July 11, 2022

Virginia's Fairfax County Set to Update Site-Specific Plan Amendment Process

Holland & Knight Alert
David I. Schneider


  • The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will consider adopting proposed revisions to the Site-Specific Plan Amendment (SSPA) when it meets on July 19, 2022. The SSPA allows property owners, developers and community members to propose changes to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan's recommended land use mix and density/intensity for specific sites.
  • The nomination period is anticipated to open in early October and close on Nov. 4, 2022. Countywide nominations will be accepted, with a few exceptions.
  • The recommendations for the revised SSPA process include new submission requirements, such as an illustrative concept plan and property owner consent.

All entitlements in Virginia's Fairfax County (Fairfax or the county) are evaluated for their conformance with the county's Comprehensive Plan (Comprehensive Plan). As required by state law, the Comprehensive Plan is a primary guiding document that the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission and planning and zoning staff will use to evaluate proposed zoning applications. As Fairfax evolves and continues to grow, the Comprehensive Plan is periodically updated to allow for changes in the recommended land use mix and density/intensity to more accurately reflect the current and anticipated future needs of the county.

One of the several procedures for updating the Comprehensive Plan is through the Site-Specific Plan Amendment (SSPA) process, which allows for property owners, prospective developers and the community to nominate specific sites to be considered for a Comprehensive Plan amendment. After completing the county's first SSPA cycle, county planning staff led a public retrospective of the SSPA. As a result of this exercise, Fairfax's planning staff released a report recommending certain changes to the SSPA process. Members of the Fairfax Planning Commission reviewed the planning staff's recommendations and largely adopted them as their own, with a few changes.

The Board of Supervisors is now poised to consider adopting the revised SSPA process in its meeting on July 19, 2022. Specific and notable changes in the recommended SSPA process include:

  • allowing countywide nominations in lieu of splitting the county into north and south cycles
  • opening the nomination window every two years, rather than every four years
  • splitting the process into three phases: Nomination, Screening and Evaluation

Nomination Phase

The nomination period will be reduced to only one month, and the Planning Commission has recommended that the nomination window for the next SSPA process be moved from September to October, with an anticipated end date of Nov. 4, 2022. Enhanced eligibility requirements specifically exclude nominations regarding:

  • land areas subject to any pending land use amendment
  • land areas that were included in any land use plan amendment in the past two years
  • proposals affecting countywide policy or systems, such as countywide transportation network, trail and bicycle plans, along with parks or public facilities
  • multiple proposals on the same land area from the same nominator

Additionally, the Board of Supervisors has instructed county staff to consider an exception mechanism for when certain criteria cannot be met. New submission requirements are anticipated to include:

  • an illustrative concept plan visually depicting the nomination
  • information regarding the potential development timeline, if known
  • a list of key community stakeholders who should be engaged in the review
  • the consent of the owners of the nominated property
  • a statement of justification that explains how the nomination:
    • addresses an emerging community concern or change in circumstances
    • advances planning objectives of the county's Policy Plan, Area Plans and/or Concept for Future Development and not be contrary to longstanding county policies
    • aligns with the goals of the county's Strategic Plan, One Fairfax Policy, Communitywide Housing Strategic Plan, Economic Success Plan or other Board-adopted policies
    • warrants an additional review through a change in circumstances, such as through emerging trends or further community outreach, if a proposal has been resubmitted from a previous SSPA cycle

It is expected that additional guidance regarding the submission criteria will be provided by planning staff after the Board of Supervisors' adoption of the revised SSPA process.

Screening Phase

The length of the screening phase has been reduced to four months. To receive more direct feedback from those potentially proximate to the proposed amendment site, community meetings will be set up to address high-level and localized issues, rather than using the previous task force model. Planning Commission public workshops would then occur in lieu of a formal public hearing, resulting in a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors regarding which nominations should be included on the Board of Supervisors' work program. In a Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee meeting on June 14, 2022, several supervisors requested staff to consider a prescreening option to help eliminate nominations that are clearly not viable.

Evaluation Phase

Once the Board of Supervisors adopts the work program, all nominations will be evaluated on separate timelines, rather than consolidating the timelines, as was done under the previous process. Priority will be given for urgent nominations and nominations that further key county goals. Additionally, flexible community engagement models will be tailored for each specific amendment, and it will be possible to concurrently process zoning applications during the evaluation phase.

Conclusion and Considerations

The revised SSPA process is intended to reduce the overall timeline, with more adaptable reviews that can be created to facilitate the specific nomination, while also increasing inclusion and community engagement. Planning staff also believe that this revised process will allow for better balance of staff time and resources. Depending on the quantity of nominations received, high-priority nominations that are most in alignment with county goals may be more likely to advance for further review and receive precedence on the timeline.

With only a one-month nomination period, anticipated to be in October 2022, coupled with new enhanced submission criteria for such as the requirement to submit an illustrative concept plan, those contemplating submitting an SSPA nomination should start considerations sooner rather than later. Holland & Knight's Mid-Atlantic Land Use Team can provide insight regarding the county's goals and priorities and assist in evaluating whether participating in this retooled SSPA process would be beneficial for your development goals, as well as help with submitting a nomination.

Information contained in this alert is for the general education and knowledge of our readers. It is not designed to be, and should not be used as, the sole source of information when analyzing and resolving a legal problem, and it should not be substituted for legal advice, which relies on a specific factual analysis. Moreover, the laws of each jurisdiction are different and are constantly changing. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. If you have specific questions regarding a particular fact situation, we urge you to consult the authors of this publication, your Holland & Knight representative or other competent legal counsel.

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