At the Jan. 24 meeting of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (BOS), Chairman Sharon Bulova handed the gavel to Vice Chairman Penelope Gross (D-Mason District), and proceeded to utilize a “Chairman’s Initiative” to introduce a “Board Matter” of her own. Beginning this month, Bulova will host a “Community Council on Land Use Engagement.”
At the meeting, Bulova said county residents receive, or have at their disposal, “an amount of information so voluminous as to be overwhelming.” She said that the supervisors and county staff sometimes hear from citizens that they were unaware of a pending decision, or complained that a decision was already made before they knew about it or had the opportunity to make their opinions known. This reaction from Fairfax County residents seems to come up most often in the area of land use, where decisions made by the board could have the most “direct impact on their community and their neighborhoods.”
Bulova hopes that bringing together an ad hoc group consisting of county officials and members of the public to discuss the methods, means and types of communications on the subject will result in a “better informed public who feel well-served.”
“My goal is to convene a group with a diversity of thought and experience.” — Sharon Bulova, Chairman, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
THE PLAN is for approximately five meetings, with a goal of producing a set of recommendations to present to the board on ways in which the county can improve its outreach on the development and land use process. “Although,” said Bulova, “communication is communication and I am sure we can learn things that can be applied to other subject matters across the system and applicable to all of our districts.”
The chairman added that she, and the council, would remain respectful of the systems already in place for such communication by each individual supervisor. “There are approximately 110,000 residents in each district. Their supervisor is their duly elected official and we will be respectful of that position and that relationship.”
Bulova said the council is an additional means of ensuring that communication to the stakeholders is conducted in the most efficient way by “going directly to the source.” The Community Council would also be designed to coordinate with, and complement the implementation of recommendations from the land use process review of 2015 which resulted in the Fairfax First project and are currently in progress.
The initiative was questioned by a few of the supervisors. At the meeting, Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) responded that he hoped the board would not be getting “another set of 50-100 ideas that we push on our staff. Our process [on land use and development] is already too slow.”
Herrity also expressed his concern that the council could “lead to further delays and additional burdens on business planning. In the Springfield District we engage our citizens early in the land use process so they have the opportunity to provide input which allows applications to be processed in a timely manner.”
Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins suggested that since the issue was communication, that perhaps it should be referred to the Office of Public Affairs, but Bulova answered that the council was a chairman’s initiative, not a staff initiative. “This is an opportunity for direct interaction with our stakeholders.”
Gross indicated her approval of the initiative, but called for a glossary or “some sort of dictionary of land use and zoning terms and acronyms” before any meeting. She admitted that the terms were hard enough for the board and county staff to keep straight. “That would be a good start in improving communications.”
Before taking back the gavel and resuming her role as chairman, Bulova asked that each board member provide a list of persons who might be interested in serving on the council, encouraging them to look beyond just those who have experience in the land use process. “My goal is to convene a group with a diversity of thought and experience,” she said.
THE FIRST MEETING will be held on Monday, Feb. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Fairfax County Government Center. Bulova has prepared a draft syllabus for the meetings and plans that the first two sessions include tutorials on the history of planning and zoning and community outreach in the county, as well as a Land-Use 101 session that explains the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance that governs development in the area.
The meetings are open to the public, although there will be no opportunity for public commentary by spectators to the meeting. Residents interested in being on the council or learning more about the meetings and the process should contact their district supervisor’s office.