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Zoning quirk is tripping up home renovations in Fairlington

County Board action is sought by community's civic association

Residents of Fairlington who have found themselves making interior renovations to condominiums recently, in some cases, have been forced to go before the Board of Zoning Appeals for adjudication.

That’s a far cry from the experience of others across Arlington, where such improvements typically are approved by the county government administratively (if they need to be approved at all). And it’s all due to a quirk in the county’s zoning ordinance.

That ordinance requires special county-government approval of things like kitchen upgrades and attic buildouts when the property does not meet setback requirements in the zoning code.

Fairlington, constructed as a large rental community to house war workers in the 1940s and later converted to condominiums, pre-dates the zoning requirements, but current county staff say the rules still need to be adhered to.

Guy Land, president of the Fairlington Citizens Association, came to County Board members on Sept. 23 to ask for help. He believes an amendment to the zoning code would do the trick, taking some of the workload away from the Board of Zoning Appeals and easing costs to renovating residents.

While he gained supportive nods from the County Board dais, Land’s request may not be so easy to fulfill.

“This requires a fair bit of research to get our heads around,” County Board Chairman Christian Dorsey said. “When it comes to making fixes, you do not want to create issues in other places.”

But County Board member Libby Garvey conjured up the equivalent of a Joe Biden “c’mon, man!” rebuttal. Garvey, a Fairlington resident for decades and one whose political power base has been centered there, said she’ll be pushing for a quick fix.

“These renovations have been done just fine for decades,” Garvey said.

Land made a play for support by bringing up the County Board’s current fealty to the concept of equity, noting that while some of the condominiums in the large South Arlington community fall afoul of the setback requirements, others do not. Owners in the latter category do not need to take the matter to the Board of Zoning Appeals.