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Fairfax County is proposing amendments to the Planned Residential Mixed-Use (PRM) and Planned Development Commercial (PDC) zoning districts that would have a dramatic effect on future projects. Responding to comprehensive planning guidance for increased density and mixed-use projects in Transit Station Areas, Commercial Revitalization Areas and Commercial Revitalization Districts, the proposed changes would allow projects to achieve greater densities and facilitate walkable, urban projects.

Chief among the proposed changes is increasing the allowed density in the PRM and PDC districts. If the Board of Supervisors adopts the changes, projects within Transit Station Areas and Commercial Revitalization Areas or Districts could receive up to 5.0 FAR at the Board’s discretion. Notably, however, the Board could limit projects to the densities stated in the comprehensive planning guidance for a particular site or area. Related changes include eliminating requirements for increased open-space and unique design features and adding provisions specifically permitting parking reduction requests.

These amendments are proposed for public hearings in November and December of 2015.

Image courtesy of La Citta Vita

On Saturday, July 18, the County Board approved the Retail Action Plan by a vote of 4 to 1, with direction to further amend some facets of the proposed plan. Board Member Libby Garvey voted against the Plan.

During a rather extensive discussion which focused a great deal on the feedback that Board Members and Staff received calling for more flexibility within the Plan, the Board ultimately decided to broaden the “red” category to permit more uses. Many critics of the Plan believed the red category was too restrictive. The use category of Services and Repairs will now also be permitted within the red category.

The Board also voted to incorporate the Process document released by AED within the Plan itself to help aid Developers and the Board in applying the Plan to future and existing site plans. This document, originally requested by Chairwoman Hynes at one of the working sessions, was designed to aid the analysis of a site plan when there were other conflicting policy documents. In essence, the Process document helps to demonstrate when the retail action plan may stand up to or yield to existing policy documents like sector plans and the like.

The Arlington Economic Development staff will be updating the Plan to incorporate the latest revisions made by the Board. There was no timeline specified as to when that may be final, however, the Plan has been approved.

In addition to approval, the Board decided a periodic review of the plan was needed, as retail trends change quickly. With this end in mind, they requested that the Plan be reviewed on a periodic, ongoing basis.

For our previous coverage of the Retail Action Plan, take a look at our original postupdate one and update two.

Original image courtesy of Brett VA – changes made

The debate about the new Retail Action Plan ("The Plan") continued earlier this month as the Board held another work session to discuss the progress on ongoing efforts to update the Plan.

Much of the discussion focused on the so called "red streets" within the Plan. These streets are designated for pure retail uses, including: retail sales, food and drink establishments and entertainment establishments exclusively. Further, under the new plan the red streets would require certain design standards be met both internally and externally to the first floor of any building constructed or redeveloped on a red street in order to permit a retail use.

On April 22, 2015, Jill Griffin of Arlington Economic Development shared with NAIOP the progress being made on the update to the Arlington County Retail Plan (the “Retail Plan”). Following the County Board work session in January, the Retail Plan has undergone some further refinements. The number one theme which emerged during the County Board work session was “flexibility,” as the Board felt it was critical that the Retail Plan be able to adapt to fast-changing trends in retail.

Taking that to heart, Ms. Griffin explained that the draft Retail Plan was reorganized in hopes of making it more user-friendly and the six broad principles of retail (as defined in the plan) remained at the core of the policy.

Court houseRecently, the Virginia Supreme Court clarified how property owners appealing adverse zoning determinations must style their case and who must be named as a party to such a proceeding.

In Frace v. Johnson, the Virginia Supreme Court held that the landowner had not properly appealed an adverse zoning determination to the Fairfax Circuit Court where she failed to name the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors as a party in the petition and did not serve the petition on the Board. Instead, following Virginia Code § 15.2-2314, she styled her petition as required by the statute, then served a copy of her petition on the Chair of the Board of Zoning Appeals within the 30-day limitation. The Fairfax County Zoning Administrator moved to dismiss the petition, because it did not name the Board of Supervisors as a party to the petition within the 30-day limitation.

Rainbow over Arlington, VirginiaThe Arlington County Board recently approved, with a few exceptions, the proposed amendments to the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance. The amendments to Articles 1-18 and Appendices A and B, to incorporate a use classification system; update use tables and definitions; update use standards, including new standards for short term uses and accessory uses; allow off-site parking for day care uses; allow by-right interior repairs and alterations to nonconforming buildings and structures in R-districts; and incorporate other minor updates throughout the Ordinance to codify administrative practices, increase clarity and consistency and correct errors, were unanimously approved.

On January 20, during a special work session open to the public, the County Board considered updates to the Arlington County Retail Action Plan (the “Retail Plan"). County Board members met with Arlington Economic Development staff, the Arlington Retail Task Force of the Economic Development Commission and members of the Planning Commission. In the audience were members of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and the local Business Improvement Districts.

The discussion centered on the role of the Retail Plan going forward, including the Plan’s overall vision, principals and policy.

Contentious land use approvals often result in lawsuits, which, even when unsuccessful, can lead to costly delays for developers. In the recent case styled In Re: November 20, 2013 Decision of the Board of Zoning Appeals of Fairfax County, the Fairfax County Circuit Court threw out one such legal challenge by homeowners to a controversial Zoning Administrator determination that the Board of Supervisors could approve a proposed storage facility by The Girl Scout Counsel of the Nation’s Capital (“GSC”) in conjunction with its special exception application to increase the occupancy of Camp Crowell in Oakton, Virginia. On appeal by nearby homeowners, the Board of Zoning Appeals reversed the Zoning Administrator. However, the circuit court then held that the BZA decision was void because the homeowners lacked standing to appeal the Zoning Administrator’s determination in the first place.

Legislation proposed in the Virginia House of Delegates would give the City of Fairfax specific authority to adopt an affordable housing ordinance offering bonus development density in projects that provide an affordable housing component. Legislation at the state level is necessary, because under Virginia’s Dillon Rule a locality has only those powers that are expressly granted, those that can be implied from an express power and those that are essential and indispensable to the locality’s functions. Under the proposed legislation, the City of Fairfax could then move to adopt an amendment to its zoning ordinance that would allow bonus density in exchange for affordable housing. This would help solve an issue that recently arose in two City of Fairfax projects, where the City encountered redevelopment proposals and sought affordable housing contributions as part of the projects.

Although obviously based upon sound legal principles, it was still surprising to find out that the Supreme Court held in Ligon v. County of Goochland that whistleblower protections for county employees against retaliatory firings under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act ("VFATA") were barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity.  As many of our readers know, the doctrine of sovereign immunity gives immunity to the Commonwealth, as well as localities as political subdivisions of the Commonwealth, from liability for damages and from suits to restrain governmental action or to compel such actions (such as tort liability for actions or omissions of a county's agents and employees).  However, while the VFATA was likely intended to create protection for the Commonwealth's employees from retaliatory discharge for reporting corruption and fraudulent behavior, the Supreme Court found that the plain language of the statute failed to explicitly include retaliatory discharge necessary for it to waive its sovereign immunity.  So basically, a corrupt county employee can fire a whistleblower, and the whistleblower can't sue the county to get his job back or for damages.