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County hones in on changing housing policy near Dulles flight path

The proposed airport noise policy addresses areas in blue in the Dulles International Airport noise contours map (via Fairfax County)

Fairfax County planning officials are honing in on a proposal to allow new residential projects to move forward as part of its airport noise policy.

Changes to the airport noise policy would allow housing in roughly 2,300 acres of the Sully District — largely around Chantilly — to be exposed to higher levels of airplane noise than currently allowed.

The proposal, which was discussed at a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors land use committee meeting on Tuesday (March 15), allows new residential uses between the 60 and 65 Day-Night Average Sound Level (DNL) airport noise contours. DNL is the average sound level of one day adjusted to account for the more intrusive impact of noise during the night.

Staff emphasized that the proposal would impact a small portion of the county, which is developed with stable residential areas, parkland, and public facilities.

“It would impact a very limited area,” county planner Kelly Atkinson said.

Barbara Byron, director of the Department of Planning and Development, emphasized that anyone seeking to build a residential development in the area would still need the county’s approval for a site-specific comprehensive plan amendment.

Noise contours are graphical representations of projected noise exposure levels linked to airports. The contours referenced by the county are developed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

The county plans to pursue other checks and balances as part of housing policy, staff said.

For example, studies documenting expected noise impacts will be conducted during the development review process. Noise levels should also be managed by selecting construction materials and standards that ensure noise levels within living spaces do not exceed 45 adjusted decibels.

Other steps include post-development noise studies and transparent notification of potential noise-related issues in purchasing agreements and marketing materials.

The board kickstarted the study process in July 2020 when it approved considering an amendment to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan to allow residential uses in the noise contour areas.

The proposal heads to the Fairfax County Planning Commission for a public hearing on May 18, followed by consideration by the board on June 28.

Staff concluded a public outreach period for the proposal, including discussions with local land use committees, the Airports Advisory Committee, and MWAA.

They noted that the change is consistent with land use policies across most jurisdictions with international airports across the country.

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