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Open Letter to Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Planned Development Housing Resolution

The Mason District Council asks the board to deny re-zoning from R-type to P-type without meeting conditions laid out in the resolution.

To Members of the Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County,

On March 22, 2012, the members of the Mason District Council voted unanimously to adopt the December 2011 Resolution on Planned Development Housing put forth by the Fairfax County Federation of Citizen Associations. This Resolution recommends that re-zoning from R-type to P-type be denied for infill projects unless certain conditions are met.

In the past year since it was determined that it was unlawful for the Board of Supervisors to grant lot width waiver exceptions, a new and disturbing trend has escalated in Fairfax County. This trend is the move away from conventional zoning to P-type zoning, specifically Planned Development Housing. This rezoning strategy is an end run around the law and, in addition, the County is improperly using amendments to the Comprehensive Plan in order to accomplish this.

This can clearly be seen in the case of Peace Valley Lane (S11-I-B1, Peace Valley Lane). The developer of this land cannot get the number of units he would like under R-type zoning, so an Out-of-Turn Amendment to the Comprehensive Plan has been designed so that he can. If this case moves to the rezoning phase, the developer will necessarily get what he wants because the Out-Of-Turn Amendment approved by the County will have afforded the road map for him.

And so I ask you the proverbial question: what comes first the chicken or the egg? Is the Comprehensive Plan amended based upon the needs and wants of the existing neighborhood, or is it amended based upon the wants of a developer? What happens first? From what I have observed, the developer wants to buy land and develop, the developer then meets with the local supervisor and the County’s Comprehensive Planners, and then Planners accommodate the developer with a range of options. These options tend to favor the developer’s wants rather than fulfill the intent of the Comprehensive Plan or heed the needs of the neighborhood. The community is outraged, but is told by the county that it is only a “concept” and that the higher density amounts will not necessarily happen. The community goes away relieved, thinking that the county would never allow such egregious infill; after all, it’s just a “concept”.

Fast forward to the actual rezoning process and what do you have? You have the developer returning with a site plan that has the highest density possible, as is the case with Willow Run Drive (RZ/FDP 2011-MA-029). The neighbors are outraged, but the developer and the county merely point to the Comprehensive Plan and say “See? Why didn’t you complain back then? It’s in the Comprehensive Plan, approved by the Board of Supervisors, so we MUST approve.” This circular logic also defines the mandated “creativity” of PDH.

“Creative” is, after all, the key requirement for the new rezoning-dejour of Fairfax County and developers alike. Mr. Lawrence of the Planning Commission said that the point of the creativity in PDH is to weave the new development into the fabric of the established neighborhood. But I wonder, if you create “buffers” that cut it off from the existing neighborhoods, if you create one entrance/exit that cuts it off from the existing neighborhood, and if you mandate a separate homeowners association that cuts it off from the existing neighborhoods, I ask you: How is this creative weaving? How is this NOT tearing the very fabric of the existing neighborhood?

And yet, the neighbors are told diligently and dutifully by the county representatives, that rezoning to PDH is a good thing and that’s it’s all about the tradeoff: Sure, you give up having these new houses in your neighborhood built on large lots as your house is, and you give up limiting the number of houses to the standard required by conventional zoning regulations in your neighborhood, but hey, look what you get: Buffers (that won’t hide towering new houses on tiny lots); green space (which you now have to share with everyone else); restored streams (which does not solve the stormwater nightmare that you know is coming); an HOA that gets to run the stormwater system (which is directing the water down to the existing homes), and that makes sure people are parking in their garages; a walking path and a few benches. With R-TYPE zoning you get nothing. Really? There are no requirements and regulations under R zoning? The stormwater does not have to be improved so as to not make worse the situation? The developer is going to plant NO trees to improve the appearance of the site? The developer is not going to preserve any existing trees? The natural buffers created by the required larger lot sizes won’t suffice? The parking won’t be ample so that the HOA garage police are not proffered? In short, if you believe the county, PDH is necessary because the developer who builds under conventional zoning will make as unattractive a development as he possibly can, while assuming that it will appeal to perspective buyers.

Well, perhaps the neighbors would rather pitch in and donate a few benches and trees than have so many houses crammed onto a small piece of land. Maybe they would rather take their chances with far less impermeable space and the regulations which are in place with regards to stormwater runoff. Maybe they would rather not exchange the severe alterations of their neighborhood “fabric” for stream restoration. Maybe they want to give up the mighty proffers for less traffic and less parking headaches. Maybe they don’t think it’s the job of Fairfax County to police people’s garages if the HOA doesn’t feel up to it. Maybe they don’t care if the developer is going to pay off the school system and VDOT. Maybe they just want what they bought and still pay for with their taxes: their existing neighborhood! Maybe they just want their representatives to look out for their best interest.

This system is broken. This system does not work for the community at large; it works for the developer and the county, but not for her constituents. This is true across the board for all PDHs that are being forced upon existing neighborhoods; but it is particularly true of the smaller acreage PDH’s which will stick out like sore thumbs when they are plopped into the existing neighborhoods, and will have small, ineffective and underfunded HOA’s incapable of dealing with the stormwater maintenance and other burdens placed on them. Please heed the call of your citizenry and stop the egregious infill and all the headaches that come with it.

On behalf of the members of the MDC, we respectfully request that you deny re-zoning from R-type to P-type unless the conditions laid out in the resolution exist.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Kate Sriwardene

President, Wilburdale Civic Association

Land Use Chair, Mason District Council

www.masondistrict.org

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