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Monday, October 19, 2015

Controversial Zoning Ordinance amendment likely to resurface in 2016

Seven Corners could be a magnet for developers.

The Board of Supervisors has put off indefinitely consideration of a controversial Zoning Ordinance amendment that would facilitate new high-density projects in certain redevelopment areas – but that doesn’t mean it’s dead.

The proposed amendment on planned residential mixed use (PRM), planned commercial district (PDC), and commercial revitalization districts (CRD) had been delayed several times and was most recently scheduled for the Oct. 6 BoS meeting. Plans were also dropped to consider the matter at the board’s Revitalization Committee Oct. 13.

When asked why the matter is not being considered, Fairfax County zoning officials Donna Pesto wrote in an email, “I have no additional information regarding the scheduling of his amendment or why it was removed from the agenda.”

Tim Thompson, president of the board of the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations, predicts the zoning amendment will resurface in the first quarter of 2016. He speculates BoS chair Sharon Bulova delayed consideration of the amendment until after the Nov. 3 election and a new board is in place with a few meetings under its belt before its ready to tackle such a contentious issue.

Community associations and individual residents have complained to the BoS that the proposed amendment would give supervisors too much leeway to meet the demands of developers without enough citizen input. 

The Fairfax Federation is hosting a workshop on the Zoning Ordinance amendment Oct. 30, 7 p.m., at the Providence Community Center. The meeting is open to the public. Panelists include Carol Turner of the Mason District Council, Clyde Miller of the Holmes Run Valley Citizens Association in Mason, Mark Zetts of the McLean Citizens Association, and Terry Maynard of the Reston Citizens Association.

The workshop is meant to educate people about the amendment, Thompson said, noting that some community groups might want it and others might oppose it. The Fairfax Federation hasn’t taken a position on it.

The proposed zoning changes would allow the BoS to adopt a maximum floor area ratio (FAR) of up to 5.5 in commercial revitalization areas, such as Seven Corners, Bailey’s Crossroads, Tysons, Reston, and Springfield. FAR is the total square feet of a building divided by the total square feet of the lot the building is on.

Pesto told local residents at a meeting of the Bailey’s Crossroads Community Revitalization Corporation last month that the amendment is needed to implement redevelopment projects allowed in the county’s Comprehensive Plan without having to seek a zoning change every time something is proposed.

Several people complained at that meeting that the amendment would make it easier for developers to get high-density projects approved with less scrutiny by community residents. They were especially concerned that effort to reduce density in the Seven Corners plan, approved in July, would be overridden.

According to Miller, the current maximum FAR in redevelopment areas is 3, and the only places approaching a FAR 5 are near Metro in Tysons and Rosslyn.

Thompson says Zoning Administrator Leslie Johnson told him the  proposed amendment had been put on a fast track for approval by the BoS because “there were five or six developments that had been in the hopper for the past few months that wanted to get approval for FAR 5.” Developers wanted to start construction as soon as possible, he says.

Prime sites for development include areas near Springfield Town Center, Route 7 northwest of Tysons, the Mosaic District in Merrifield, and the Dulles Metro corridor beyond Reston, as well as Seven Corners and Bailey’s Crossroads. Allowing FAR 5 would make these areas much more attractive to developers. Being allowed to build more units in a condominium or apartment complex multiplies a developer’s profit.

According to Thompson, developers want the Zoning Ordinance amendment “so they squeeze more stuff on a limited amount of land.” 

“No one can fathom why this is needed other than to help developers,” he says, noting that most campaign contributions to supervisors come from developers. It won’t benefit the county and there isn’t a demand for more development, he says. “Once the horse gets out of the barn, it’s not going back in.”

Instead of a blanket zoning amendment allowing higher density across the county, he says, why not allow community review of one project at a time?


  1. According to Tim Thompson "there isn't a demand for more development." This is a ridiculously erroneous statement. Mr. Thompson must not live near the portion of Bailey Crossroads in Mason District where sits the abandoned (if not condemned) structure which formerly housed the Safari Lounge restaurant where an unsolved brutal murder took place less than a year ago.

    People like Tim Thompson and Mollie represent those Mason District residents who already have their piece of the American Dream, and who want to deny it to others by blocking the redevelopment of the blighted areas of Mason District because the elite don't want to deal with the additional traffic, and don't want their children to have to attend a school with the children of newcomers to Mason District.

    These individuals claim they are not opposed to all developers, but only those greedy developers who don't care about the community. But by their actions they demonstrate otherwise, by demanding limits on future commercial, residential, or mixed-used developments that make them economically unviable.

    The author of this blog post corrected/updated it without noting the update, or posting the comment that pointed out the now corrected error.

    This is bad journalism from the owner of this community blog.

    Some people have said Ms. Ashford is in the pocket of the Mollie campaign because of their previous relationship, but I have never believed those people until Ms. Ashford has given me reason to do so.

    I would like to think Ms. Ashford wants to maintain her credibility with her readers by not playing favorites with her community blog.

    I will maintain confidence in the impartiality of this blog if this comment is posted.

    1. Man, you do rant on and let me guess, you're either a developer or a paid penny naysayer. I'll choose to believe you're only a resident of Mason District. You need to attend more meetings in fact you should go to the 10/30 Workshop mentioned above and learn more. The county was trying to push this ordinance through so that they would not have to deal with the little people/their constituents as little as possible. The density for both Bailey's and Seven Corners, and probably Annandale is already too much considering there is no mass transportation available for people to take. The county only cares about getting taxes and not about what this massive about of density will do to your neighborhood/district. Thank heavens we have organizations like the Federation willing to stand up for the residents to get to the bottom of the issue.

    2. Maybe he meant there isn't a demand for higher density? I have no idea; I agree with you, there is a great demand/need for redevelopment in the Mason district.
      As to you feeling the article is biased, it seems she just reported what she heard. Perhaps you are referring to the information that was updated.
      A general comment here, it is a shame that The Washington Post has fallen to the level of what appears to be sloppy journalism but most people writing blogs on the Internet are not professional writers and there's no need to meet the highest standards.
      My greatest concern as I age, is that the American dream lives on and those who are willing to work have an opportunity to live a decent life. I do draw the line at giving unbridled power to the BoS and developers, the community input should not simply be marginalized. I live in the corridor between Baily's and Seven Corners; I'm one of those pie owners. If caring about issues of density, land use, general development and parkland makes me an "elitist" to you, then so be it.
      I read the comments in hopes of learning how the people feel and to gain insight, perhaps be persuaded to rethink my positions. Your letter struck me as a broad brush attack on people who don't think like you, which is too bad as I would be willing to listen to a cogent argument.

    3. "People like Tim Thompson and Mollie represent those Mason District residents who already have their piece of the American Dream, and who want to deny it to others by blocking the redevelopment of the blighted areas of Mason District because the elite don't want to deal with the additional traffic, and don't want their children to have to attend a school with the children of newcomers to Mason District."

      Wow. That's a bold statement. Bold and completely incorrect, and strikes me as something Penny would say - in fact exactly what Penny would say

      I don't speak for Mollie or Tim, but I agree with them that we need to be responsible in our redevelopment. I am not against redevelopment or developers getting profits. What I am against is putting in a ton of residential without adequately addressing education and transportation needs. To do so exacerbates existing problems and will hurt the American Dream not only of current residents but of the new residents who see the promise of a new development only to arrive and realize that the roads have not kept up and the schools have been overburdened.

      Mason District already has more school trailers than any other district. We already have grade F intersections. We need to have solid plans of addressing these issues so we can ALL live the dream.

  2. I, unlike the the majority of developers, live in the Mason District. I am not sure that we need to overdevelop everything. There is a lot of failed retail in the Bailey's and Seven Corners areas.

    I am not sure about before I moved here but it is only recently that Seven Corners Shopping Centers has become somewhat desirable. Even the Best Buy booked out of there.

    I think waiting a few years to see what becomes of the development in Falls Church City, Tyson's and to a lesser extent Mosaic is far more prudent. I think it could give more clarity in how to better develop the Seven Corners and Bailey's to be a desirable and useful commercial area.

    As mentioned before mass transit in this area is limited to buses so I think that it will be harder to attract commercial business than the areas right on the Orange and Silver lines.

    As for the American dream I think that is a straw man. None of the proposals seem to make the American Dream for anyone. Townhouses and Condo's away from light rail does not seem like equitable in any way to the quarter, half and even full acre single family homes that are in this area. Most of the apartments and even a fair number of the condo's do not seem like they bring anything special to the table.

    Empty retail space and more traffic does not seem like it benefits anyone, even those commuters that live further out and have to travel through through these areas, and just brings down the area rather than elevate it.

    As a home owner in Mason District worse traffic would be annoying but tolerable. If we make it less desirable to live further out by adding more traffic, congestion and pointless strip malls it would probably increase the value of my home by making it more desirable to live between DC and Tyson's rather than try to travel through it. I think this would only benefit those with means and further push out those who are struggling to make ends meet.

    My problem with the proposed plans it that they are more likely to erase regional character and make living in the United States one homogeneous mess of strip malls and chain restaurants lacking in any diversity or regional charm.

    1. Just commenting on your last sentence... unfortunately I think it's too late, you can barely tell one town from another in America these days.

  3. General comment on the article. I own a condo in Annandale without any retail or anything on the ground floor. For now, I actually live in Italy although I do plan on returning to my condo one day. I think Annandale suffers from low density. I got that there's no metro line but increasing density brings more customers for businesses in the area and helps create community. I'm biased though because I believe we could do a lot better when it comes to city planning in America. Unfortunately Europe has us beat in this arena. Here in Italy my family and I walk so much more and meet up with neighbors and friends for coffee and social events all the time (sense of community). We also don't hesitate to go downstairs and shop, buy pizza, get ice cream for the kids, stroll around in the car-free zone (essential part of all Italian cities). In Annandale everything required getting in the car and driving so, being as lazy as we are, we usually just decided to forego the trip to the store (lost opportunity costs). I think getting this proposal passed would be a step in the right direction for Annandale. We're a family of four and living in a high density environment has a lot of perks for the whole family.