|Seven Corners is poised for redevelopment.|
The amendment, which was approved by the Planning Commission June 15, would set a maximum floor-area ratio (FAR) of 5.0 in 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. Redevelopment areas currently have a maximum FAR of 2.5 or 3.
The BoS rejected an amendment proposed by Linda Smyth (Providence) to retain a maximum 5.0 FAR for TSAs, which are close to Metro stations, but limit the FAR in CRDs and CBCs to 4.0. The Planning Commission had also considered but rejected a similar proposal.
Setting a maximum FAR of 4.0 for non-TSAs “puts older areas at a competitive disadvantage when trying to attract development,” said Jeff McKay (Lee), who voted against Smyth’s amendment.
The board then approved a motion by John Foust (Dranesville) to exempt the McLean commercial area from the 5.0 FAR requirement and instead limit its maximum FAR to 3.0. In the case of McLean, Foust said, “one size doesn’t fit all.”
The BoS did agree to some revisions of the original motion, including language in a provision allowing a reduction in the parking requirement to call for an assessment of the potential for overflow parking in residential areas.
Donna Pesto, senior assistant to the zoning administrator, told the BoS the zoning amendment is needed to ensure that zoning for new redevelopment projects conforms to what’s already in the county’s Comprehensive Plan. The 5.0 FAR is “a maximum, not a mandate,” she said.
The comprehensive plans for Annandale and Seven Corners use a “form-based” approach, which sets limits on building height, rather than FAR.
In Annandale, for example, there’s a 12-story limit for buildings closest to the main roads with fewer stories closer to residential, said Fred Selden, director of the Planning and Zoning Department. Buildings of less than 100 units on small lots could have a FAR of 4.0 if they have underground parking, he said. “We want to encourage that and eliminate surface parking.”
Consolidation of small parcels of land, as in Annandale, is “extremely difficult. It’s very different from Tysons, where you have large parcels,” Selden said. The form-based plan is aimed at “encouraging revitalization, based on flexibility within certain parameters. The objective is to encourage ground-floor retail in buildings oriented toward the street, with higher intensity along main roads.”
“That’s exactly what we’re trying to accomplish in Annandale,” said Penny Gross (Mason), who noted that the project in the works for the bowling alley site on Markham Street would have a 12-story apartment building with underground parking on a small space and would have a 2.5 FAR.
Most of the speakers at the public hearing portion of the meeting were from the Mason District.
Seven Corners resident Suzy Wells expressed frustration with the lack of transparency. While the community spent two years providing input on a comprehensive plan amendment for Seven Corners – which was approved by the BoS in July 2015 – the county at the same time was working on a zoning amendment to allow FAR 5.0, she said, which would allow “much higher density than was agreed to.”
Clyde Miller, speaking on behalf of the Holmes Run Valley Citizens Association, said he opposes the amendment because it “indiscriminately allows unlimited high-density development,” which would result in cut-through traffic in nearby neighborhoods, overflow parking, tall buildings looming over homes, and loss of green space.
The Coalition for Smarter Growth supports the amendment, said Executive Director Stewart Schwartz, because “the best way to handle population growth is to focus on transit-oriented mixed-use centers.” The amendment would reduce traffic, allow for more affordable housing, create more green space, and generate higher tax revenues, he said.
Bill Lecos, president of the Lake Barcroft Association, said the amendment is needed to spur redevelopment in aging commercial areas like Seven Corners, Annandale, and Bailey’s Crossroads that have pockets of blight. “Comprehensive plans will still guide future development,” he said. “This does not undermine the vision” in those plans.
Jeffrey Longo, president of the Sleepy Hollow Manor Citizens Association, said residents of his community overwhelmingly opposed the zoning amendment. “Our neighborhood invested considerable human capital in the Seven Corners comprehensive plan,” he said. “We saw this amendment as not consistent” with that plan.
Longo and Suzy Wells met with Mason Planning Commissioner Julie Strandlie June 17, he said, and she “listened to our concerns and explained why this is needed. We understand the rationale now.”
Longo still doesn’t support the zoning amendment, but said “the breakthrough in communication is sufficient not to oppose it.” He urged county officials to improve communication with residents. “It needs to begin early and continue throughout the process.”