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Reston Town Center Metro station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Proposals for several major land use changes in Reston’s transit areas are now moving forward.

The move comes after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an overhaul of Reston’s comprehensive plan last week.

The Reston-related applications submitted via the countywide Site-Specific Plan Amendment (SSPA) process were set aside in the spring as work on the plan continued.

Leanna Hush O’Donnell, director of the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development, says, now that the comprehensive plan is in place, the SSPA applications have been prioritized for review in the top tier of the county’s work program.

“Staff is in the process of developing a schedule for review as well as an inclusive community outreach plan for review of the amendments,” O’Donnell wrote in a statement. “Updates will be shared through the Comprehensive Plan Amendment listserve, our website, and social media.”

Most nominations in Reston’s transit area pushed for more residential uses in lieu of or in addition to office uses.

The Hunter Mill District received the highest number of SSPA nominations for 2022-2023. Overall, the county received 75 nominations — 36 of which were ultimately added by the Board of Supervisors to the county’s comprehensive plan amendment work program.

The SSPA process kicked off in July 2022, allowing the county to review proposed land use changes for individual sites. This was the first year to follow a revised process that allowed sites anywhere in the county to be nominated instead of alternating between north and south.

The Danor Plaza parking lot in Vienna (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Vienna’s proposed new zoning code got a critical vote of confidence last week.

At its meeting on Wednesday (Aug. 23), the Vienna Planning Commission unanimously approved a letter to the town council recommending that it adopt the latest draft of a document three years in the making, one that will guide everything from development on Maple Avenue to the amount of space a backyard deck can occupy for the foreseeable future.

“I really appreciate all the work that everyone has put into reviewing this over the last year, and staff cannot be thanked enough for the immense lift,” Planning Commission Chair Jessica Plowgian said after more than three hours of discussion. “…We would not have done any of this without all of your efforts.”

The commission’s support did come with a number of caveats, as members identified issues in the 323-page draft that they feel should be reviewed either before or shortly after the council votes on Oct. 23.

One of the biggest unresolved questions is how the town will handle parking, which has long been a challenge for residents, visitors and business owners. With a separate study of parking supply and demand already underway, the draft code makes “minimal changes” to the existing requirements, the planning commission noted in its Aug. 24 letter to the town council.

“Parking is a significant concern for [the] Planning Commissioners,” the letter said. “…Planning Commissioners requested that parking requirements be reevaluated and Chapter 18 [of the town code] be amended as soon as possible after completion of the parking study.”

The commission also suggested that the town further evaluate comments from community members on outdoor lighting standards for residential and commercial properties as well as signs, potentially by hiring a consultant.

On some sections, the commission offered more specific critiques, suggesting, for instance, that driveways for single-family houses have at least a 5-foot radius.

Several commissioners questioned whether a 30% open space requirement is sufficient for multifamily residential uses, though two were “neutral” on the issue and one thought that standard seems adequate.

The commission was also split on whether to remove an eight-seat limit on temporary outdoor dining areas that are within 60 to 75 feet of a residential property. Part of an ordinance adopted in May 2022 to allow more flexibility for outdoor dining, the cap prohibited a patio for two Church Street restaurants that had drawn noise complaints.

One of those restaurants, Blend 111, closed permanently on Aug. 12.

While a majority of planning commissioners supported removing the seating limit, two members “raised concerns about an increase in the number of tables resulting in noise complaints,” according to the letter.

A section addressing ground-floor uses in residential or mixed-use buildings provoked a strong reaction. The current draft says only that a “lobby and similar areas which serve upper-story residential uses may be located on the ground floor but may not occupy the entire ground floor.”

“That’s wholly inadequate in my view,” Commissioner Matthew Glassman said.

To ensure mixed-use residential buildings provide “meaningful commercial space open to the public on the ground floor,” the commission recommended that more than half of the ground floor be dedicated to non-residential uses and the remaining space can be used for a lobby or other amenities for residents.

Some commissioners proposed going even further and requiring 75% of the ground floor be non-residential uses.

“There does seem to be pretty strong support for this particular issue, that everybody wants at least this change, if not a stronger change to what’s there,” Plowgian said.

The Vienna Town Council will review the planning commission’s recommendations, along with almost 700 pages of public comments, during its 8 p.m. meeting tonight (Monday).

Self Storage Plus in Tysons (via Google Maps)

The storage functions offered by Self Storage Plus in Tysons weren’t meant to extend to the parking lot, the Fairfax County Department of Code Compliance (DCC) says.

The self-storage facility at 1764 Old Meadow Lane faces potentially hundreds of dollars in fines for keeping mobile storage units and other commercial vehicles in its parking lot, according to a notice of violation issued by a code compliance investigator for the county on July 26.

Self Storage Plus is seeking to fight or at least postpone the notice, stating that it opened the facility in 2020 “in good faith” under the assumption that commercial vehicle parking was permitted on the site.

“They were unaware that the storage of exterior storage units and the commercial parking of vehicles and trailers on the parking lot of the Subject Property was not in conformance with the approved proffers that govern the site,” Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley & Walsh partner Lynne Strobel wrote in an Aug. 23 appeal statement on behalf of Self Storage Plus.

According to the county’s notice, investigator Matthew Stengel found during a July 19 inspection that “exterior storage units, vehicles, and trailers [were] being stored in the parking lot” in violation of the site’s development conditions, which were approved in 2016.

The county’s Zoning Evaluation Division issued a letter on Jan. 24, 2018 confirming that the plan requires “that loading areas be fully enclosed…with no outward signs of storage bay doors, storage items or lighted hallways.”

“The use limitations further state there shall be amble [sic] circulation and parking on-site and that there must be no incidental parking and storage of trucks, trailers and/or moving vans,” the letter said.

Self Storage Plus was hit with a notice of violation for the same issue on Feb. 18, 2022. The county imposes a $200 fine for a first zoning proffer violation and $500 for each subsequent violation.

The notice directs the company to remove the vehicles from the parking lot or amend its development plan to allow the “incidental parking,” which requires the approval of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Noting that the property was previously used for self-storage by CubeSmart, Strobel says Self Storage Plus believed, based on feedback from industry consultants, that a portion could be used for off-street commercial parking, and the portable storage units were allowed as an accessory use, since they support the main storage establishment.

“Therefore, the Owners reasonably believed it was lawfully permitted to park commercial vehicles and trailers…as well as maintain exterior storage units,” Strobel wrote, arguing that the company would be unable to “effectively operate” its facility without the vehicles.

According to the appeal statement, the 2022 violation was also appealed and later voided by the Virginia Supreme Court’s strikedown of the county’s updated zoning ordinance, which got re-approved by the Board of Supervisors without significant changes on May 9.

The new appeal is intended to protect Self Storage Plus’ rights and stop any enforcement of the violation while the company conducts “additional research, investigation, and discussions with County staff.”

The company also plans to “explore possible legislative land use solutions,” such as an amendment, to legally allow the commercial vehicle and storage unit parking.

If accepted for review by the county, the appeal will go to the Board of Zoning Appeals, followed by the Board of Supervisors.

Image via Google Maps

A “crocodile passage” lantern is among the displays planned for the next Winter Lantern Festival in Tysons (courtesy Kaleido Arts & Entertainment Group)

Though it may be hard to believe on a 100-degree day, winter will come to Fairfax County again, and when it does, Kaleido Entertainment and Arts Group will be ready.

The company hopes to bring its Winter Lantern Festival back to Tysons after a buzzy and evidently successful inaugural run from Dec. 16, 2022 to Feb. 12 of this year.

For the festival’s return to the D.C. area, Kaleido is planning an even longer season that will kick off around Thanksgiving on Nov. 24 and continue through Feb. 18, according to a special permit application filed with Fairfax County on July 20.

While the previous event was allowed under a temporary special permit, the festival needs to get the Board of Zoning Appeals’ approval this time, because it will last longer than 21 days.

Like before, the event will feature hundreds of illuminated paper lanterns crafted into animals, natural and mythic scenes, and other designs. A list in the application suggests the displays will be laid out in quadrants according to four themes: ocean song, animal world, creative technology and cartoon paradise.

If approved, the festival will again be held in Lerner Town Square at Tysons II (8025 Galleria Drive). The proposed operating hours are 5-9:30 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Kaleido anticipates having 10 employees on site and 2,000 patrons, though it’s unclear whether that’s per day or over the festival’s full stay. A public relations consultant for the company didn’t return a request for comment from FFXnow by press time.

“Patrons came by cars [or Metro] from 5 pm – 9pm after work on weekends. Last year there were no reported traffic concerns or accidents,” the application’s statement of justification says. “We expect NO negative impact of traffic in and out of Tysons during the hours of operation.”

According to the statement, Tysons II property owner Lerner has agreed to provide 6,046 parking spaces for the festival at five office buildings in the development, which also encompasses Tysons Galleria.

“It is much more than needed,” the application says.

The county hasn’t officially accepted the application for review yet, so the zoning appeals board hearing doesn’t have a scheduled date.

A proposed redevelopment of Fannie Mae’s former Reston campus has once again come forward for approval (via Fairfax County)

A previously approved plan for the redevelopment of the former Fannie Mae campus in Reston is once again headed before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for a vote on an expedited timeline.

At a board meeting on Tuesday (June 28), Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn successfully passed a board matter to move the application from developer Wheelock Capital for an official vote by the board as soon as possible.

The plan includes 74 townhouses and eight two-over-two units on the 28-acre property, which is currently developed with an office building that was once home to mortgage company Fannie Mae. The building would remain undisturbed by the plan.

In a 9-1 vote, the board approved the project in August 2022, but the approval was voided when the applicant “missed a payment deadline associated with its buyout obligations under the Dulles Rail Tax District,” according to Alcorn.

“As Board members may recall, this rezoning permits the construction of townhouses in lieu of another high-rise office building on the site,” Alcorn’s board matter states. “The rezoning was negotiated extensively with the community and county staff, and if ultimately built will provide a number of environmental and public benefits.”

The applicant also received the county’s permission to process its site plans — which have already been under review for several months — concurrently with the reapproval of the overall project.

The residential units will be located on the northern end of the property. Existing access points off of American Dream Way will be realigned, and two additional access points will be added to serve the residential development.

A private road system and connections to Reston’s trail system are also proposed. A new sidewalk will be constructed along the Sunset Hills Road frontage to the property, as well as a modified intersection at Sunset Hills and American Dream Way.

While the board matter doesn’t specify a date for the vote, the county’s zoning applications database indicates that a Fairfax County Planning Commission meeting has been scheduled for Sept. 13, and a board public hearing will follow on Sept. 26.

The Reston Town Center expansion (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Fairfax County Planning Commission unanimously deferred a decision on the Reston Comprehensive Plan overhaul at a public hearing Wednesday (June 14) night.

The move — which delays a vote to June 28 — came as public testimony at the hearing centered around a challenge facing Reston: navigating growing pains as it chases a new transit-oriented future while also trying to preserve its past.

Hunter Mill District Planning Commissioner John Carter said county staff and the commission will release a new document that outlines community requests by chapter, staff responses and the commission’s decision on each item.

“We’re going to be working hard in the next couple of weeks,” Carter said.

Some residents and community organizations asked the commission to defer a vote because they needed more time to review a supplement to the plan that staff released on June 13, one day before the hearing.

“We are still pouring through the 25-page addendum,” said Lynne Mulston, president of the Reston Citizens’ Association.

Notable revisions in the addendum include a recommendation that multifamily housing be allowed anywhere in Reston’s transit station areas, not just within a half-mile of the Metro stations, and language encouraging the addition of affordable housing, not just the preservation of existing units.

Underway since 2020, the Reston Comprehensive Plan update lays out the county’s vision for the 6,750-acre area’s development, touching on everything from transportation to density recommendations for the transit station areas and village centers.

The proposed draft was shaped by county staff and a community task force convened by Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn in 2020.

Speakers overwhelmingly opposed a proposed vehicular connection between North Shore Drive and Sunset Hill Road via American Dream Way. Citing concerns about traffic safety, residents argued that the proposal would turn North Shore Drive into a thoroughfare and cut-through street.

“It would be highly unsuitable and dangerous for North Shore Drive to become a thoroughfare,” said local resident Christopher Bean.

Another resident who took issue with the proposal said he moved to the area to have a place for his daughter, who stood alongside him as he testified.

Speaking on behalf of the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce, Mike Jennings emphasized that the task force did not reach consensus on the version it produced.

Jennings said a tie vote on the initial plan was broken when an abstaining member shifted the vote in favor of the plan. He called staff’s version of the plan a “significant improvement” because it trimmed down “erroneous,” “impractical,” and “prescriptive” language.

Trimming the task force’s version of the draft plan from 180 pages to 133, county staff’s version is intended to avoid prescriptive language in specific areas, especially land use, that could conflict with countywide policies. Initially separate chapters about equity and community health were consolidated into one chapter related to “new town” elements.

The plan also covers Reston Town Center North — an area that is in limbo but is also slated for major redevelopment. The proposed draft recommends limiting residential development to 1,000 dwelling units with all new market rate units consolidated on three blocks. The remaining four blocks would have up to 150,000 square feet of nonresidential development, including civic and public uses. Read More

The Mosaic District’s roller rink in summer 2022 (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Mosaic District is hanging up its roller and ice skating plans — at least for now.

The Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) agreed Wednesday (June 14) to indefinitely defer Rink Management Services Corporation’s request for a special permit that would allow it to operate a skating rink in the Merrifield neighborhood on a seasonal basis.

This is the sixth deferral of a decision on the application since the board held a public hearing on July 13.

“This case has been a bit of a moving target,” said Brent Krasner with the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development. “…At this point, after conversations with the applicant, I think they are reevaluating their plans for these types of activities, both the winter ice skating and summer roller skating activities. Essentially, their plans are not settled yet, and so they agreed that an indefinite deferral was the best route.”

First submitted back in April 2022, the proposal from Rink Management and EDENS — the developer that owns the Mosaic District — sought to turn the Mosaic Skateland roller rink that popped up during the past two summers into an annual occurrence.

Going forward, roller skating would be provided for 90 days each year from April to the end of June. During the winter months, an ice skating rink would be provided instead.

The operator estimated that the rink would draw approximately 15,000 skaters each season, according to the application.

However, at the public hearing, community members raised concerns about noise, traffic and access to their homes, and the BZA suggested the applicants’ public outreach efforts were insufficient.

Earlier this year, county staff confirmed to the BZA that Mosaic Skateland wasn’t going to return this summer, but Rink Management and EDENS left open the possibility of ice skating. Now, that has also been taken off the table.

“If they decide they’re going to go ahead this winter, they would let us know and reactivate [the application] — or next spring for example — but at this point, they don’t have any immediate plans,” Krasner said.

A sign for Graham Park Plaza in West Falls Church (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County is looking into adjusting its signage rules to allow for brighter and bigger electronic signs.

Casey Judge with the county’s Zoning Administration Division presented the proposed changes during a Board of Supervisors land use policy committee meeting on May 16.

The changes include increasing the maximum brightness for nonresidential districts to 300 nits (a unit that measures the brightness a sign is emitting) at sunset. Current regulations require electronic signs to automatically dim to 40-100 nits at sunset.

The changes also includes requiring sign permit applicants to submit sign specifications.

In addition, the three existing application processes that the county currently has for nonresidential areas could be consolidated into one process.

“This does mean that all sign applications would go to the board for approval rather than the current [comprehensive sign plans],” which only need to be approved by the Fairfax County Planning Commission, Judge said.

Proposed modifications for electronic display signs with special exceptions include increasing the number, height, and size of freestanding signs, allowing building-mounted electronic display signs, and increasing the brightness to 600 nits.

Last May, while discussing the matter, county staff told the committee that the existing rules are old and that businesses wanted to be more competitive. Judge also suggested that easing the application process could be helpful to businesses.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, the committee’s vice chair, questioned how the county is handling the convergence of “what’s a sign and what’s a display.”

“These things that we have traditionally dealt with as signs are being used in other means, or for other purposes,” Alcorn said.

Judge said a standard has been added that focuses on traffic safety and overall placemaking effects as part of the electronic display signs.

“I do hope that that standard can help guide our staff when they’re making that analysis to ensure that we’re looking at size and location, more so than the content in making our recommendations,” Judge said.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw questioned the proposed increase from 100 to 300 nits, which he called pretty significant.

“That’s really in response to research looking at other jurisdictions that have much higher nit level limitations and it allows for those higher definition screens that we’re seeing,” Judge answered.

Judge said the county is seeking authorization and public hearings later this year.

Trees shade a local street in Tysons (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County’s parking lots and streetscapes could look a little greener.

At a land use policy committee meeting on May 16, planning staff proposed a new update to the county’s landscaping and screening ordinance — the first major change in 40 years — that would make developers add more green landscaping to more parking lots and street frontages.

For parking lots, the current ordinance requires trees to be installed at any surface parking lot with 20 spaces or more. The new ordinance could expand that requirement to any lot with 10 parking spaces and increase the amount of tree coverage from 5% to 10%.

New parking garages, meanwhile, would be required to have 10% of their top decks covered with shade, although utilizing solar canopies could lead to a reduction in that percentage.

Landscape and screening ordinance update change to parking lot coverage (via Fairfax County)

The ordinance also introduces “street frontage landscaping” — requiring developers to provide trees on private property provided they’re along private or public streets, not internal drive aisles. Single-family dwellings would be exempted.

One small but meaningful change would also adjust the types of trees seen in these green spaces, as it turns out Fairfax County’s previous specifications weren’t evergreen.

“When it comes to transitional screening a lot of waivers are applied for to use existing vegetation because they have to have 70% evergreens and that’s not common in Fairfax County,” Sara Morgan, a planner with the Department of Planning and Zoning, said. “This allows us to review [developments] on a case by case basis as we want to further encourage the use of existing vegetation, allowing you to have a mix that is different than [the ordinance] today if you retain existing vegetation.”

Similar to the zMOD update approved in 2021 — then reversed and reinstated earlier this year — county leadership said the landscaping and screening ordinance update is a good step forward on fixing some outdated code.

“It’s been 40 years since we updated these,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “I think this is overall very, very good.”

The board approved new tree canopy standards earlier this year with the hope of encouraging private developers to plant more street trees in the public right-of-way.

The Vienna Town Council discusses its zoning code overhaul at a conference session on May 8, 2023 (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Town of Vienna has set a tentative timeline for wrapping up the first overhaul of its zoning code since Richard Nixon occupied the White House.

At a May 8 conference session, the Vienna Town Council urged staff to have the rewritten code ready for adoption on Oct. 23 — its final meeting before a new council is elected on Nov. 7.

To meet that deadline, staff will present a complete draft of the new code on June 5 and schedule public hearings for July 10 and 12. Officials with the Department of Planning and Zoning had proposed waiting until late August for the public hearings, since people may be out of town during the summer.

“Staff could…use the summer break to engage with the public and educate them about the contents of the draft, so that they are more able to provide informed testimony,” Planning and Zoning Director David Levy and Deputy Director Kelly O’Brien said in a memo. “While it is likely that many people will be on vacation, staff will provide multiple opportunities both in person and online for citizens to engage when they are available.”

However, the council argued that it would prefer to hear from the public “sooner rather than later” on the update known as Code Create, whose completion was designated as a top priority for 2023.

Faced with a tight timeframe either way, council members noted that July hearings would give staff more time to incorporate the public’s feedback into the final document, and community members could still submit written comments afterwards.

“I think there’s an advantage to going out earlier, because I think I’d like to hear from the public,” Councilmember Ed Somers said.

Before spending over half an hour debating the Code Create schedule, the town council discussed potential new uses in transitional zones — which currently allow little beyond medical offices and massage therapy businesses — and how to handle the mixed-use building at 901 Glyndon Street SE.

The council was particularly split over whether to allow child care centers in transitional zones with a conditional permit. Councilmember Nisha Patel worried that the noise could drive away tenants, while Councilmember Chuck Anderson countered that having child care available in or near their office is a draw for many workers.

Council members suggested creating a zoning district specifically for 901 Glyndon, which is unique in Vienna as a condominium building with ground-floor commercial space in the middle of a single-family residential neighborhood. Town Attorney Steven Briglia warned against “grandfathering” as a “slippery slope.”

“[The building is] always going to be a square peg in a round hole,” he said.

The discussions hinted at the myriad issues that still need to be settled before that Oct. 23 deadline for Code Create, which has been underway since September 2020. The rewrite will shape the town’s future look and development, dictating everything from new zoning districts to lighting standards and bicycle parking requirements.


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