track. Even IF she loses on Nov.3, the way she has this set up it will be law on Dec. 8.

    Fight this ordinance all ye good citizens!!!

  12. Leesburg-tier big-box nonsense, death-trap turn-of-the-century roach motels, a school with no decent outdoor access, and the lack of even enough political will to tell developers that, no, they can't put 1950s-style retail on the neighborhood's last remaining empty lot.

    Seven Corners needs about ten square blocks burned to the ground so we can start over with something that makes a single lick of sense.

  13. This is typical Penny Gross - - give an appearance of participation from community then after the fact proceed with her own original plan.

  14. Despite all the reassurances from the County and others in our community that this proposal will not affect 7 Corners--that the "Comp plan trumps zoning regulations" so we're okay, I remain skeptical because the county zoning proposal specifically includes Annandale, Bailey’s Crossroads and Seven Corners by name as some of the targeted areas for this proposal as follows:

    "The proposed Zoning Ordinance Amendment establishes the implementation tools related to comprehensive plan changes and adopted design guidelines associated with revitalization and redevelopment areas, as well as areas near mass transit stations. Specifically, such areas include those associated with the Silver Line extension through the Dulles Corridor and the updates to the Annandale, Baileys Crossroads and Seven Corners planning documents."

    Moreover, even if the 7 Corners comp plan is not targeted, I don't understand WHY this proposal is even being considered at all for any development anywhere in our county.

    For years, residents have made it clear at meeting after meeting, in letter after letter that we want development that embraces good environmental practices, that adds green spaces--parks, walkways, green roofs, vertical gardens, human scale places that attract people to work, play and live. This kind of development has lead to genuine revitalization in many areas of the US, Europe and Japan. So my question is: why is the BoS considering a proposal to relax environmental standards which will encourage development of more buildings and concrete to ensure that developers profit at the expense of the environment? There is clearly planned development somewhere in our county (and 7 Corners, Baileys Crossroads, among other CRAs are specifically named in the proposal) that this proposal would accommodate. As someone who desires development by developers who care about the environment, I don't understand WHY the BoS wants to encourage & accommodate development by developers who demand relaxed standards anywhere in our county?