Opinion: Commentary: zMOD Approved at Fairfax County Board of Supervisors

What happened? The Board approved zMOD, a wholesale change to our zoning ordinance for the first time in over 40 years. This process included over 100 meetings for Board members and the community. It was well past time that our ordinance was updated, modernized, and made more user-friendly.

Why? The goal of zMOD was to create a cleaner and more straightforward document that is more accessible to the general public in understanding the County's zoning ordinance.

Anything else? The Board of Supervisors made adjustments to, in my opinion, address many of the concerns. This was a major undertaking, but most community concern was over only three changes to the ordinance.

  1. Accessory Dwelling Units (ALUs): ALUs allow people to house additional residents in their existing home while still adhering to County regulations, so long as no exterior changes to the home are made and parking can be accommodated. With our previous ordinance, permitting for ALUs was financially unobtainable for most people (costing over $16,000 a permit) and only allowed with residents over the age of 55. zMod allows residents the flexibility to make changes within their own home, while protecting neighborhoods, simplifying the process, and lowering the cost. Homeowners take on tenants to offset their mortgage, or help them earn some extra income during hard times. To be approved, a homeowner must reside at the property with an ALU, they may not be distant landlords. ALUs will also be important to meeting our affordable housing goals because increased housing availability helps lower the cost of housing.

  2. Home Based Businesses (HBBs): We also worked to simplify the process and lower the permitting costs associated with establishing HBBs. HBBs are an important part of the County's economy and in the midst of the pandemic, I'm pleased we can find more avenues to empower residents to open a business, but still follow County regulations. For example, the Board did agree to restrict administrative approval to HBBs that generate no customers coming to the home, except for instructional activities. Other HBBs would still need to go through a public hearing process.

  3. Flags: I do not support regulating the American flag. After listening to the concerns of the community we have reevaluated the original staff recommendations. The primary changes voted on will allow all homes to have 25-foot flag polesĀ  and 60-foot flag poles for all other areas. Should residents wish to have taller flagpoles, they can apply for a special permit. The amendment also includes no minimum flag size, and the limit for flagpoles was kept at the current maximum of three flagpoles.

It's also worth noting that all of the above changes are in alignment with virtually every jurisdiction around us in our region and in some cases throughout the state.

Finally, the Board instructed County staff to monitor and evaluate ALUs and HBBs in the County, with a report to be prepared for the Board in 18 months of the effective date to ensure compliance with County regulations.

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