Post #348: Special Exception Zoning, again

Posted on August 15, 2019

In an earlier post, I summarized how the City of Falls Church goes about doing “MAC-like” projects, versus the Town of Vienna’s MAC zoning.  You can read the details in Post #306.

In a nutshell, Falls Church uses “Special Exception” zoning.  Instead of dictating how the buildings must look (as with MAC), Falls Church described what the City of Falls Church is expecting to get from any such development, and then says, in so many words, within limits, “make me an offer”.  If you want an exception to the standard zoning, tell us what you’re going to do for the City of Falls Church in return.

Turns out, Leesburg also uses special exception zoning.  A colleague brought this new project in downtown Leesburg to my attention.

Put aside the fact that this stumpy (mid-rise timber-framed concrete podium apartment building) could easily be mistaken for the 444 Maple West/Tequila Grande building.   It has the same, look-alike, pseudo-many-buildings facade that appears to be mandatory around here but is already passé on the West Coast.

The important issue is that when I went to find the plans, the Town of Leesburg lists it as one of their special exception zoning projects.

OK, at this point, I have to wonder how many other local jurisdictions take this “Special Exception” zoning approach, and how many take an approach like the Town of Vienna’s MAC zoning?  Is our approach like our hundred-day rule (Post #247), rule, i.e., something that only exists in the Town of Vienna and is use by literally no other jurisdiction in Virginia?

Just a quick search for “Special Exception” and then various jurisdictions reveals that, at the minimum, Fairfax County also has a special exception process.  (But I suspect that’s in addition to a generally more complex set of zones throughout the county — so, likely, they have some sort of MAC-analog zones as well.)

Beyond that, I had a hard time telling whether Herndon or the City of Fairfax used special exception zoning in the same way that Falls Church and Leesburg do.

My only point is that the “special exception” approach to redevelopment is not the exception.  At least three local jurisdictions — Falls Church, Leesburg, and Fairfax County — use that method.  Maybe, then, this is worth a look, if the Town ever gets around to revising MAC in any fundamental way.