A Fairfax County Planning Commission committee is expected to recommend tabling a proposal aimed at encouraging the development of efficiency apartments for low-income people.
While some efficiency units do exist in the county and they can be built under current zoning rules, the zoning ordinance amendment drafted by county staff last year would have been a new type of use, referred to as “residential studio units” (RSUs) in the proposed ordinance.
The original draft would have allowed the development of buildings housing three to 75 apartments, of which at least 80 percent are reserved for people earning less than 60 percent of area median income. Under current wage rates, that would mean most tenants couldn’t earn more than about $45,000 per year.
However, the proposal quickly generated opposition from many civic groups, which were concerned that the studios could be permitted in most residential districts.
The Planning Commission formed a special committee in the fall to begin studying the issue in depth, gathering feedback from residents, developers and affordable housing advocates.
The committee made numerous changes to the draft ordinance to try and address the concerns, said Commissioner Tim Sergeant, who chaired the committee.
“The last draft was very different from what the original draft had been,” he said.
However, community opposition to the proposal persisted. At a work session in June, the committee determined that it would not be able to reach consensus on any of the key points of the ordinance revision, Sergeant said.
There is remaining debate about where residential studios should be located, the scale of the projects, the types of modifications that would be allowed under the special exception process, and the types of services that could be provided at the development.
“There was a lot of continuing concern about the impact on surrounding communities,” Sergeant said.
Affordable housing advocates have been supporting residential studios in part because they could allow a type of transitional housing called “single room occupancy” or SROs, where formerly homeless single adults can receive housing and supportive services in one location. The county first looked at SROs in 2003.
Sergeant said the committee did review some good examples of successful program-based affordable housing developments.
“I think those good models, what makes them successful, is the partnership between the private sector, the public sector and the community,” he said.
The committee does see a need for a continuing dialogue about the county’s affordable housing needs, Sergeant said. As supported by a George Mason University study, the region as a whole needs more housing options to support its workforce that are affordable to people with entry level salaries, he said.
“It’s an important discussion on the broader range than what had originally been anticipated through the RSU process,” Sergeant said.
On July 24, the Residential Studios Committee will have its final meeting to review a staff report documenting the work of the committee, which will be distributed to the full Planning Commission.
The following week, July 30, Sergeant said he plans to make a motion to adjourn the committee and table the proposed zoning ordinance. The full Planning Commission will vote on that proposal.