County seeks public comment on new comprehensive plan review process

In an ongoing effort to reevaluate and improve the way Fairfax County makes decisions about land use, county staff has proposed two new recommendations that overhaul how planning studies are conducted, and creates a schedule for which areas of the county should be studied in the near future. 

Fairfax Forward is an ongoing effort by the county to improve the way it amends its comprehensive plan.

Fairfax Forward is an ongoing effort by the county to improve the way it amends its comprehensive plan.

The Comprehensive Plan, mandated for review every five years by the Virginia Code, is a set of guidelines for how much development is allowed in various regions of the county, and how they will be developed.

“Fairfax Forward is an effort to find a new means to review the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which we have simplified into the two parts, although there are many more recommendations than two,” Meghan Van Dam, a senior planner at the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning, wrote in an email.

Since the late 1970s, the comprehensive plan has been updated using a system called the “area plan review.” Under this process, during a period of time set by the Fairfax County Planning Commission, amendments to current land use guidelines were accepted and reviewed by county staff, brought forward for public comment, and voted on by the Planning Commission then the Board of Supervisors.

“Public comment has generally supported the effort and the need to replace [Area Plan Review],” Van Dam said. “The review of Area Plans has always been a balancing act between the need for review, whether originating from community groups, individual property owners, and staff; Board needs; county resources; and time.”

“We began the project in early 2010, with an Area Plans Review Retrospective to evaluate the APR process to determine what worked well and what needed improvement,” Van Dam said. “At the conclusion of the retrospective (around the end of 2010), we recognized that a more substantial change to the review process was needed and spoke with the PC about extending the timeline for another year, which they supported, and the effort became Fairfax Forward.”

In mid-December, planning staff proposed two recommendations that would change the process for changing the Comprehensive Plan.

The first is to create a work program schedule, where the county would review all aspects of the comprehensive plan, including how they define the characteristics of communities, environmental regulations, and land use and transportation policies. County staff has agreed to work with a set of guidelines for determining which areas and subjects would be studied when and to what depth.

“Comprehensive Plan review will by organized around a Comprehensive Plan amendment work program, which will list studies to occur over the next three years,” Van Dam said. “The remaining portions of the Plan will be reviewed at some point after that, which we have estimated on a longer-term schedule.”

During these area reviews, the county hopes to advance major policy objectives, such as “promoting environmental protection, fostering revitalization of designated areas, supporting economic development, preserving open space, providing affordable housing, or balancing transportation infrastructure and public facilities services with growth and development.”

“By using this approach,” read the Fairfax Forward website, “Plan review could occur according to a schedule that would ensure guidance is up-to-date and relevant based on current and future needs. Study timing will be influenced by the availability of staff and community resources.”

The county recommendation splits up the review process into three categories: Countywide policies, activity centers, and neighborhood planning.

Countywide policy plans that are slated for review first include defining “suburban centers,” community improvement areas, public schools, and building height limits.

In activity areas, county staff recommends areas such as Fairfax Center Area, the Dulles, and Tysons to be reviewed. Over the next two years, staff recommends that Lincolnia and Pohick areas be reviewed, with many more to come in years following.

Apart from the comprehensive plan review schedule, staff also proposed a separate recommendation on how to improve the planning studies that are being proposed over the next several years.

“The second recommendation speaks to how individual studies on the work program will be reviewed,” said Van Dam.

The changes hope to improve “the focus of the scope of the study and public participation,” read a summary from the Fairfax Forward website.

“Once an individual study has been authorized for review on the work program,” read the website, “action would be taken to finalize the scope through a public input process and develop the remaining steps and timeline for review (including public engagement), recommendation, and action.”

“Engaging the public throughout the process would increase awareness of the study, provide an educational component, verify that the scope of work includes community issues, and allow for public input on decisions,” read the website. “Suggestions, such as density or intensity changes, made during the public input process on the scope of work should be included within the study, if they meet the work program criteria.”

“The Planning Commission public hearing is scheduled for March 6th and the Board of Supervisors hearing on March 19th, where there will be an opportunity for further public comment,” said Van Dam. “The Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the Board, who will act upon the recommendations.”

The county will take public comment up through Jan. 18.

Proposed bill to change planning commissioner requirements

The Fairfax County Planning Commission consists of 12 members who are all appointed by the Board of Supervisors. (Photo courtesy of Fairfax County.)

The Fairfax County Planning Commission consists of 12 members who are all appointed by the Board of Supervisors. (Photo courtesy of Fairfax County.)

A new bill proposed for the 2013 General Assembly session would change the requirements for serving on local planning commissions, a group of appointed people who make recommendations regarding land use policies. Commissioners are appointed by the governing body of the locality. In Fairfax County, the Board of Supervisors makes the appointments, as does the City Council in the City of Fairfax.

House Bill 1408, which was pre-filed on Dec. 18 of last year by Delegate James Scott (D-53), would remove the requirement that at-least half of all planning commissions own property.

“…There is no reason that service on the planning commission should disqualify anyone who is registered to vote from serving on the governing body, as long as they are otherwise eligible to vote,” Delegate Scott wrote in an email. “I remembered that, as a tenant when I first ran for elective office, I could not serve on the Planning Commission.”

A similar bill was introduced in the 2012 General Assembly session by Delegate David Englin (D-43), but was eventually killed with 61 votes against, and 36 in support. Scott, who was a co-patron of the bill last year, decided to reintroduce the bill in the 2013 legislative session.

Other requirements of commissioners include being curent residents of the locality, and “qualified by knowledge and experience to make decisions on questions of community growth and development.”

The 2013 General Assembly session convenes on Jan. 9, 2013.

Additional resources: 

Annandale community petitions NOVA to address traffic safety concerns

Nearby residents of the Northern Virginia Community College Annandale Campus have pushed for new policies to help address traffic and safety concerns in the area.

Mike Perel and other community members have started a petition to change university policies having to do with parking and transportation.

Mike Perel and other community members have started a petition to change NVCC policies having to do with parking and transportation. (Photo courtesy of Mike Perel.)

“The goals are to reduce the dangerous traffic conditions caused by community college policies,” said Mike Perel, a resident of Oak Hill and creator of the petition. “I hope that the actual petition and letter have clearly spelled out the problem, the cause of the problem, and possible solutions.”

The petition, posted about two months ago on Change.org, was addressed to NOVA President Dr. Robert Templin, Jr; David Miller, chair of the board of directors; and Barbara Saperstone, provost of the Annandale campus. The petition was also addressed to a number of regional elected officials, including Braddock Supervisor John Cook, State Senator David Marsden, State Senator Chap Peterson, and State Delegate Vivian Watts.

“Dangerous road conditions have been created by the policies of the Annandale Campus of the Northern Virginia Community College,” read the description of the petition. “These policies cause their students to park their cars on our residential roads and increase the traffic, especially during the morning rush hours.”

As of Dec. 23, the petition has 26 signatures. Some supporters of the petition also left comments about the issue on the website.

“This is a safety issue for my whole family and our neighbors,” one signer commented. “It’s also a safety issue for the student attending NVCC too.”

“Speed limit should be reduced to 25, and area around my house/entire street is highly congested with cars belonging to NVCC students,” wrote another petition signer.

Perel and others believe that NOVA provides enough parking, but that the traffic is a result of expensive fees for parking permits, increased enrollment, and class times scheduled during peak-traffic hours.

“The result of these policies is increased parking off campus and increased traffic on our residential streets,” read the petition.

In a letter reply to Perel, Provost Barbara Saperstone said that NOVA was cognizant of the community’s concerns and was working to find solutions.

“I want to assure you that the college has heard and is taking serious note of your concerns and similar concerns raised by your neighbors at a recent series of community meetings,” Saperstone wrote in the letter.

Saperstone said that the college would study the issue in more depth and would work with regional groups to determine solutions.

“…We are developing a multi-point initiative to better manage the total number, timing and flow of our students, faculty and staff,” Saperstone said. “We have also agreed to partner with the Virginia Department of Transportation and the County of Fairfax to undertake a comprehensive review of traffic volume and hours along the entire length of Wakefield Chapel Road.”

Saperstone disagreed that traffic was the result of parking permit costs.

“Unfortunately, cost alone is not what is driving our problem,” Saperstone said. “The successful addition of six streets to the restricted neighborhood parking program is what prompted the significant growth this year in parking along Wakefield Chapel.”

Saperstone added that NOVA would consider actions such as leading the campus police department and Fairfax County Police in “examining traffic flow strategies to ease peak period congestion on campus,” and to “find a way to help augment rigorous enforcement of parking violations.” NOVA would also examine implementing parking restrictions along Wakefield Chapel road.

Saperstone also dismissed the idea of limiting student enrollment.

“While we respect your suggestion to simply “cap” enrollment, that is not an option we believe would serve the needs of the larger community,” Saperstone said. “As has been recently noted in the news, the need for community colleges is rising. While our numbers are generally up across all six of our campuses, the NOVA Annandale Campus remains one of our most “in-demand” facilities. All our campuses, however, strive to serve their local communities.”

Saperstone said that NVCC would consider and study proposed solutions prior to the meeting.

“I think it is good that NVCC seems to be taking the issue seriously,” Perel said. ” I’m not sure, however, that NVCC fully understands the impact of their policies on neighborhood traffic and the reasons that students park on the residential streets. Thus, whether or not they are able to identify and implement an effective solution remains to be seen.”

NOVA officials and the community will meet again in early February.

Young people moving to NoVa suburbs, study concludes

Fairfax County and the greater Washington-Baltimore region have maintained higher rates of home mobility compared to the rest of the nation, a recent study concluded.

The mobility rate is determined by the percentage of the population that changes residences every year.

The mobility rate is determined by the percentage of the population that changes residences every year.

The study, conducted by RealEstate Business Intelligence and George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis, determined that between 2008 and 2010, 14.2 percent of the population moved each year, two percentage points above the national average.

“The vast majority of residential mobility in the Washington-Baltimore takes place as a result of suburb-to-suburb moves,” read the study, “and this pattern will continue in the near-term.”

According to the study, over a third of new or existing residents, relocated within Northern Virginia.

“Households continue to show a preference for suburban neighborhoods, and rents and prices are lower in the region’s suburbs compared with its central cities (particularly the District of Columbia),” read the study.

Additionally, a majority of those movers show distinct demographic characteristics. Among all movers under 30, 76.1 percent are living in the suburbs, 85.8 percent of which are renting.

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According to the 2008-2010 American Community Survey, a majority of young people who moved to the suburbs are renting.

“…National surveys of this population suggest that as they age, most [people under 30] think they will own a home and many want to live in the suburbs,” read the study.

The authors of the study say that this may provide evidence against the idea that young people have different preferences than older generations, by desire urban environments as opposed to suburban communities.

“While the cities will continue to draw young people from within and outside the region, most of the moving, home buying and renting will take place in the region’s suburbs in the years to come,” read the study. “Furthermore, residential construction is ramping up, and new suburban developments will include more townhouse and multifamily housing which gives households more options in the suburbs.”

Environmental report praises role of technology in county planning process

At a Nov. 20 board meeting, county supervisors were presented the annual report on the state of the environment in Fairfax.

The report, which is created by the Environmental Quality Advisory Council, is meant to assist the board of supervisors in “evaluating ongoing environmental programs,” and “aids public agencies in coordinating programs that jointly address environmental issues.”

Planimetric Information – Fairfax County Government Center (Source: Annual Report on the Environment)

In particular, the report praised the county’s use of technology in its land use planning process, and recommends development of tools that help analysts make land use decisions.

“Over the past several years, there has been a concerted effort to improve how the county plans for development and redevelopment,” read the study. “This culminated in 2012 with the Fairfax Forward project to modernize the planning process.”

Fairfax Forward, a new planning process by which the county updates its comprehensive plan, makes use of mapping technology to show how certain land use and transportation decisions would impact communities.

The report specifically pointed out the usefullness of this technology while planning for Tysons redevelopment.

“Technology was incorporated throughout the process with models and digital mockups that showed massing and expected growth projections,” read the study. “Fairfax Forward is a much needed program to address the transition from build-out to revitalization.”

Virtual Fairfax – Tysons Corner Area (Source: Annual Report on the Environment)

Additionally, the report said that tools like Virtual Fairfax, which allow users to look at aerial renderings of the county, are also critical in the planning process.

“The Virtual Fairfax 3-D application is a wonderful example of the power of digital technology,” read the study. “Besides being fascinating to fly through our neighborhoods, it is very practical for boards and commissions to visualize proposed changes and make more informed decisions and recommendations.”

 

The report stated that there are three characteristics that need to be in place for technology to be useful in land use planning:

1. The Global Information System and Integrated Parcel Lifecycle System capability – these are the technical systems that gather, move, manipulate and display information based on geographic location

2. Data that are geographically located, also called spatial data – this is an expensive component that needs to be constantly updated as the county changes. There are many sources of data, from aerial imagery to U.S. census data to county records, which need to be transformed into useable information.

3. Models and applications that can use the data to prepare for future scenarios and advanced visualization tools to help with decision making. The Visual Fairfax application is an example that leverages the GIS and data to help make informed decisions.

The report also recommended that the county continue to invest in technologies that help planners measure the impact of land use policies, and predict issues that may rise in the future.

County staff releases report on Eleven Oaks rezoning

On Nov. 2, Fairfax County staff released their report on the rezoning application for the Eleven Oaks development, just south of the City of Fairfax.

Staff recommended rezoning of the development from R-1 to PDH-8.

Madison Homes will contribute $9,378 per expected student to the Fairfax County School Board to be “utilized for capital improvements to schools that any students generated by the property will attend.”

One concern raised by the Braddock Land Use Committee was the effectiveness of the stormwater management of the site.

In a letter of agreement, George Mason University allowed Madison Homes to use Mason’s existing stormwater management system to handle water coming from the Eleven Oaks development.

The first option was to allow stormwater to filter into a new wet-pond that would be built as part of the Health and Human Services building planned just south of the development. As a backup, the water would be filtered into the existing Mason Pond on campus.

“Either option would be designed to handle the proposed runoff from the subject property,” read the report.

Mason and local elected officials meet to discuss new policies and projects

[Story published on Connect2Mason]

George Mason University staff and local elected officials met to provide updates on current projects between Mason and the community.

The Fairfax Campus Advisory Board, established in 2011, meets about four times a year to discuss ongoing projects and issues between Mason, the City of Fairfax and Fairfax County.

Supervisor John Cook, who represents the Braddock District on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, chairs the board. Fairfax Mayor Scott Silverthorne is vice-chair. Traci Claar, director of community relations, and Cathy Wolfe, director of campus planning, represent Mason. Members of nearby civic associations and county staff are also members.

On September 28, President Ángel Cabrera was in attendance to introduce himself to the board and discuss his ideas about future cooperation between the university and the community.

“This is your university,” Cabrera told the board. He explained that the relationship between the university and the community requires constant communication and that their goals do not have to contradict one another. He also explained that Mason has made significant contributions to the immediate community.

“World-class universities drive economic success and prosperity,” said Cabrera.

Silverthorne and Cook both expressed their eagerness for collaboration with the university and feel optimistic about the board’s role in fulfilling that goal.

“I think our work on campus drive, where we have a citizens advisory group…is a really new thing, and has turned out to be a really good thing,” said Cook. “I want to commend [Mason] staff for making that process work.” Over the past year, Mason held a series community forums with local residents while planning a new road that will be built between West Campus and the primary Fairfax campus.

“We look forward to working with you in a collaborative way,” Silverthorne said to Cabrera.

Later in the meeting, board members discussed progress with university sound policy and plans for hosting the World Police and Fire Games.

Barry Biggar, CEO of Visit Fairfax, updated the board on plans for hosting the 2015 World Police and Fire Games. The games, held every two years, are the second largest athletic event in the world, topped only by the summer Olympics.

“George Mason University was a very important element of the games, not just to put them on, but during the bidding process,” said Biggar.

Planning for the games will be an ongoing process. Currently, Mason is hosting nine events. Biggar added that current estimates predict that all of the games will bring the region $65-$100 million in “brand new wealth over ten days.”

“This is the largest event that will have ever happened in Fairfax County in one given time,” said Biggar.

The board also reviewed a draft of an official sound policy for the university.

The current draft states that amplified sound will be permitted from 7am to 10pm from Sunday to Thursday, and from 7am to 11pm from Friday to Saturday. Mason is in ongoing discussion with different departments to work out procedures for enforcing the policy.

“We’re still working with athletics on some pieces,” said Claar.

The new policy would impact students holding campus events that include live or amplified music. Before holding registered events, the event organizers will be notified of their sound restrictions during off-hours. The draft states that it does not apply to “naturally occurring sounds, such as cheering fans or construction noise.”

Claar said that the university police would most likely be the ones that implement the policy, but many of the details have yet to be planned out.

Mason hopes to pass the policy within the next month.

On October 3, Mason will hold a community forum to directly address some of the issues that surrounding residents have with university projects.

Fairfax County presents transportation funding options

As state support for local transportation begins to dry up – the county is turning to alternative forms of funding to make up for lost revenue.

Data Source: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/fcdot/cdot/funding/rankings.htm
* Indicates that the funding source is from HB3203, and can only be approved by the General Assembly

Included in these options are revenue sources from a General Assembly bill passed in 2007, called HB3202. The bill provided regional entities (such as the Northern Virginia Transportation Authortiy), the power to levy taxes and fees on residents within the entity’s organization. The bill was later struck down by the Virginia Supreme Court, citing that the General Assembly did not have the power to delegate its taxing power to different bodies.

Fairfax County listed some of the fees and taxes that would have been enacted under HB3202. These revenue sources can only be approved by the General Assembly.

The county webpage also categorizes the different funding options by household impact, however, there are no dollar values for how the HB3202 provisions would impact households.