This week’s Board of Supervisors meeting was one of the longer ones in recent memory. The Board agenda was replete with the usual items – approval of grant applications for human services programs, local transportation program changes, and several land use cases, as examples. What made the meeting long, and unusually interesting, was the debate to adopt an operational energy strategy, interviews for a new chief of the county’s Fire and Rescue Department, and an hours-long public hearing about the proposed short-term rental ordinance.
In 2004, on my motion, Fairfax County adopted its first-ever 20 year Environmental Excellence Vision plan. It centered on two principles: conservation of our limited natural resources must be interwoven into all government decisions, and there must be a commitment to provide the necessary resources to protect our environment. We made a lot of progress but, by 2015, it was time to update the vision plan, to look at how well we were meeting the goals, and what new items might be included in an update. A lengthy community process led to a 2017 update, which added a new chapter about climate change, an issue that wasn’t on most radar screens in 2004. The objectives of energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy were included in the updated Vision Plan, but it needed a strategy to foster collaboration and cooperation between county agencies and employees in pursuit of the new goals, targets, and actions. And that requires significant investment. Following adoption of the energy strategy, by a bipartisan vote of 8 – 2. I offered a follow-on motion to consider designating $4.5 million in the FY 2018 Carryover Review (to be considered in September) for energy projects already identified to meet the goal of reducing county energy use by 20 percent by 2029. The 10-year investment for this goal is approximately $45 million; however, by year seven, savings generated by the investment essentially will pay for the projects. The annual energy savings are projected to be 264 million BTUs, and the simple Return on Investment is $82 million over 10 years.
The Board also interviewed candidates for the position of Fairfax County Fire Chief, and selected Howard County, Maryland, Fire Chief John Butler. Chief Butler will assume his duties on September 1. Until then, John Caussin will continue as Acting Fire Chief. I look forward to working with Chief Butler, and will make every effort to introduce him to Mason District, which is home to six fire stations.
To round out the day, and evening, the Board conducted a public hearing which provided testimony about the proposed Short-Term Rental Zoning Ordinance Amendment. More than 40 speakers signed up in advance, but the lateness of the hour meant that some speakers were not able to appear. What we heard were some interesting, sometimes impassioned, stories from residents who already host short-term rentals (which violates the existing Zoning Ordinance), and similarly impassioned testimony from neighbors who want strict regulations imposed on short-term rentals. To allow time for Board members to “digest” all the testimony, and sort out the many options about ordinance language, we deferred decision to our July 31 meeting.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]