Have a Say in 'Big-Box' Retail

Have a Say in 'Big-Box' Retail

Fairfax County is proposing a zoning-ordinance amendment to regulate retail uses larger than 80,000 square feet. And the public is invited to comment on it during a special workshop on this issue.

It will be held next Tuesday, Feb. 27, at 7 p.m., in rooms 4 and 5 of the county Government Center. This past Tuesday night, At-Large Planning Commissioner Jim Hart explained the matter to the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA) Land-Use Committee.

CURRENTLY, he said, businesses 80,000 square feet and larger may be built by right — without needing permission from the county — in certain commercial districts. Examples, said Hart, would be stores such as the Price Club, Wal-Mart, Target and Wegmans.

But county staff is recommending such large businesses be subject to a special-exception permit before they could be constructed. Said Hart: "The driving force behind this is that, at a certain size, you're impacting the surroundings — especially when next to residential [areas]."

He said citizens living nearby such businesses are often concerned about lights that are too bright or outdoor storage that's excessive or ugly in appearance. "The special-exception permit would be a way of mitigating some of these impacts," said Hart. "We don't have to do it fast; we want to do it right. And we're not going to do it if the county attorney doesn't approve."

WFCCA's Ted Troscianecki said that, "From industry's standpoint, we're adding an extra layer of public comment and scrutiny to it. But from a citizen's standpoint, anything 80,000 to 120,000 square feet is terribly invasive; so if it would get more input, as a citizen, I'd say, 'Let's go!'"

"We didn't have a lot of these big-box uses when the ordinance was written," said Hart. "But now we do, and they have parking, lighting and stormwater impacts."

Judy Heisinger, of the Bull Run Civic Association, said the ordinance amendment would also allow the public to "comment on the architecturals." The WFCCA then unanimously recommended approval of the amendment. It goes to the Planning Commission on Feb. 28.