Fairfax County is close to finishing its comprehensive plan amendment for the Richmond Highway Corridor in northern Virginia. The amendment will create a substantial amount of new density — much of it residential — along the route of the proposed bus rapid transit system.

Four areas along Richmond Highway appear to be the big winners of this planning effort — Penn Daw, Beacon/Groveton, Hybla Valley and Woodlawn. Each area will be a community business center where density is allocated according to a form-based code rather than traditional floor area ratio. With maximum permitted heights reaching 22 stories, the plan will allow a substantial amount of new density.

Property owners should begin formulating a strategy now. The county anticipates releasing a staff report on the plan amendment this month, and public hearings on the amendment are scheduled for January and March 2018.

In April 2017, Henrico County, Virginia, initiated an update of its zoning and subdivision ordinances to make the regulations more user-friendly and to better implement the county’s Vision 2026 Comprehensive Plan. The update also is intended to align the regulations with contemporary zoning and subdivision best practices. Given that the county’s ordinances are more than 50 years old, the update is a welcome effort.

On Nov. 2, 2017, the county released an assessment of the current ordinances, prepared by the county’s consultant, Clarion. The “Zoning & Subdivision Ordinance Assessment, Henrico County, Virginia,” sets out “the primary reasons why the county should consider revising its development regulations,” as well as key changes necessary to bring the ordinances up to standards. The assessment serves as a road map for drafting the updated regulations, and provides an annotated outline as a framework for the new ordinances. The county will hold a public meeting to present and receive comments and input on the assessment and the annotated outline. 

Many recommendations in the assessment relate to updating the structure of the current ordinances, which currently include a confusing mix of district standards, use standards, development standards, and procedures.  Other recommendations add flexibility by (1) providing alternative forms of compliance, (2) allowing for administrative modifications, (3) providing contextual development standards, and (4) providing sliding-scale rules for redevelopment of sites with nonconforming features. Clarion recommends that the new ordinances include graphic representations and tables for uses and standards. It also recommends neighborhood compatibility standards to address edge-area development adjacent to single-family neighborhoods, the removal of obstacles to environmentally friendly development, and the addition of density and urban scales to certain districts and areas.

The full assessment is available under the “Project Status” section of the county’s website, which also provides access to other information about each step in the process. 

The McGuireWoods land use group — including Ann Neil Cosby, Rob Benaicha and Adena Patterson — are closely following this process. For questions regarding ordinance updates, please email Ann Neil Cosby.

Fairfax County recently announced it will accept site-specific Comprehensive Plan Amendments for the northern portion of the County. The deadline for such nominations is Dec. 5, 2017.

This opportunity applies to property within the Dranesville, Hunter Mill, Providence and Sully Magisterial Districts. Significantly, this process does provide an opportunity to re-evaluate planned uses and density in strategic submarkets such as Tysons, Merrifield and portions of the Route 50 corridor.

There are a number of procedural requirements and limitations. The timeframe for decision-making is also somewhat protracted. Notwithstanding these realities, opportunities for owners or potential contract purchasers to propose changes to the plan historically have been limited. For that reason alone, this tool is worth exploring to address properties and circumstances that are clearly out of step with current or anticipated market realities. In addition, the procedural requirements for making a nomination are generally manageable.

Filing a nomination and potentially changing the Comprehensive Plan does not change existing zoning or affect the lawfulness of existing uses, but can be a critical first step in positioning property for future land use changes and creating long-term value

If you have questions or would like to discuss the nomination procedural process and possible strategies for specific properties, please contact one of the authors listed below or another lawyer on McGuireWoods’ real estate and land use team.

When the City of Richmond’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system (known as the PULSE) begins operating along Broad and East Main streets in October 2017, new transit oriented development projects in that area may follow. If a resolution adopted by the Planning Commission last week authorizing the rezoning of the Scott’s Addition and Boulevard areas is ultimately approved by City Council, these areas may soon feature seamless streetscapes, taller
buildings, active first floor and sidewalk uses and no visible parking lots

The proposed rezoning of Scott’s Addition would occur through two separate but related ordinances. The first ordinance would amend the city’s zoning ordinance to incorporate changes to the B-7 Mixed Use Business District
regulations and create a new Transit-Oriented Nodal District (TOD-1). The second ordinance would then amend the city’s zoning map to rezone those portions of Scott’s Addition not fronting on the Boulevard or West Broad
Street to the amended B-7 district and rezone areas along West Broad Street and the Boulevard to the new TOD-1 district. The rezoned areas are shown on the map below, which you can view in a larger size, together with copies of the draft ordinances’ text and other materials.

Scott's Addition Rezoning Proposed Zoning Richmond

The city’s Department of Planning and Development Review (PDR) staff calls the draft TOD-1 district “unabashedly urban.” The recommended ordinance states that it is “intended to encourage redevelopment and place-making,
including adaptive reuse of underutilized buildings, to create a high-quality urban realm.” If approved as written, the TOD-1 regulations would permit a wide range of commercial, manufacturing and multifamily uses
and would employ form and massing requirements to create walkable streetscapes. Minimum and maximum heights would be two and 12 stories, respectively. Most buildings would have a maximum setback of 10 feet and a
required minimum number of street-oriented windows. Surface parking would be heavily discouraged through the elimination of surface parking as a principal or conditional use, and any accessory parking would be subject to
robust screening requirements. The proposed TOD-1 ordinance would eliminate parking requirements for all uses other than hotels and multifamily residential buildings with more than 16 units. The district’s other regulations would encourage dense, walkable communities centered on high-activity nodes near PULSE stations.

Next door, the bulk of the interior of Scott’s Addition is proposed to be rezoned from M-1 Light Industrial to the B-7 Mixed Use Business District first put in place in the Manchester neighborhood. If the proposed B-7 district regulations are amended, the district would include greater flexibility in designating “street-oriented commercial” corridors, where street-front retail would be required as part of any residential use and certain car-oriented uses like gas stations and parking decks would be prohibited. In Scott’s Addition, these corridors would be Moore Street,
Summit Avenue and Roseneath Road. The proposed amendments to the B-7 district would also permit certain “maker” light manufacturing uses of under 10,000 square feet by right, which, if approved, would likely mean
the area’s ongoing boom in breweries, cideries and distilleries will continue unabated.

PDR staff indicated that both ordinances are scheduled to be introduced to the Richmond City Council on July 24, 2017. Following their introduction, a public hearing on both ordinances would be held by the Planning Commission,
which would then vote on whether to recommend the ordinances to the City Council. This hearing could take place as early as August 2017. The City Council would then hold another public hearing (potentially in September,
but more likely in October or November 2017) and ultimately decide whether the ordinances should be adopted.

If the city rezones Scott’s Addition, it will be just the first step toward actualizing the PULSE Corridor Plan. (See related post, “Fast Buses May Bring Major Development Opportunities to Richmond”) McGuireWoods’ land use team believes that if Scott’s Addition is rezoned and the TOD-1 district is established, there may be significant opportunities for RVA’s commercial real estate community to actualize the city’s vision for denser, more urban development in this area. Increased opportunities mean greater transactional potential along the PULSE route where market conditions and development readiness appear ready to be aligned.

Attorneys Ann Neil Cosby, Brennen Keene, Rob Benaicha and Danielle Stokes regularly handle land use and transactional matters in these areas and can share more information with you on the city’s plans, areas identified for development potential and how to navigate the new zoning requirements to come. To learn more, contact Ann Neil Cosby at acosby@mcguirewoods.com or (804) 775-7737.

Beginning in October 2017, the City of Richmond’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) System, known as the PULSE, will operate through the center of Broad and East Main streets. The PULSE Corridor will run from Willow Lawn to Orleans Street, near Rocketts Landing, and the city is poised to make significant changes to its current land use plan to promote and accommodate new economic development in these areas.

On July 24, 2017, the Richmond City Council is scheduled to vote on the PULSE Corridor Plan as a new component of the city’s Master Land Use Plan. If approved by the City Council, the PULSE Corridor Plan will re-designate many areas along the route and in adjacent neighborhoods for higher density development; greater active commercial and residential mixed uses; reduced or, in some cases, eliminated parking requirements; and increased heights and other standards focused on promoting transit-oriented development.

What do these changes mean for Richmond’s development community?

If Richmond’s millennials and urbanites like the PULSE BRT as much as their peers like metro and light rail in other areas, the city hopes that owners of commercial, office and residential properties a quarter of a mile or even half a mile from a PULSE station could realize significant rental premiums and hefty increases in property values. In an effort to encourage transit-oriented development along the PULSE route, the city has identified emerging areas and neighborhoods along the corridor believed to have high development potential. New zoning regulations intended to stimulate development also are in the works.

A kick-off public meeting for the city-initiated rezoning of Scott’s Addition and West Broad Street between Boulevard and I-95 is scheduled for May 24 at Gather, 2920 W. Broad St. in Scott’s Addition. A second meeting to provide a detailed review based on feedback from the first meeting will be held on June 7 at DMV Headquarters, 2300 W. Broad St.

Adoption of the PULSE Corridor Plan is a first step in the city’s effort to create a vibrant downtown corridor that interconnects existing and future residential neighborhoods and retail areas.

McGuireWoods’ Land Use Team believes the city’s placemaking efforts provide new opportunities for the commercial real estate community in RVA to become involved and create change. Attorneys Ann Neil Cosby, Brennen Keene, Rob Benaicha and Danielle Stokes can share more information on the city’s plans, areas identified for development potential and how to navigate new zoning requirements adopted to further the city’s vision. To learn more, contact Ann Neil Cosby at acosby@mcguirewoods.com or (804) 775-7737.

Developers in Henrico County, Va., have long known that the county’s zoning and subdivision ordinances lack the flexibility needed for multifaceted projects or those outside the “traditional zoning box.” This has often resulted in time-consuming and expensive rezonings. All this trouble may soon be a thing of the past, however, as the county gears up to revise its development regulations.

On April 26, Clarion Associates, the county’s consultant for the updates, met with the Henrico County Planning Commission, staff and citizens to set out a two-year timeline for the update process, consisting of six discrete tasks. The timeline, meeting information and a survey regarding the update effort are all available on the county’s website here. The survey will be accessible through May 2017 for individuals to identify issues or goals or provide suggestions and changes for the updates. The website will also provide access to proposed ordinance text changes and other information with each step forward in the process.

The McGuireWoods land use group — including Ann Neil Cosby, Rob Benaicha and Adena Patterson — are closely following this process. If you have any questions regarding the ordinance update process or substance, please contact Ann Neil Cosby by email here.

The Urban Land Institute has released the results of an in depth analysis of the future of the Westfields Corporate Office Park in western Fairfax County.  This analysis was the product of a ULI Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) that began its work in 2016.  A link to the report can be found here http://washington.uli.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/56/2017/04/Westfield-TAP-Report_FINAL.pdf.  The report responds directly to well documented challenges facing suburban single use office parks and offers an exciting vision for Westfields that is respectful of Westfield’s history as a premier office park, but also encourages reasonable evolution that can include complimentary mixed use options and the potential for exciting new services and amenities. McGuireWoods has a three decade history in the planning, zoning and management of Westfields.

The Embark Richmond Highway Advisory Group met for its 16th meeting on April 24th. The Advisory Group reviewed a 2040 transportation land use analysis prepared by FCDOT. FCDOT estimates ridership of the proposed bus rapid transit system will reach 18,000 daily trips under the land use plan the Advisory Group is considering. The Advisory Group also heard presentations on heritage resources, parks and recreation, and stormwater management from various Fairfax County staff members. Sightlines from historic structures and open space were discussed as issues in need of further consideration as the planning process moves forward. Staff still anticipates releasing a draft plan in September and public hearings in January/February 2018.


On the eve of its 40th birthday, Fairfax County has kicked off a Zoning Ordinance Modernization effort to analyze and update its current ordinance, which was originally adopted in 1978. The modernization efforts are part of the County’s Fairfax First initiative for economic success.  The effort is being led by Barbara Byron, the Director of the Office of Community Revitalization.

With the help of outside consultants, County staff is kicking off efforts to streamline and update the ordinance. A major goal of the effort is to reformat and restructure the ordinance to make it more user friendly.  This includes creating more table, charts, and graphics to increase the ordinance’s functionality and usability.  The modernization effort will also focus on processing prioritized amendments of County-wide impact.  The initial list of prioritized amendments include:

  • Minor Modification Provisions
  • PDH Districts
  • Use Categories and Definitions
  • Signs
  • Special Exceptions for Building Repurposing

The final area of focus is on improvements to ordinance amendments and other zoning process. Those efforts will focus on how amendments are authorized by the Board of Supervisors and how effective outreach and communication to stakeholders is achieved.

A new initiative to provide better proffer compliance tracking has launched in Fairfax County. The initiative requires applicants to submit a standalone proffer compliance matrix beginning at the first site plan submission.  That matrix is required to be updated as a development project moves through building plan review, occupancy, and bond release.  The overall goal of the new process is to create clarity for developers and Fairfax County regarding the status of a project’s proffer compliance.

The new proffer compliance requirements go into effect on June 27, 2017. If you have any questions about the new process contact Scott Adams at sadams@mcguirewoods.com.

Fairfax County Technical Bulletin