When the Board of Supervisors considered language last spring for advertising a Residential Studio Unit (RSU) amendment, there was very pointed discussion about whether to include RSUs in lower density residential districts. The draft ordinance language would provide for small, efficiency-style, rental apartments, predominantly for low-income persons, and the use would be allowed by Special Exception in most districts. Ultimately, the Board decided to include all zoning categories in the public hearing advertisement, so we could hear from the community.
And hear, we did! While there is sizeable support for the RSU concept overall, there is deep-seated opposition to allowing them as a use in lower-density residential districts, or single family detached neighborhoods. Some residents are very concerned, even angry, that the draft RSU ordinance, as currently drafted, would exacerbate overcrowding in some areas, and dramatically change the character of their neighborhoods.
The Planning Commission’s formal consideration of the RSU amendment was postponed from this fall until next spring, so that its specially-designated RSU committee could conduct additional outreach in the community. A number of community meetings, both county-sponsored and privately sponsored, have been held to gather additional input for the draft proposal. While the “uniformity requirement” in Virginia Code and the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution that relate to housing ordinances must be adhered to, the proposed amendment can be modified to eliminate its use in the lower residential districts, including single family detached neighborhoods.
At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the Board adopted my motion, co-sponsored by Chairman Sharon Bulova, to concur with the RSU committee’s recommendation to eliminate the lower residential districts for consideration of RSU development. County staff will provide the Planning Commission with language that revises provisions for RSUs, and will continue to work on related issues, such as code enforcement, parking, street access, occupancy, and other standards.
In 2012, Fairfax County had just over 400,000 housing units: 194,500 detached (single family), 99,500 attached (townhouses), and 114,500 multifamily (condos and apartments). Only 1391 efficiency apartments were in the mix overall. The RSU amendment is consistent with the Board’s effort to end homelessness, facilitate the 50+ Plan that focuses on the needs of an aging single population, and increase affordable housing for a workforce earning less than 60 percent of the average median income.
While the rapid pace of growth in Fairfax County has slowed from what we experienced 30 or 40 years ago, the desire of people to live, work, play, learn, and worship here has not. Ensuring that everyone has opportunities for success should be an important priority for neighbors, newcomers and long established alike. Housing choice is part of that dream.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.