Vienna Council member floats proposal to increase lot coverage

Vienna Town Council member Nisha Patel outlines a draft ordinance change regarding lot coverage during the Council's Oct. 28 work session. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

Owners and developers of single-family detached residential properties in Vienna long have had to stay within a 25-percent lot-coverage limit.

The town government has maintained that standard for decades to limit the density of residential developments.

But a newly elected Vienna Town Council member is developing a proposal that, if adopted, would allow additional lot coverage for outdoor living spaces and driveway upgrades, provided the properties had modern stormwater-management systems.

“The intention of the proposed amendment is not to allow for larger houses, but rather to allow for outdoor-living spaces and driveway improvements to allow for safe entrance and exit” from residences, said Council member Nisha Patel, who outlined her proposal at the Town Council’s Oct. 28 work session. “I believe this amendment is not a piecemeal approach to updating the zoning ordinance, but rather a side-by-side approach.”

Numerous community members have asked for help regarding the zoning restriction and would benefit from its amendment, she said.

Patel’s draft proposal would allow any existing or new construction to have “an additional 5 percent of lot coverage for driveway expansion, decks, patios, tennis courts or other outdoor sports courts, terraces, screened-in porches not encased in four walls, lead walks and pools, classified as outdoor living space and improvements.”

The lot-coverage increase would be allowed “as long as a current stormwater-management system is implemented, functional and in compliance with the current required standards and approved by the Department of Public Works,” the proposal read.

Patel’s proposal also stipulates that “failure to implement or update a stormwater-management system voids the additional 5 percent of allowable lot coverage for outdoor living space and improvements.”

Most, if not all, new single-family residential developments in Vienna are close to the 25-percent lot-coverage limit, said Vienna Planning and Zoning Director Cindy Petkac.

Approximately 70.5 percent of Vienna’s land area is zoned residential and 82 percent of that residential space is classified as single-family detached, said Vienna Public Works Director Michael Gallagher.

Mayor Laurie DiRocco expressed concern about unintended consequences of Patel’s proposal, saying it would apply to the majority of land in the town.

“Twenty-five-percent lot coverage is restricting and a prominent feature of Vienna,” she said. “It’s kind of defined our neighborhoods over the years.”

Council member Linda Colbert worried that additional runoff from the increased impervious surface area on such properties could lead to flooding in neighbors’ basements. Gallagher responded that on an individual basis, a 5-percent lot-coverage increase would have a “pretty minimal” effect.

Vienna’s successful land-use policies in the past have prompted some Fairfax County residents living just outside the town to ask Vienna to annex their properties, Colbert said.

“A lot of people in town really do like all the green space in our yards,” she said.

Patel said she’d asked for the Town Council to review her proposal so it could be framed better, and that she hopes to obtain public input. After a public town-hall meeting next spring, the initiative could be sent to the Vienna Planning Commission and then the Town Council for consideration, officials said.

Patel, an ophthalmologist and business owner, was elected to the Town Council in May and took office July 1.    

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