F.C.’s ZOAC Recommendations Issued To City Council, No Action Until May

The long-awaited report completing three years of work by Falls Church’s volunteer Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee (ZOAC) was officially presented to a joint work session of the Falls Church City Council and Planning Commission tonight, and the City’s new planning director James Snyder said that with City Hall’s plate full with developing the Fiscal Year 2012 budget the next two months, no significant action would be taken on the ZOAC’s 19 recommendations until the end of May. In his oral report to the joint session tonight, ZOAC chair John Murphy said the group decided that rather than present a whole new zoning code, as the City’s consultant group Clarion had suggested, that modifications to the existing code would be more effective. As a result, nine recommendations for changes in the code for residential properties were forwarded, and ten for changes in the code for commercial properties.

It was noted by ZOAC member Bob Loftun-Thur that despite a wide divergence of views among the 10 members of ZOAC, all but two of the 19 recommendations were the result of unanimous votes. “This report marks the beginning, not the end of the community dialogue,” he said.

Commenting on the report, F.C. Mayor Nader Baroukh said that it will be important for especially the commercial district revisions to be assessed so that the City is ready if and when an up-tick in commercial development resurfaces. Among the commercial district proposals are to include a bonus procedure for increasing density (“floor to area ratios”) and for requiring that new commercial structures on the main corridors of the City “are suitable for retail on their first floors.” Overall, a goal of any changes in commercial zoning should be to replace the “considerable by-right” development options for property owners by creating means to “incentivize more,” i.e. through making additional restrictions subject to government approval of exceptions that can derive proffers as a consequence. “We need to revise the process to provide a stronger negotiating position for the City Council, and also to ensure that there are no surprises for either side when it comes down to final approvals,” Murphy said. “Getting this right is key to the long-term success of the City.”

On the residential side, Murphy said the key is “to preserve the neighborhood character” through encouraging proportionality and harmony, and that new parameters are recommended pertaining to the tear-down and rebuilding of lots. He also noted that impervious surface restrictions on residential properties are more limiting on residential properties than commercial ones in the City, and that perhaps the City could allow exceptions for residential properties “at a cost.”

These matters of zoning are “personal,” Murphy said, “impacting property values and the kind of community we want.” Council member Robin Gardner agreed. “It is personal,” she said. “It effects infill, and the rights of the community versus the rights of individual homeowners.”