WINCHESTER — The Frederick County Planning Commission on Wednesday night reviewed a proposed ordinance amendment that would modify the application and review process for Master Development Plans.
Master Development Plans are administratively approved but must go before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors as informational items, meaning the bodies may review a plan but they can’t vote or take any actions related to it. Planning staff drafted a revision to the county code removing the requirement that Master Development Plans be presented to the commission and supervisors as an information item at public meetings.
County Planner Tyler Klein explained this means Master Development Plans would not be presented as information items after being approved by all necessary agencies such as the Virginia Department of Transportation or Frederick Water. Instead, an MDP would be sent directly to the planning director and county administrator for approval.
Klein told The Star on Thursday that the idea came about because many residents confuse information items with public hearings.
“What we have found with Master Development Plans is because they are on a public agenda, there is an inherent expectation with the public that they are able to make comments and influence the outcome of that discussion,” Klein said. “And unlike a rezoning or a conditional-use permit or an ordinance amendment where they are advertised for public hearings, Master Development Plans are simply presented for information purposes.”
Klein said there have been numerous instances when citizens attend a board meeting to protest a Master Development Plan only to discover there is no public hearing. In many cases, Klein said residents learn the rezoning for the development was approved years prior. The proposed ordinance amendment is designed to avoid confusion and not to give citizens a false sense of hope that they can change the outcome of a Master Development Plan.
To ensure the public is informed about upcoming projects, Klein said current planning applications can be reviewed at fcva.us/departments/planning-development/current-planning-applications.
Also, at the meeting, the commission reviewed a proposed ordinance amendment that would alter the requirements of opaque fencing.
Current zoning law requires opaque fencing — fencing that is constructed to visually obscure structures and outdoor storage areas — for various uses in the county. These uses include outdoor storage and processing, buffer and screening requirements, landfills, junk yards, trash disposal and inoperable vehicles, dumpster enclosures, motor vehicle service uses, automotive repair shops and public garages, storage and self-service facilities. Currently, chain-link fences are not considered opaque fencing.
The proposed ordinance amendment would allow chain-link fences with slats to be considered an opaque fence if the landowner receives a waiver from the Board of Supervisors. To be eligible for a waiver for a chain-link fence with slats, the applicant must acquire written approval from adjacent property owners.
Additionally, the proposed ordinance amendment would automatically allow chain-link fences with slats for specific uses in the county’s business and industrial districts. These uses include outdoor storage and processing, motor vehicle uses, automotive repair shops, public garages, trash storage, and storage/self-storage facilities.
According to Klein, Millers Hardware near Stephens City requested the ordinance amendment. However, he said planning staff has heard from several business owners over the years that they would prefer to use chain-link fencing with slats because it’s a durable product and secure.
The Planning Commission did not vote on either matter. The proposed ordinance amendments were presented as informational items only.
Both ordinance amendments will go before the Board of Supervisors at a later meeting, at which point supervisors will decide whether they want public hearings on either matter.