Prince William Conservation Alliance
MidCounty Civic Association
Lake Ridge Occoquan Coles Civic Association
Woodbridge Potomac Communities Civic Assoc.
Coalition to Protect Prince William County
Board of County Supervisors Vote on Tuesday, January 16 2018. Click here to share your views.
Comments on Proposed Revisions to Minimum Buffer Standards
In June 2016 the BOCS initiated a process to revise buffer standards at the request of the Commercial Development Committee (CDC), which has benefited from more than a year of dialogue with staff and elected officials. Constituents and civic groups could not actively take part in the discussion until October 2017, when the BOCS deferred their vote on the proposed changes and directed staff to conduct public meetings.
As a result of the public meetings, developers and community groups negotiated an agreement to: (1) exclude all infrastructure from placement within a buffer, maintaining the definition of a buffer as a strip of land filled with vegetation from one side to the other, and (2) to accommodate developer concerns about space constraints on “small” commercial properties by granting by-right approval (no waivers needed) to the same 25% buffer reduction for vegetated stormwater infrastructure. The Planning Office published a draft documenting these changes in December 2017.
After the public meetings, unbeknownst to the participating community stakeholders, the draft text underwent further revisions to also allow by-right access to a 25% buffer reduction for utility easements.
Since the proposal to revise standards for “small” properties is apparently still open to changes, we jointly recommend the following:
- Remove all text granting by-right approvals for a 25% buffer reduction for utility easements. ZO 32-250.32(3) and DCSM 802.10(I)
Vegetation planted in utility easements can be removed at any time by the easement holder. The easement holder has no responsibility to replace the vegetation. Theoretically, the landowner would be responsible for replacing lost vegetation but this draft includes no guidance on that process.
- Clarify in the Zoning Ordinance that the “small” properties benefiting from by-right buffer reductions cannot seek additional buffer waivers; include a cross reference to the DCSM Section 802.11(A).
- Ensure that future revisions to the Zoning Ordinance and DCSM are reviewed by committees that include all stakeholders and not just those that are development-related. Make committee information easily available to the public.
In addition to revisions for “small” commercial properties, we found areas in the buffer ordinances that would also benefit from review and revision. We recommend the BOCS initiate a process to address the following needs:
- Increase minimum buffer widths for development in targeted revitalization areas, such as Route 1 and Route 29, to better protect green infrastructure and improve the County's capacity to attract high quality commercial development.
Small and large businesses prioritize green open space when seeking to relocate. Commercial properties with high quality green infrastructure have benefitted from 7% higher rental rates. [The Influence of Trees and Landscaping on Rental Rates at Office Buildings. Journal of Arboriculture 29, 5:281-290]
- Increase minimum buffer widths for commercial properties adjacent to residential development to better protect local communities.
Buffers raise property values and are an essential part of the green open space highly valued by both homeowners and businesses in study after study.
- Revise the waiver process for buffers to include a public notice requirement.
Currently, waivers to reduce the County’s minimum standards, as established in the DCSM, are approved by staff with no public notice requirement. Nearby property owners should have the right to comment on buffer changes.