Editor's Note: The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is holding a public hearing today, Tuesday, May 22 at 4 p.m. at the Fairfax County Government Center on the Proposed Plan Amendment for S11-I-B1 Peace Valley Lane.
To Members of the Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County,
The journey of the neighbors affected by the Peace Valley Lane development to this point has been a long one. I have only joined in this in the past six months, but have been overwhelmed at the process and dismayed at the consequences.
I was at first astounded that an Out-of-Turn Amendment was being considered at all. The requirements of an emergency situation in order to do so clearly do not exist. If you look at the newly released “State of the Plan,” Appendix IX, there have only been 48 of these type of “Board Authorized” Amendments from 2000-2010. If you look closer at the smaller parcels in the 1 to 3 acre range, there appears to be no amendment which rezones the parcel to a higher density residential zoning classification. If fact, all eight of such amendments appear to involve commercial redevelopment.
Further, the lack of clarity with regard to the amendment language has been outrageous. At the end of the Mason District Land Use Committee meeting in March 2012, no one was clear as to what language had been voted on because there was some vague language which the Department of Planning and Zoning thought they might put in there. Further, that language was not finalized or in printed language until the afternoon before the original Planning Commission Meeting in April. But there were yet more changes drafted by Janet Hall, which Staff initially said they weren’t supporting. In point of fact, Clara Johnson stated to me that the DPZ would not support the changes made by Janet Hall… until they did a few days later. The changes made were so disparate (e.g. cutting off an opportunity for analysis at the rezoning stage of access from the site to Colmac via publicly owned land) and the community became so outraged, that Janet Hall postponed the Planning Commission meeting for a week. Then, no one was given the chance to speak and the Planning Commission passed the new amendment language with no discussion whatsoever.
Exasperated yet? Well, I am past that point. Nevertheless, a few facts about this Out of Turn Amendment need to be considered.
As a general point, I would first like to reiterate my stance and the stance of the members of the Mason District Council, that with few exceptions, the best rule of thumb for rezoning considerations on small infill residential parcels is to maintain the current density. In this case it is R-3. While one may argue that rezoning is not the topic at hand, in fact the amendment as it stands pushes this very point. It is, essentially, driving the (very willing) hand of the developer to rezone to P-type zoning. This Out of Turn Amendment would tailor-make a rezoning request to nearly the exact specifications that this owner/ developer has told residents that he wants. This developer has made no secret of the fact that he wants at least seven houses on this 1.89 acre parcel, that he intends to put in a private road (not a less expensive public road) and that he wants his private road to access Route 7 even though a much shorter (less costly to maintain for the new HOA) private road could be put in if the private road were over the public right of way to Colmac.
Even though the “theory” is that a developer “could” still develop by right, he will not do so and everyone knows it. By right he can put a maximum five houses on the land under the current zoning. The five houses would still be a lucrative investment for the developer, it would save the integrity of the neighborhood, it would ease storm-water concerns and it would help set a fair standard in the County. The developer would still want to make this an attractive piece of property, plant and save trees and adhere to the law with regard to conventional zoning. This alternative is fairer than the new push to rezone to higher densities and to further increase lot yield at the higher densities through P-type zoning.
Yes, yes I know, there is “no guarantee that once this goes to the zoning phase that the greatest density will be approved in re-zoning.” Nevertheless, one cannot build 7 houses (which is the minimum this developer wants) if rezoned under conventional zoning (it appears only 6 houses will fit because of the small acreage –1.89 acres—and the R-4 lot width requirements). And rezoning to an R-4 (instead of PDH) is, as a practical matter, precluded anyway because of Ms. Hall’s NEW amendment language requiring that the vehicular access only go out to Route 7. Why? Because the zoning ordinance (ZO 11-301) says R-4 requires a public road while a PDH does not. Yet the owners of the land that must be used in order to get to Route 7 (the so called “Section B” of Peace Valley Lane) have already told the developer and staff they will NOT sell the land in order allow the developer to put in a public road. So the effect of the new amendment (Hall’s April 18th language) allows the developer to get his private road to Route 7 without having to address the fact in the rezoning phase that a shorter private drive out to Colmac might be more cost effective for his new home purchasers and might produce less stormwater runoff than the longer road to Route 7 required under the plan amendment.
As such, under this amendment there is no chance of weaving the new development into the existing fabric of the neighborhood. They will be an island unto themselves, carrying the burden of stormwater maintenance and road maintenance. It is a costly burden for seven homeowners to be sure and, as we have seen in the past with the Degroff/UPIA property on Backlick Road, there is little recourse for the neighbors (in the Degroff case the neighbors are Annandale Acres and Wilburdale) when these substandard choices begin to destroy their property value.
What can we then say? We can say that this Peace Valley Lane Out of Turn Amendment needs to be rejected outright; that the process has been distorted; that the Amendment is carefully crafted to prejudge the highest density outcome permitted under 3- 4 du/ac at rezoning; that the outcome sets an alarming precedent; and that it will eventually mar the existing, well-established neighborhood and the value inherent there.
President, Wilburdale Civic Association
Land Use Chair, Mason District Council