Board of Supervisors Meeting Date:

William G. Downey, Scott District Supervisor


October 11, 2007


Staff Lead:


Kimberley Johnson, Zoning Administrator


Community Development



A Resolution Initiating a Zoning Ordinance Text Amendment to Sections 3-324, 5-2401 and 15-300 to Change the Procedure for Calculating Building Height and Allow Some Increase in Heights by Administrative Permits


Topic Description: 

This proposed text amendment would change the method whereby the County calculates height of buildings.  Currently, height is calculated from the lowest point of grade at the exterior building wall; the proposed change would utilize an average finished grade.  The amendment would also allow the Zoning Administrator to approve an increase in height up to 40 feet for residential buildings on larger RA and RC zoned properties.   Other increases in height would continue to require Special Permit approval by the Board of Zoning Appeals.


Requested Action of the Board of Supervisors:

 For purposes of good zoning practice, convenience, and general welfare, consider approval of the attached resolution.


Financial Impact Analysis:

No financial impact analysis has been conducted.


Summary Staff Report:


Over the 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 meetings.

Fauquier’s 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. 

Some 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.

Proposed Text Amendment

This proposed text amendment makes the following changes to height regulations:

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 not change.

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 permit.

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 amendment.


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

Economic Development


1.   Resolution

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