Accessory Dwelling Units

Message from the Broyhill Park Civic Association

The Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals is proposing certain amendments to the county zoning ordinance that would significantly weaken restrictions on accessory dwelling units.  Below is a description and summary of the proposed amendments, sent by the Mason District Council of Community Associations.  The Mason District Council represents Broyhill Park and other civic and homeowner associations in the Mason District. Please read the summary below and complete the survey as requested in the last paragraph.


Dear MDC Members, 

While undertaking a project to modernize and better organize the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance (zMOD), county staff has proposed sweeping and controversial amendments to regulations pertaining to accessory

dwelling units (ADUs) with the stated objective of increasing the supply of affordable housing. The MDC Board believes that the proposed changes are detrimental to the welfare of single-family home communities and should not be adopted.

What’s an ADU? An ADU is a dwelling unit limited to two bedrooms and two occupants, complete with a full kitchen, that may be constructed as an accessory to any single-family detached home. Currently, on lots less than 2 acres, the ADU must be inside the house, (an interior ADU). On lots larger than 2 acres, the ADU may be interior or standalone (an exterior ADU). There can be only one ADU on a property and the homeowner is required to live on the property. The interior ADU effectively turns the single-family home into a duplex. The standalone ADU adds a second home to the property.

Current ADU Regulations. ADUs were introduced into the zoning ordinance some time ago as a housing option for older and/or disabled residents, in particular, family members of the property owner who are either disabled or at least 55 years of age in general need of monitoring and support. Today, the approval of both interior and exterior ADUs requires a special permit, a process that assures transparency and some measure of compatibility of the ADU with the community. Neighbors receive notice in the mail that an ADU application has been filed, and sign boards are posted on the property with the same message. A public hearing is held before the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to provide neighbors an opportunity to state and resolve their concerns, and the BZA is required to make a determination that the ADU would be compatible with the character of the neighborhood. The BZA is an independent body appointed by the Circuit Court.

Proposed Amendments. The zMOD program is proposing to:

Change the intent and purpose of ADUs from housing for the elderly and disabled to a mechanism ostensibly for providing affordable housing. In fact, the proposal does nothing to ensure affordability, and simply deletes the requirement that one or both occupants of the ADU must be either disabled or at least 55 years of age.

Current regulations stipulate that occupants of a single-family detached home may include no more than 4 people unrelated by blood or marriage.  The proposed regulations would allow conversion of single-family homes with 4 unrelated people and one kitchen into duplexes with 6 unrelated people and 2 kitchens.

Proposed changes also include eliminating the required special permit and the entire public hearing process for a routine administrative permit instead.

Concerns. One concern is the likelihood that the amendment would encourage a proliferation of boarding houses - a blight that the county has not been able to manage.

A second concern is the option that the amendments would provide developers to tear down homes in single-family neighborhoods and build duplexes in their place.

Perhaps a greater concern is the amendment’s intention to eliminate the special permit requirement for interior ADUs. This change would eliminate all of the protection against incompatible development that the special permit process provides communities.  There would be no notification to neighbors of the intention to install an interior ADU, no BZA hearing for resolving community concerns, and no independent determination by the BZA that an interior ADU would not damage the character of the neighborhood.  Communities would be left defenseless.

And finally, allowing single-family dwellings to be converted into multi-family dwellings will create an increase in population in areas not planned for such density. Without adequate planning and funding for essential infrastructure to support potential new residents there will be severe impacts on parking, traffic, schools, parks, hospitals, government services and utilities.

Conclusion:  The MDC Board supports the current ADU regulations that are focused on providing housing for older and/or disabled residents and are approved by special permits.  The Board does not support the proposal to drop the age/disability requirement and opposes in the strongest possible terms the proposal to drop the special permit requirement.

Engage:  You can find the zMOD accessory dwelling unit video and the survey at  The video is under the heading VIDEOS and the survey under SURVEYS.  Please encourage your membership to engage and respond to the survey.

Thank you.

The Board of Mason District Council of Community Associations

Debbie Smith – Chair
Carol Turner-  Vice Chair
Clyde Miller – Secretary
Debbie Fraser – Treasurer
Jennifer Abdelmalek – Fairfax Federation Representative



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Saturday, 23 January 2021

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