Fairfax County residents challenge zoning rules amid legal dispute

A group of Fairfax County residents are protesting zoning rules adopted by the Board of Supervisors, claiming the board is ignoring a state Supreme Court decision.

The issue revolves around a plan to modernize Fairfax County’s zoning regulations, which date back to the 1970s. The plan, known as Z-MOD, aims to overhaul county zoning rules, making it easier to use property for multiple purposes, including retail and rental units. However, last year, Virginia’s Supreme Court ruled that the Board of Supervisors violated the state’s open meeting laws when it met virtually to pass Z-MOD in March 2021.

Now, the Board plans to reinstate Z-MOD after state lawmakers passed a bill retroactively approving decisions made virtually during the early months of the pandemic. Challengers argue that while the new law may apply to other decisions made virtually throughout the Commonwealth during the pandemic, it cannot apply to Z-MOD.

"The idea that a legislature can intervene basically after the fact, after the decision has become final and say look we're in effect overruling what you did, Supreme Court, … That represents a violation of the separation of powers," said attorney Craig Blakely. 

Blakely represents individuals and businesses opposed to particular development proposals in their area. He argues that the Board's actions in 2021 prevented the public from participating as required under Virginia law, which is why the Supreme Court voided the law as if it was never on the books. Thus, the legislature cannot reanimate it now.

The Board of Supervisors disagrees, stating on their website that the new state law retroactively validates Z-MOD. They claim the comprehensive update, which took years to develop, will take effect again on July 1.

FOX 5 has reached out to the Board for comment but have not yet heard back. The Planning Commission is holding a public hearing tonight to prepare for reinstating Z-MOD in the coming weeks.