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The Waiting Game

Proposed zoning amendment, Riverside water issues are not imminent dangers.

The Great Falls Citizens Association got a morale boost during its meeting Tuesday night after learning a proposed zoning amendment has, for all intents and purposes, been taken off the table for the foreseeable future.

A proposed zoning ordinance amendment (ZOA) that was scheduled to be voted on by the county’s planning and zoning commission last week was tabled following a public work session last Monday night to discuss residents’ concerns about the amendment, which would have made it easier for the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to grant variances and special-use permits throughout Fairfax County.

“The pendulum had swung too far in the opposite direction,” said John Ulfelder, a member of the GFCA, who attended the meeting. “There was also word that legislation would be introduced to overturn the Cochran decision to put the BZA back in business. The county tried to stop that from happening in Fairfax County with a zoning ordinance amendment that had tighter standards than previously in place but not as strict as what Cochran dictated,” he said.

The Cochran decision, handed down by the Virginia Supreme Court last year, upheld the concept of the variance but set a fairly high standard for the making of one. In order for the BZA to approve a zoning variance or special permit, the zoning ordinance has to interfere with all reasonable uses of the property.

“If the legislation is passed in the General Assembly, the focus may shift in Fairfax County onto the new legislation, not the zoning amendment,” Ulfelder said. “The bottom line is, the Planning Commission will move to ‘re-advertise’ and alter the ZOA and tighten the proposal to give it more structure. The reality is, we’ll have to wait and see what happens in Richmond because anything the county does will have to be in step with Richmond.”

“ANY NEW LEGISLATION would be enacted in July, so that gives us some time to work with” if any zoning changes are made, said board member Cathy Mayes.

“The lot width issue for us is one where it’s not a density issue, it’s about lot yield,” Ulfelder said. “We’re concerned about fences, which includes walls. There are also setbacks. That’s more of a problem in some smaller lot zones, we don’t get a lot of variances out here.”

“We don’t have people putting on additions here, we have developers coming in and tearing down a house and building a new one, not additions,” said GFCA president David Olin.

Another area of concern was the lighting at the newly opened Bank of America branch on Walker Road near Georgetown Pike.

“The lighting has created a whole different environment there,” Olin said. “It makes the whole area look like a football field.”

“I thought they agreed to make architecture in line with the architecture of the library,” said board member Mary Anger.

“I don’t recall we had any concern about the lighting,” said board member Joan Barnes. “It was a basic confirmation that the lighting would come after.”

Olin said he would check with the county lighting ordinance to see if the lights and their brightness were in line with the county’s regulations.

The subject of the water line at Riverside Manor came up again, with discussions of how the issue has “developed into an issue outside a 12-inch pipe,” Olin said. “There are a growing number of concerns, and people have taken this to heart. Not just the demerits of a 12-inch pipeline, but to the comprehensive plan.”

A coalition has been formed, he said, to support and preserve the natural area in Great Falls. “One of the first objectives was to exhaust all administrative resources before moving ahead to oppose the pipeline in order to support the Comprehensive Plan,” he said.

Members of this group had approached Dranesville District supervisor Joan DuBois to see if there would be a “door open” to discussing the water-line project. “She warmly welcomed the group for the discussion. We’d hoped she’d support us in our efforts, and she said she’d go to the planning commission if she has the authority to do so on our behalf. It was all we could ask for,” Olin said.

The board agreed to offer up to $500 for administrative supplies and services to allow the coalition to continue their work “in a nonconfrontational manner” against the water line.