Updated Zoning Ordinances
Residential Neighborhoods to Become Commercialized


Converted Garage turned into an Accessory Living Unit  (Sightline Institute 1)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the modernization project which goes into effect on July 1, 2021.  The new modernized regulations address certain residential uses, including accessory structures, accessory living units, home-based businesses, and flags.  The goal of zMOD was to create a cleaner and more straightforward document that is more accessible to the general public in understanding the County's zoning regulations.  However, understanding the regulations was not the problem.  Fairfax County citizens are not stupid.  zMOD was really designed to allow expanded use of the county’s residential neighborhoods for business activities which considerably increases the real estate taxes collected on these properties.  Hope those who add an accessory structure, an accessory dwelling unit, or home based business are prepared to see their real estate taxes soar.

Notable changes include:

  • Allowing accessory structures, such as sheds, children’s play equipment, and gazebos, up to 12 feet in height to be located five feet from the side and rear lot lines.  

  • Removing the age and disability requirements for accessory living units (previously known as accessory dwelling units) in order to make these costly enhancements to a single family home rentable at a fair market rate and changing the process from requiring special permit approval to an administrative permit for interior units.  To be approved, a homeowner must reside at the property with an ALU: they may not be distant landlords. You are no longer required to rent to those age 55 or older, nor to individuals with disabilities if the owner occupant is at least 55 years of age or disabled. The county claims that these ALU”s will help the county meet their affordable housing goals which makes no sense. 

In Fairfax County, the abbreviation ‘ADU’ is used for a different use, affordable dwelling units. These are separate units dedicated under the County’s Affordable Dwelling Unit Ordinance, where an accessory living unit is a subordinate unit provided in conjunction with a single-family detached dwelling. The ‘ADU’ abbreviation should not be used when referencing accessory living units.

Wait and see but it is unlikely. Considering the increased real estate taxes that will be charged, the increase in landlord’s income taxes due to rental income, the construction costs to convert (providing all is done to code), and the increased insurance costs, these units will not be financially feasible to rent at affordable rates, only at competitive rates.  If you only wish to rent a one bedroom/bath within your own home you can do so right now with little to no regulation.  

  • Modernizing home-based business use and permitting customers with special permit approval. The Board did agree to restrict administrative approval to HBBs that generate no customers coming to the home, except for instructional activities. Other HBBs would still need to go through a public hearing process.

  • Adding a maximum flagpole height of 25 feet for lots with single-family dwellings or manufactured homes and 60 feet for lots with all other uses, with the ability to request a special permit for an increased height. The limit of three flags per lot was carried forward from the previous Ordinance. No limit on the size of flags was added.


Photo:  Converted Garage turned into an Accessory Living Unit  
Sightline Institute: Missing Middle Homes Photo Library, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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