Summary Staff Report:
last two years, the County’s method of measuring building
height for new homes has become an issue in the building
community. About that time, staff began checking the actual
height of homes shown on plans rather than taking the
applicant’s indication of height on the permit application.
It quickly became apparent that applicants were not
correctly measuring or representing the height of their
buildings according to the Fauquier County Zoning Ordinance
requirements. Larger homes were being proposed in new
subdivisions or on large rural parcels that were exceeding
the typical height limitation of 35 feet because they are
often built with higher floor-to-ceiling ratios (10 -11
feet) and more steeply pitched roofs. Staff has met with
Northern Virginia Building Industry Association
representatives as well as several interested individuals on
this topic of calculation. This proposed text amendment is
in response to the concerns and suggestions raised in these
Zoning Ordinance is unusual since it measures the height of
a building from the lowest point of grade to either
the top of a flat roof or the midpoint of a gabled roof.
Most other nearby jurisdictions measure from the average
finished grade around a building rather than from the
lowest point of grade. Therefore, under the Fauquier
County definition, a home with a walk-out basement has its
height measured to the slab of the basement, even if the
basement is underground at the front and sides.
To meet the
current height limit, most builders have been proposing to
grade up rear yards, creating an areaway of one or two steps
at the basement door rather than allowing a flat walk-out
condition. This approach technically solves the problem,
as areaways are excluded from the lowest point of grade.
However, from the builder and homeowner perspective it
creates a lower quality, less usable rear yard condition.
builders have utilized the County’s existing special permit
process to allow an increase in height. The existing
provisions allow an increase of one foot in height where two
additional feet of setback are provided, subject to the
general standards for special permits. Typically, 3 or 4
such applications are processed each year, usually on very
large rural parcels where homes are set back at least
hundreds of feet from property lines. These special permits
have consistently been approved by the Board of Zoning
Appeals. Some in the building community have expressed
concerns that the special permit process is excessive in
cases where homes are built on such large rural lots.
This proposed text amendment makes the following changes to
1. Utilizes average finished grade rather than lowest point of
grade to measure height; and
2. Allows some increase in height (up to 40 feet) to be
approved administratively on larger rural properties.
The first change, measuring height to the average finished
grade rather than lowest point of grade will bring the
County’s methodology in line with surrounding jurisdictions.
This approach does require that a builder show the grading
around the foundation of a home in order to demonstrate the
average finished grade, but such grading is already being
shown on elevations to demonstrate compliance where height
from the slab of basement to midpoint of roof exceeds 35
feet. Staff does not anticipate that the change will
result in taller homes, as these taller homes are already
being built, with the small retaining walls at the base to
“solve” the height issue. The true perceived height will
The second change is intended to give flexibility on larger
rural parcels, where larger custom homes are often built.
The proposed amendment would allow the Zoning Administrator
to administratively approve an additional 5 feet of height
on rural parcels larger than 10 acres where an additional
setback of 2 feet is provided for each of the additional
feet of height. This increase is now allowed by special
The ability to increase height even further, and on smaller
or non-rural parcels, would be maintained through the
existing special permit process under the proposed
The Board of Supervisors initiated consideration of this
text amendment on October 11, 2007. The Planning Commission
held a public hearing on the amendment on November 29, 2007
and unanimously recommended approval.