Residential Studios Put on Hold

Residential Studios Put on Hold

Supervisors establish committee, plan additional public outreach.

At the recommendation of Chairman Sharon Bulova (D-At-Large) and Supervisor Michael Frey (R-Sully), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Sept. 24 deferred its Nov. 20 public hearing on a proposed residential studios (RSUs) amendment to conduct additional community outreach.

The board also established a Planning Commission Residential Studios Committee.

“It is important that the county hear from the various stakeholders affected by the proposed residential studios amendment,” Bulova said.

“The Planning Commission’s Residential Studios Committee will provide an engagement process with the goals of addressing and resolving questions and concerns associated with the RSU amendment. I encourage residents to participate in the process,” Bulova added.

ON JULY 30—in a move designed to increase affordable housing options for working-class individuals—the board unanimously voted to authorize a public hearing on a proposed zoning ordinance amendment regarding residential studio units (RSUs) that would permit RSU use in various residential, commercial and industrial districts by special exception or in all planned development districts.

“There is a tremendous need for housing at all income levels in Fairfax County,” Chairman Sharon Bulova said after the July 30 vote. “Permitting residential studios is an excellent way to accommodate lower income rental units and provide more housing choices for our residents. RSUs can be a great tool for providing efficiency apartments for our younger entry level workers, for seniors and others who may not need or want a lot of space.”

In the past 40 years, Fairfax County has become one of the wealthiest counties in the nation. As land prices soared, the creation of low to moderate priced housing plummeted.

For several years, county officials have grappled with housing options that will aid efforts to end homelessness, accommodate the area’s aging single population, and increase affordable housing for a workforce earning less than 60 percent of the area median income (AMI).

Donna Pesto, the county’s senior assistant to the zoning administrator, said the proposal would not change the building codes, and would apply to rental units only.

Under the proposal, Pesto said there could be no more than 75 residential studio units in a building and a minimum of 80 percent of units have to be affordable to low-income earners, those making about $45,000 per year or less. The maximum square footage for the units would be 500 square feet, plus a bathroom and kitchen.

“As parts of the county continue to urbanize, higher densities can be achieved, which makes the inclusion of more affordable housing more practical,” Pesto said.

Pesto said the standards for allowing RSUs were “pretty stringent.”

BUT PUBLIC REACTION to the proposal has been less than enthusiastic. Despite assurances from county planners that RSUs would not be developed in ways that would dampen property values, many residents and homeowners groups voiced opposition to the proposal.

In order to address community concerns members of the Planning Commission have suggested a process for encouraging engagement in changes to the advertised ordinance.

The committee will provide opportunities for detailed consideration of the Zoning Ordinance Amendment by Planning Commissioners, citizens, and other stakeholders through five scheduled committee meetings. All meetings will be open to the public and will allow opportunities for discussion.

The Planning Commission will continue to conduct Work Sessions scheduled for Sept. 25 and Oct. 2 at the Fairfax County Government Center.

Following the Work Sessions, the Residential Studios Committee will convene in late October with further meetings in November, December and January, and a public hearing in late February. The public hearing currently slated for Nov. 19 will be rescheduled.