Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

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Payday and car title lending stores may soon be regulated by Fairfax County. Back in 2013, in response to requests from Supervisors Jeff McKay (D-Lee), Gerry Hyland (D-Mt. Vernon), and myself, the Board of Supervisors directed county staff to examine existing regulatory and land use authorities to regulate these pernicious blights in our community. Not surprisingly, not much authority exists. Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, which requires that localities obtain enabling legislation from the General Assembly to pass most any law. As a result, localities cannot ban payday and car title lenders legally, but we can restrict where they locate. The same is true for donation boxes. That is the gist of the proposed Planning Commission hearing on October 21 and the Board of Supervisors public hearing on November 17. Both hearings will be televised live on county cable channel 16.

Virginia has an overabundance of these lending companies, mostly because of the fact that state law allows car title lenders to extend credit to out-of-state drivers, including Maryland and the District of Columbia, which cap interest rates. The cap in Virginia is exceedingly generous, even usurious, but that doesn’t seem to deter customers who may be unaware of the very high interest rates charged, but don’t qualify for federally recognized and regulated financial institutions.

The proposed regulations to be considered by the Board would restrict these lending companies from locating in any of the county’s designated revitalization areas (Annandale and Baileys Crossroads/Seven Corners in Mason District). New applications would be restricted to one location per shopping center, not in a stand-alone location, and hours of operation would be limited to 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. No shopping centers next to or across from any public use, house of worship, child care center, or quasi-public athletic field could be considered for establishment of a lending company.

Similarly vexatious are the donation drop boxes that seem to have popped up everywhere, from gas stations, to shopping center parking lots, and even on VDOT rights-of-way. While the original intent of the boxes may have been altruistic, they have become little more than public dumping sites for all sorts of detritus. The trash blows around the box location, can attract vermin, and even worse, attracts more trash! When I contacted commercial property owners about the boxes, and the plan for additional regulation, some owners were not aware that they have the right to remove donation boxes placed without permission.

The proposed ordinance would add a definition of a donation drop-off box to Section 20-300 of the Zoning Ordinance, and would add use limitations to Section 10-102, Permitted Accessory Uses, to regulate the number (maximum of three), size, location, composition (weatherproof, noncombustible container), and signage for donation boxes. It’s been a long time coming, but both ordinances will provide the tools needed to address blight in our community.

 


 Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at mason@fairfaxcounty.gov.

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