Board of Supervisors Meeting Date:

Chester W. Stribling, Chairman,|
Lee District


July 10, 2008

Staff Lead:


Kimberley Johnson, Zoning Administrator


Community Development



A Zoning Ordinance Text Amendment to Create a Mixed Use Special District as Section 4‑900


Topic Description:

 The proposed Zoning Ordinance text amendment creates a new Special District to be utilized in the County’s Service Districts for mixed use neighborhoods to include both commercial and residential uses as well as civic and institutional uses.


Requested Action of the Board of Supervisors:

 Conduct a public hearing and consider adoption of the attached Ordinance.


Financial Impact Analysis:

No financial impact analysis has been conducted.


Summary Staff Report: 

Approach and Process


The new Mixed Use (MU) District is proposed as a Special District in Article 4 of the Zoning Ordinance.  The MU District is established to provide for mixed use development within the County’s Service Districts when consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and the county-wide land use vision and goals.  The district is intended to focus development in a compact form within Service Districts, creating a vibrant mixed use area that functions as a discernable center for employment as well as a center of retail, service, entertainment, cultural and civic activities for a traditional neighborhood.


As proposed, the regulations establish broad parameters for the uses in the district, with specific limitations and requirements to be established on a case-by-case basis for each project as part of the rezoning process.  Even where broad parameters are established in the ordinance, many can be waived by the Board with approval of the rezoning when the applicant can demonstrate an alternate approach to achieving the goals of the District. This approach gives the maximum flexibility to both the County and applicants to respond to unique characteristics and issues on a project-by-project basis.  It is anticipated that the development of a town center in each Service District will be something of an evolutionary process, as it is difficult to predict the order in which sites will come forward for development; the flexibility designed into the ordinance is critical for responding to this evolution.


As part of the rezoning process, a site specific General Development Plan and Code of Development would be approved for each project.  These documents would govern the build-out of the project.  The General Development Plan would show street layout, general land uses and key features of the development, such as civic buildings or major open spaces.  The Code of Development would specify the types and character of uses allowed, and specific guidelines for the design and layout of streets, buildings and open spaces, with substantial flexibility retained to allow changes to the development as it evolves in order to respond to market conditions. 


The intent is to create regulations which facilitate mixed use development within the County’s Service Districts consistent with the main-street form and pedestrian-oriented character envisioned by the County’s Comprehensive Plan.  Standards for approval included in the proposed regulations (§4-918) provide a summary of the intent of the MU Special District.  In summary, these standards require development in the MU district to be designed with: 

  • Consistency with the Comprehensive Plan;
  • A mix of uses that help create a center for employment as well as a center of retail, service, entertainment, cultural and civic activities for workers, residents and visitors;
  • A mix of housing types to include a range of styles, sizes and price ranges;
  • A pedestrian orientation, with clearly defined sidewalks and paths enhanced by trees, pocket parks, seating and other streetscape elements, and with buildings located close to the sidewalk and providing a variety of pedestrian destinations;
  • Streets that are designed to consider their influence on the character of the neighborhood as well as carrying capacity, with narrower widths, on-street parking, and multiple connections;
  • Open space treated as an integral component of the development;
  • Minimization of parking, with parking dispersed and located to the rear of buildings and garages and parking areas fronting on alleys rather than streets;
  • Human-scaled and pedestrian oriented lighting and signage; and
  • Reasonable and sustainable transitions to adjoining development.



 As currently drafted, property located within areas designated for mixed use in Service Districts as well as adjoining properties designated residential could utilize the MU Special District.   Three sub-districts are envisioned, with different broad limitations established in the ordinance for each of these sub-areas.   

The Mixed Use-Core sub-district is intended to be utilized in areas serving as the focal point of development in a Service District, with a concentration of active uses such as retail, restaurants and services, but also providing complementary office, service and residential uses.  The Mixed Use-General district would apply to all other areas in Service Districts designated for mixed use.  The sub-district also provides for a mix of uses, but is not intended to serve as the major focus for retail and related services within the service district. 

The Mixed Use-Residential sub-district is intended for areas in the Service District which are designated for residential development rather than mixed use, and allows for predominately residential development.  Utilizing the MU district for residential development would provide more flexibility to developers in layout of residential communities and allow for a broader array of housing types within a project while assuring that such projects are designed with a pedestrian orientation that is physically integrated (by streets, walkways, and open spaces) to adjoining mixed use and commercial areas.  


The proposed regulations would allow a broad range of uses within the MU district, with specific uses proposed for a particular project to be further defined as part of the rezoning process.  Uses are grouped into six broad use categories: 

1.   Residential (single family, duplex, triplex, quadriplex, townhouse, live-work, multifamily including residential over commercial, and group living)

2.   Temporary Housing (Bed & Breakfast, Hotel)

3.   Public, Civic and Institutional Uses (churches, day-care, schools, government facilities, etc.)

4.   Active Commercial Uses (retail, restaurants, personal services, gyms, galleries, etc.)

5.   Other Commercial Uses (offices, research & development, artisan shops, technical schools)

6.   Utilities (water, sewer, telecommunications facilities)


The provisions include requirements that call for a mix of uses across these broad categories as well as a certain proportion of uses from some categories in particular sub-districts.  For example, in the Mixed-Use Core, a higher proportion of active commercial uses are required and a lower proportion of residential uses.    


As drafted, the provisions establish no limits on density of commercial uses, with such limits to be determined as part of the rezoning process.  No density limits are proposed for residential units located over commercial uses or live/work units in the Core of General Districts.  In the residential districts, the code establishes that residential densities shall not exceed those envisioned in the Comprehensive Plan. 

Lot, Height and Building Requirements 

This district includes few of the traditional lot requirements found in most zoning ordinances, with minimal requirements for setbacks.  Rather than requiring buildings to be set back a certain distance from the street, buildings are required to be within a certain distance of the street, to help create pedestrian-oriented developments.  The one exception to this minimal setback is along Collectors and Arterials and along other existing streets adjoining existing rural and residential properties, where the provisions call for a minimum setback of 50 feet from the right-of-way so that these areas can be buffered and their rural character protected. 

Height minimums are also established, at 25 feet/2 stories for primary structures.   The lower one story-structures sometimes typical of commercial development do not create a sense of enclosure along the street, important for creating a human scale and pedestrian orientation.   Maximum height has been proposed at four stories (55 feet) for commercial and mixed use buildings and three stories (35 feet) for residential buildings, with the intention that the core areas would typically be no more than three or four stories in height, consistent with the scale of downtown Warrenton.   The MU provisions would allow the Board to approve greater heights for specific buildings.  


The proposed regulations include general requirements for narrower streets, with on-street parking, street trees and sidewalks. A major challenge to successful development of the envisioned mixed use communities will be existing Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Street requirements, which generally do not promote narrower streets with on-street parking, or accommodate street-tree planting.   However, VDOT regulations do acknowledge that narrower streets are appropriate in certain areas, and the County will be able to work with VDOT and applicants toward a more traditional street design.  As an alternative, there may be opportunity to utilize private streets, particularly in the mixed use areas where the commercial entities make street maintenance less of an issue.   

Open Space and Landscaping  

The proposed open space requirement for the project is lower than many existing zoning districts—10 percent for the Mixed Use areas and 20 percent for the Residential areas, but utilities and stormwater management facilities cannot be counted toward the open space (as they are in other districts).  Therefore, although less open space may be provided, the result should be more usable, functional open space.  The MU provisions require open space to be deliberately planned and located so that it is accessible and functional to residents, employees and visitors. 

Street trees form the most critical element for landscaping requirements, and special attention is given in the regulations to assuring that such trees are accommodated in developments.  Study after study concludes that street trees help to create the character that communities seek to achieve with traditional main street development.  Trees soften and screen the buildings, pavement and other hardscape elements of a street, help to slow down traffic and, most significantly, separate pedestrians from traffic and give pedestrians a sense of enclosure that contributes significantly to creating a pedestrian orientation. 

Other Elements 

Ideally, the MU provisions would incorporate stand-alone provisions to deal with other zoning requirements such as parking, signage and lighting.  However, staff believes that developing such specific standards for these elements at this time would require significant time and delay the opportunity to implement a MU district.  Therefore, the provisions incorporate substantial flexibility in these areas, allowing the Board to waive and modify such requirements as part of an application should they desire to do the necessary analysis in support of alternatives.  Staff would anticipate that, in the future, these general provisions would be replaced with more detailed standards for the MU district. 

Text Amendment Process 

The Board of Supervisors initiated this text amendment at their November 8, 2007 meeting.   Staff provided an introduction to the proposed amendment to the Planning Commission at their October 25, 2007 work session.  A Planning Commission public hearing was initially scheduled for November 29, 2007, and follow-up Planning Commission work sessions on the amendment were held on December 4, January 4, January 31, February 15, February 28, March 27, April 18 and April 24.   Multiple public hearings were also held, with the last public hearing held and closed on April 24, 2008.  The proposed ordinance reflects significant input from the public and the Planning Commission. On May 28, 2008, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the proposed ordinance.


Identify any other Departments, Organizations or Individuals that would be affected by this request:

Department of Economic Development

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