Citizens for Fauquier County Logo

Planning Commission Opens the Door to Special Use Permits in Commercial District

Updated: Feb 2

The Warrenton Planning Commission indicated Tuesday that it was open to using a special use permit (SUP) for the conversion of commercial land to residential. An SUP requires a full public hearing process before the planning commission and the town council and opens everything up to public scrutiny. This means project approval is discretionary rather than administrative.

The issue has been tabled for 30 days. The commission, depending on its meeting schedule, may not vote on the issue until February.

If the special use permit approach is adopted by the commission, and town council, the controversial by right provision would be dropped. By right means that developers would simply obtain a permit and build.

CFFC is firmly opposed to by right, stand-alone residential development in the commercial district and encouraged letters in opposition. The public may write the commissioners, and town council, urging support for the proposed special use permit approach.

The commissioners indicated that there was no need to conduct an analysis regarding traffic and water and sewer capacity. They did not discuss imposing design standards similar to the form-based code implemented by Marshall.

Draft Zoning Amendment, Explained

Conceptually, the idea of building residential units on an empty commercial space is an attractive idea. The problem is, it hasn’t been thought through.

WHAT: A series of zoning ordinance text amendments that will allow residential-use-only buildings in the Commercial district.

All types of dwelling units are allowed except for detached single-family homes. Allowed are single-family attached, two-family, multi-family, duplex, four-family, live-work, elderly and handicapped dwellings.

HOW MANY: Five dwelling units per acre, or a higher density as approved by Town Council. 10 dwelling units per acre if 10 percent of the units are affordable housing.

Minimum property size of five acres, unless a smaller threshold is approved by Town Council.

As an example, Oak Springs Plaza from Giant to the Tractor Supply Co. and its parking lots occupy about 10 acres. Up to 100 dwelling units could be built at that site.

The total potential number of dwelling units is unknown because the Town has not conducted a build-out analysis. There are about 250 acres of commercial land in Warrenton.

ADDITIONAL WATER/SEWER and ROAD CAPACITY NEEDED: Unaddressed. No traffic analysis conducted. Further, the Town committed all the remaining sewer system capacity in our 2.5 MGD plant to the last major rezoning it approved (Walker Drive I-PUD).

RATIO OF COMMERCIAL TO RESIDENTIAL: No more than 1 dwelling unit for every 500 square feet of commercial space. Phasing of construction allows 10 dwelling units to be built before building the first 5000 square feet of commercial space.

SIZE AND DESIGN: No material, massing or design requirements, other than a 45' height limit. Buildings adjacent/across from a residential district restricted to 36 feet high.

Residential building must occupy more of the street frontage than does parking. No newly created parking between the building and the public right-of-way.

Walking and bike paths, and 10 percent open space required.

IMPLEMENTATION: By-right, immediately upon adoption. No site-specific rezoning or public hearings required.

WHY: "[T]o promote the vision of the Comprehensive Plan that is currently under review" and to address the "Council Strategic Priority on Affordable Housing"


Advancing a wide-scale rezoning before the public has an opportunity to comment on and shape the new Comprehensive Plan eclipses both transparent planning and the public process. Passing an ordinance to implement a plan that has not yet been adopted is putting the cart before the horse.

No build-out analysis, so potential impacts of rezoning are unknown.

The pros and cons of by-right implementation of this ordinance have not been vetted. By-right implementation of such a large rezoning complicates planning. Growth may outpace infrastructure.

While the affordable housing bonus density is generous, state law may allow a higher minimum percentage of the units to be affordable. The ordinance does not clearly incorporate the provisions from Section 9-3.2 that would assure that the housing remain affordable.

Legal limitations on our sewer treatment capacity cannot support additional growth. The town has made capital improvements to the plant and believes it could operate the plant at a higher level, but the plant is deed restricted to prevent growth, and environmental laws may prevent additional pollution or flows into the waterways that the plant discharges into.

Public opinion largely disfavored the draft Comp plan because of its residential growth rate.

No design standards.

Phasing requirements could allow developers to walk away after building 10 dwelling units without building any commercial space. We need the commercial occupancy in place to produce revenue.

COVID has shifted housing markets making Warrenton a desirable location. By-right incentives to build residences in Warrenton are not necessary.

Impact on County taxes and number of school seats is unknown.


Do not allow rule to be implemented by-right. Retain control of design and impacts.

Perform a build-out analysis. The Town cannot assess if the mix or quantity of residences allowed by the rule is appropriate if it does not know what could be built.

Require a higher percentage of affordable housing units, and require that the housing continue to remain affordable for 25 years consistent with 9-3.2 or longer.

Adopt design standards, especially if by-right implementation is allowed.

Good planning means planning within our legal limits. Do not add by-right housing, creating sewer needs that cannot be supported under our current sewer limits. The rule can be issued if and when sewer limits become less restrictive.

• Revise phasing requirements so that residential units may not be built before the required amount of commercial space is built and occupied.