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High-Rise Solution

Planning Commission endorses affordable high rises.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission approved a set of recommendations that could lead to adding affordable housing into high-rise buildings.

The recommendations form a framework, but do not actually mandate any changes or do anything that would create more affordable housing.

Under current county policy, developments of more than 50 units must include at least 12 percent of these units for people of limited means. Developers are then permitted to build additional market-rate houses to make up for selling the affordable units at a loss.

However, this law does not apply to buildings over four stories in height. Since most large developments in the county are going up, and not out, this means fewer and fewer affordable units are being generated.

A "high-rise affordability panel" has been working on ways to address this issue. Commissioner Rodney Lusk (Lee), who has been leading a joint committee made up of planning commissioners and members of the task force, relayed the findings to the commission during its Thursday, April 19 meeting.

They recommended asking developers to build affordable units, and so-called workforce units in their high-rise and mixed-use projects.

For purposes of high-rises, this would include units affordable to people making up to 120 percent of the area median income. The median is $94, 500, so 120 percent is $113,400 per year.

They would like to see 12 percent of the units be made affordable, and to allow a bonus density at a ratio of one bonus unit per affordable unit built.

The panel also recommends allowing the construction of affordable housing in areas zoned for commercial or industrial use, either by a Special Exception — which would require approval of the Board of Supervisors — or by right.

The Planning Commission endorsed these recommendations unanimously.

Now they move to the Board of Supervisors, which should hear of them formally in the next few weeks. If the supervisors agree with the findings, they will likely need to adopt a series of changes to the county’s Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance to implement the changes.

The specific changes have not yet been drafted. Once they have been, any change would need to come before the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors for public hearings, and final approval by the board.

The process of making the amendments would take at least months and possibly much longer to fully implement.

— Ari Cetron