The Fairfax City Council has put new restrictions on office building construction in an effort to encourage what one council member called "better quality development" in the city.
Under the new zoning ordinance change, the total floor area of an office building is restricted to half the area of the property. For example, a 50,000-square-foot lot could contain only a building with no more than 25,000 square feet of floor area.
Previously, the city's zoning ordinance did not restrict new commercial office buildings to a maximum floor area.
To build an office complex larger than half the lot size, developers will now have to apply to the City Council for a special exception permit. Council members then will consider the application only after a public hearing and review of the builder's plans.
Local developers called the zoning revisions "unwarranted" and a "handicap that may force builders to reconsider building in Fairfax City."
But council member Robert Lederer scoffed at the notion of businesses leaving Fairfax City because of its tight zoning laws.
"If they go outside our boundaries, the businesses will see that there are far more controls and the permit process takes three times as long," Lederer said. "Gloom and doom is not something that will happen to Fairfax City because of this zoning ordinance."
Lederer, who serves on the city's six-member Zoning Review Committee, said the clamp was put on building size to "encourage better quality development and open up the development process to public scrutiny" in the 20,000-population city.
"What we have to consider in the city is the delicate balance between what commercial developers want and what the residents want," Lederer said. "We've got the control over development now, and before we had no control."
The ordinance, which was approved 5 to 1 last week, also imposed a new 20,000-square-foot minimum lot size requirement and a 100-foot minimum width requirement in commercial districts that are reserved primarily for retail stores, offices, health clubs and clinics, among other uses.
The zoning ordinance previously did not provide for minimum lot size and width requirements in those less dense business areas.
For more intensive business districts, such as along the Rte. 50 corridor, the minimum lot size and width requirements will remain at 22,000 square feet and 150 feet, respectively.
Council members also approved for the first time open space requirements for future commercial and retail buildings. City officials said businesses will now be required to provide more landscaped or buffered areas between abutting or adjacent commercial and residential districts.
The zoning revisions have also angered local business leaders who say the changes will lower commercial property value and inhibit redevelopment in the city's older areas.
Robert B. Baumgartner, president of the Central Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, said the new building size restrictions and landscaping requirements could put the squeeze on smaller businesses that want to expand or remodel.
" The changes may be setting the wheels in motion to prevent even simple redevelopment of property to keep businesses competitive with other businesses in Fairfax County," Baumgartner said.
The new ordinance also calls for a five-story limit on all commercial buildings. The previous limit was six stories.
The development restrictions were recommended by the newly formed Zoning Review Committee, which consists of representatives from the council and the city's Planning Commission, and whose purpose is to review and rewrite the city's zoning ordinance.
Lederer said Fairfax City's zoning ordinance needed to be upgraded and tightened because of the community's recent rash of commercial office developments.
"Things have changed an awful lot in the city over the year, and we've become a big commercial base," Lederer said. "We want to encourage more business in the city and, at the same time, place greater control over what the development would look like."