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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Planning Commission endorses higher density for redevelopment areas

This mixed-use (residential and retail) building planned for a 2.6-acre site at 301 W. Broad St., Falls Church, has a FAR of 3.33, states a report by Fairfax County Planning and Zoning staff on the zoning ordinance amendment. The FAR would increase if the building had more stories. [DPZ]
The Fairfax County Planning Commission voted to endorse unanimously a zoning ordinance amendment Oct. 15 that would pave the way for higher density in revitalization areas like Annandale, Bailey’s Crossroads, and Seven Corners.

The Board of Supervisors has scheduled a public hearing on the amendment for June 21.

The measure would set a maximum floor-area ratio (FAR) of up to 5.0 in all 20 of the county’s transit station areas (TSAs), community redevelopment districts (CRDs), and commercial business centers (CBCs). 

A FAR of 5.0 would allow a developer to build structures with floor space that is five times greater than the area of the parcel of land on which it sits. That’s significantly greater density than currently allowed in older commercial areas – or anywhere else in the county. The current plan for the area at Reston’s Town Center Metro station, for example, calls for a FAR of 4.0 (with a bonus of 0.5).

Several activists from Mason District spoke out against the amendment at a Planning Commission hearing  last month. They argued a 5.0 FAR would encourage inappropriately high density next to residential areas that are not within walking distance of Metro.

During the Planning Commission discussion June 15, Commissioner James Hart (at large) proposed an amendment to allow a FAR of 5.0 in TSAs but lower the maximum FAR to 4.0 in CRDs and CBCs. That amendment was defeated 4-7.

Commissioner Julie Strandlie (Mason) said she opposed Hart’s amendment because limiting the FAR to 4.0 could prevent redevelopment in Seven Corners and Annandale as envisioned in the comprehensive plans already adopted for those areas.

Raising the FAR to 5.0 doesn’t mean all redevelopment areas will end up with that much density; it just provides for more flexibility, said Commissioner Frank de la Fe (Hunter Mill), who supports the original amendment.

Commissioner Timothy Sargeant (at large) said raising the allowable FAR to 5.0 would not exempt a developer from compliance with any state or county regulation and would not eliminate the need for a traffic management analysis or any other existing requirements.

Every application will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, said Hart, who joined the commissioners in supporting the original amendment. “If  it’s ridiculous or inappropriate, we’re  capable of making that decision.”


  1. Density like this is appropriate for areas served by a comprehensive transit network. Will these newly approved density ratios usher in an era of improved public transportation? Somehow, I doubt it. We have a decent variety of bus lines, certainly an improvement over where I lived in NoVA previously, but that is about it.

    1. "Will these newly approved density ratios usher in an era of improved public transportation? "


    2. Envision Route 7 is promising, but in my mind is little more than an endorsed concept. They would need to prioritize it, get rights of way, get funding, and then execute the plan. I would estimate we are a decade or more away from the start of those improvements, and potentially multiple decades from it being fully implemented.

      To codify density on a transportation plan that is decades out, much less looks to simply relieve what is already a congested mess, is pretty much the definition of putting the cart before the horse.

      Also, it should be mentioned that the 7 corners comp plan anticipated bus rapid transit being incorporated, so its comprehensive plan is already accommodating of the idea of high capacity mass transit in its endorsement of increasing the density from what it is now to up to 2.9 FAR.

    3. A bit comfortingly, developers want transit as well, as plainly evidenced by the vast amount of transit-oriented development that I see in my daily commute and whereabouts.

    4. I do not think it needs to take decades to build a BRT line. Metroway did not take that long. And of course the development will take time as well - its not like you change the zoning, and then shovels go into the ground immediately. BTW, I think the changes in the code still allow for specific area plans to have lower FAR limits - they just make it possible for those plans to have higher FAR limits.

    5. This County has none to poor transit options, county officials that don't have a clue about urban development and density. Its like the Keystone Cops trying to be crime solvers. The County needs to grow up and get the right people on the job and return the BoS to senders.

  2. "Commissioner Julie Strandlie (Mason) said she opposed Hart’s amendment because limiting the FAR to 4.0 could prevent redevelopment in Seven Corners and Annandale as envisioned in the comprehensive plans already adopted for those areas."

    How the heck does Ms Strandlie get that idea? While 7 Corners doesn't specify FAR, you can calculate its FAR equivalent by simple math. The area that is slated for the most dense redevelopment - area B, where the shopping center is now - is about 1130000 sq ft (use this: The comp plan calls for 3310000 sq ft of development in that area. 3310000/1130000 = 2.9 FAR, which was allowable previously.

    So... tell me how FAR 4.0 would prevent redevelopment according to the adopted comp plan? The truthful answer is there is absolutely no reason.

    Many in the community spent years of work on the comprehensive plan changes. The county is setting the stage for developers to submit alterations to that comp plan to get as much density (read:profit) as they can as will now be allowed by code, and we know that when those changes are tied to development, they get rushed through and see very little public input.

    On a bright note, it is true that developers don't always build to the highest density allowed - they build to the highest profit allowed. For instance, building above 6 stories requires concrete and steel construction which is much more expensive, so if the developer doesn't think they can get return, they will stay at 6 stories with wood-based construction so their profits stay reasonable.

    So... we'll see. Still disappointed in the process, but I like to always keep some hope around.

  3. Ms. Strandlie needs to explain her remarks.

    1. Maybe Ellie could follow-up with Mrs. Strandlie to clarify the comments she made and update this blog post with that information?

    2. For what its worth, the VP of my citizen association (which I am president of) reached out to Ms Strandlie about her testimony, and she got back to her and requested me as well and both of us are planning on having a meeting with her tonight to discuss this. So, hopefully some answers will be forthcoming as to the rationale behind at least her testimony and vote.

    3. Ms. Strandlie is over her head in her current position. Ms Hall was much better at the job.

    4. Everything was over Janet's head. She was Planning Commissioner for the last 20 years. She could be considered a success only if her plan was to blight the district and wreck the schools.

  4. It makes sense to focus development around transit and yes I agree substantial transit need to be put in place in places like route 7, route 1.

    Invariably the population of the area is going to grow. Estimates are DC area will add 1.5 Million people in next 25 years. More than half from natural growth and rest from any kind of national and international migration. Fairfax will add 300k alone. More people that can served with Mass transit and other amenities in urban nodes the better.

    1. ... Which is why the comprehensive plans have been updated with additional residential density and specify the need for transit (7 corners doesn't specify the envision rt 7 project by name, but has BRT in its vision), and also why the plan calls for school capacity improvements as well.

      What doesn't make sense is for the county to codify much more density than has been recently revised for in the comp plan. That part just doesn't make sense to me.

  5. Mrs. Strandlie came to meet with my myself and my association's vice president tonight (Friday night). We talked for about an hour and a half about our concerns with the proposal, and she explained her rationale for supporting FAR 5.0. While I don't want to get too much into the detail of the discussions in fear of inadvertently misrepresenting something, here is some key takeaways:

    1) Mrs. Strandlie came out to talk to us on a Friday night for an hour and a half after two days of long late night meetings. She did so even after reading my above comment regarding "simple math", to which she half-joked "yes, I can do math". I was very impressed by the initiative and effort she has put forth in reaching out to us.

    2) The rationale for FAR 5 as I understand it is: while it is true that the average FAR for each of the areas in 7 corners is below 3.0, the county wants to provide flexibility for a developer should they want to develop only part of an opportunity area at a time. If area B were to be divided and the western part were to be developed first, its rezoning application would entail a FAR of greater than 3.0 as authorized by the comprehensive plan... however when the rest of area B was developed, it would even out.

    So, with that, I'm officially putting my foot in my mouth regarding frustrated tone I wrote it with above. I've apologized to Mrs. Strandlie personally for being insensitive and coarse in my remarks above, but will also convey that here. Mrs. Strandlie really went an extra mile tonight to help explain to us her thoughts and logic, and she took time to listen to us. While it was only one meeting, I am very hopeful for future workings with Mrs. Strandlie based on tonight. Mind you, we still have some concerns about the proposal and the potential for abuse, and some of the contention here could have been avoided given better communication from the county, however I felt compelled to give kudos to Mrs. Strandlie for taking the time to come out and listen and explain.

    I encourage others that may have concerns or want further explanations - if they are willing to meet her with a constructive attitude - to contact her at her county email address.

  6. “If it’s ridiculous or inappropriate, we’re capable of making that decision.”

    I have no faith that they are capable of that.

  7. Not impressed with Mrs. Strandlie. At the May Land Use Advisory Committee meeting she said she gave no weight to citizens' petitions. Which is strange as oftentimes that is the process by which items from referendums to recalls get on the ballot. To pay petitions no mind, is really a slap in the face to constituents who care about an issue but don't have the luxury of time to write a personal letter. From what I've seen, with respect to displacing the homeless and putting them in the backyard of the senior center, she really doesn't care about the citizens, whether old or homeless, otherwise she would recommend a denial of the County's 2232 application.