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County considers standardizing process for waiving developer street light requirements

A streetlight on Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) in Tysons (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County is exploring ways to formalize its process for approving street light waivers that are typically required for some developments.

At a land use committee meeting on Jan. 30, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors expressed support for clarifying and elaborating upon the county’s current processes.

Currently, street lights are required for site and subdivision plans, typically along existing and proposed right-of-way and at intersections if they are along Virginia byways or larger lot subdivisions. Developers can request waivers, but the county doesn’t specify when they should be granted.

The formalized policy is intended to create an objective and transparent decision-making process for the director of Fairfax County Land Development Services (LDS) to consider waiver requests.

“This is proposing criteria for what the director will consider in evaluating those type of waiver requests,” Jerry Stonefield, an engineer for LDS, said at the meeting.

Specifically, the director would evaluate existing conditions, the design of the intersection and street, pedestrian activity and nearby uses, collision and crime data, and environmental considerations. But at least one street light at each intersection will still be required.

Board members said they were supportive of the change, which encourages transparency.

“I think it’s great to put some standards in,” Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith said.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw encouraged staff to work with the county’s health department on the issue. He said the lack of street lights is one of the key drivers of crashes involving pedestrians.

However, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity said he was unclear what problem the county was attempting to solve.

“I’m worried about adding cost and time to a process that’s already expensive,” he said.

Stonefield said in the a small number of cases, the county ran into some problems justifying why street lights should or should not go in based on its current requirements, which provide scant criteria for evaluation.

The county has received between 80 and 90 street light waiver requests over 20 years, according to Stonefield.

Board Chairman Jeff McKay said that number was important because it demonstrates that the policy change covers an “extreme outlier.”

Staff will now consider implementing the changes after a virtual open house and official board consideration at a meeting date that has not yet been determined.

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