Landscape Buffers: Here today, gone tomorrow?

As if the major changes proposed for the Comp Plan weren’t enough, Supervisors will vote on proposed changes to the Zoning Ordinance on December 16. One of these changes would weaken our buffer standards for new and existing development. Buffers are strips of land with trees and other plants that separate (buffer) two different land uses, such as roads, strip malls, stormwater facilities and neighborhoods.

Currently the Zoning Ordinance says that utility and other easements must be located outside of the buffer. “Minimal” (perpendicular) crossings of sidewalks, trails and utilities are allowed if there are no other options.

The changes being proposed would give government staff the authority to approve utility easements that run parallel down a new or existing buffer. This would virtually eliminate any given buffer… you can’t plant trees over utility easements and expect them to stay there.

If approved, this relaxed standard would apply to all buffers, and there’s no requirement for staff to notify the neighbors before approving a utility line right down the middle of a buffer… I guess citizens would find out when the trees start coming down.

It’s a great double-up opportunity for developers, who could use the same strip of land to satisfy both buffer and utility easement requirements. Utility companies would have a free rein for running utility lines (no need to deal with those pesky neighbors anymore).

Buffers are important assets that protect the quality and scenic appearance of our neighborhoods today and over time. We also need utilities, but why not have both? If utility easements are suddenly a problem, let’s add the 15 feet to the required buffer width. Space for utility lines would be guaranteed and, if it’s never used, we’ll have a few more trees.

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Sec. 32-250.32. Buffer Area Standards.

2(a) Utility and other easements shall not be located within any buffer area except as
otherwise expressly permitted in this Chapter. Minimal easement crossings, and sidewalks and
trails shall be permitted in accordance with section 800 of the Design and Construction
Standards Manual.

(b) Utility and other easements may be allowed to run parallel within an existing buffer
when no other location for the utility can reasonably be established and provided the following
conditions are met:

(i) The existing buffer is not subject to proffer or special use conditions that require the
area to remain in an undisturbed or natural state, or prohibit utilities.

(ii) The existing buffer has been platted.

(iii) The existing buffer is located on property that is not bonded as a new development.
Should the subject buffer be part of a bonded development, the bond must be amended to permit
the utility prior to the placement of the utility.

(iv) The easement shall not preclude the application and maintenance of landscaping
standards as established in the Design and Construction Standards Manual across the full width
of the buffer.

When allowed as stated in the paragraph above, the utility shall meet the following
standards:

(i) Any dry utility (phone, cable, electric, etc.) shall be located underground and in
conduit.

(ii) Upon completion of installation of the utility the buffer shall be planted as
necessary by the applicant or property owner to meet the buffer standards of the DCSM.

(iii) Any utility easement located within and parallel to the buffer boundary must be
located so as to include one and only one of the buffer boundaries and shall under no
circumstances occupy more than fifteen (15) feet of the buffer width.

The placement of utility easements in buffers under paragraph 2b is subject to the
approval of the Zoning Administrator.

8 Thoughts to “….MORE insane land use proposals!”

  1. So much for “Smart Growth” and what we learned at the Committee 100 about Journey Through Hallowed Ground. Let’s make PWC a little uglier, shall we?

    Here’s an update on the Citizen Advisory Boards who propose and pass such things.

    From: Katherine
    To: planning@pwcgov.org
    Cc: mcaddigan@pwcgov.org ; fprincipi@pwcgov.org ; mcmay@pwcgov.org ; gainesville@pwcgov.org ; Nohe, Marty E. ; Covington, W. S. Wally ; Stewart, Corey A. ; Jenkins, John

    Sent: Thursday, October 09, 2008 8:00 AM
    Subject: Citizen Advisory Board for Comprehensive Plan

    Dear Mr. Utz and Planning:

    I am a citizen concerned about the way PWC appoints and oversees its Citizen Advisory Boards and Committees.

    I am asking you to provide the following information about the CAB that developed the Comprehensive Plan through 2030.

    1. Are there any members on this board who own real estate on the lands they planned for? If you don’t know, I am asking you to check.

    2. If there are any members who own real estate, who are they and what do they own? What is the approximate value of their holdings?

    3. Did any of these members (from #1 or #2) vote on decisions that will affect their property?

    4. If these members (from #1 or #2) did vote on items related to their property, what did they vote on, what was the outcome of the vote, and how would their vote affect their own property?

    5. Who oversees this Committee?

    Thank you for your time.

    Sincerely,
    Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt
    Brentsville Districthttp://www.luxuriouschoices.net/

    _________________________

    I’ve also written to Fairfax County to ask them what their process is. So far, this is what I have gotten. I’m waiting for a response to my email for more details.

    1. http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/bacs/
    FF requires a resume, not a resume form.

    2. Here are some of the forms FF folks have to fill out…notice the form on real estate holdings.
    http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/bacs/financial.asp

    __________________________

    I know members of Citizen Advisory Boards do not get paid, but what I got from the Committee 100 meeting was that first, people with conflicts of interest can’t legally vote on decisions these boards make and second, they are actually WRITING the policy and/or plans (as in the case of the comprehensive plan that lasts into 2030….a committee that has some kind of conflict, but I don’t know which members).

    Also, Tom Kopko whom I believe runs the Republican Committee is on that comprehensive planning board, so there’s something in it for him even if it’s not money, I would think. I’m not saying he has a conflict or is doing anything wrong. I AM saying that there are probably often motives more than pay–why else would someone like Duecaster or Widowski want “in” so badly?

    I was wondering about other jurisdictions also. Want to make a bet their process isn’t as lame as PWC’s?

  2. Not Me, Bubba

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Not to mention that with eliminating old growth and trees you face erosion problems.

    What is it with PWC that is hell-bent on turning every green space into a paved or barren landscape????

    I mean, we’ve demolished enough greenery for unsightly strip malls, and business…and have made new neighborhoods treeless entities… We want to expand that????

  3. ShellyB

    “Smart Growth” was just a slogan, we all know that. If only Corey Stewart had tossed aside “Fighting Immigration” as quickly as he tossed aside “Smart Growth,” we might not be in the same economic hole we’re in right now.

  4. Slither hither

    Who was pulling Corey’s puppet strings during the ride of “smart growth”? And why did he give them up for his new puppeteer?

  5. Do you think Corey got bought off? Inquiring minds want to know!

  6. I give up

    Kopko is no longer the Chairman there were elections months ago.

    Another big proposed change coming up would to allow GRAVEL to be used as driveways or additional driveway spaces. This doest seem so bad for those of you in a rural setting or properties on larger lots but for those of us in older neighborhoods that sit on .25 acres will be equal to the kiss of death in appearances of our neighborhoods.

    There are alternative “eco” friendly options rather than having gravel all through Dale City, Woodbridge and Manassas neighborhoods.

    Any house that never had asphalt or concrete driveways has always been able to maintain their existing driveways (gravel or grass).

    If it so moves you let the BOCS know not to approve the proposed change by the County staff!!

  7. Alanna

    Welcome ‘I give up’ AND Please don’t give up. I really need some background on what happened with this land use committee. Was Kopko the problem? I understand that at least one developer was placed on it by Hilda Barg but do you know the story?

  8. IMHO, gravel can be quite attractive anywhere, especially if surrounded by pretty little bushes.

    Then again, what do I know? I don’t even HAVE a driveway. : )

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