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Chesterfield On Point

Posted on: November 8, 2021

Zoning 101: Navigating the Process

Element at Stonebridge Sign

Element at Stonebridge SignElement at Stonebridge Development Plan

Few of the Chesterfield County’s regulatory powers generate more public attention than its authority to determine what can be built and where. And yet, there are many misconceptions about the zoning process, without which the county would have no ability to protect existing residents and businesses from being adversely impacted by new development. We hope the following information brings some clarity to the topic.

What is zoning?
Zoning is a tool by which most American jurisdictions regulate residential, commercial, office and industrial land use and ensure that proposed development is appropriate and reasonable for a particular area. It dates back to the early 1900s, when factories began popping up next to residential buildings and municipal governments sought to physically separate such disparate uses.

Among the most common building elements controlled by zoning are height, setbacks (how much space you must leave between the end of the structure and your property line), lot coverage (how much of your property can be used for a building) and density (the maximum number of units that can be constructed on each acre of land).

How does it work in Chesterfield?
Before initiating a formal rezoning request with the Planning Department, a prospective applicant usually meets with Planning staff and briefly outlines what it wants to build on a given parcel. Staff reviews the proposal and provides a zoning opinion -- an analysis based on the history of similar requests in that area and its consistency with the county’s comprehensive plan.

If the applicant decides to go forward, Planning schedules a pre-application meeting with the applicant and representatives from several other county departments, including Utilities, Environmental Engineering and Transportation. They highlight potential challenges with the project, such as stormwater drainage, that would have to be alleviated as part of the zoning case.

After an application is submitted and the required fee paid, Planning assigns a case number to the project and schedules a meeting of the technical review committee, which checks to make sure the application addresses the issues identified in the pre-application meeting and any other applicable ordinance requirements.

The applicant may opt to hold a community meeting and give residents a chance to submit questions and comments about its proposal. The case then typically is scheduled for public hearings before the Chesterfield Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors, with the board having the final vote and ultimate authority over land use in the county.

How long does it take?
By the time a proposed development is presented at a public hearing, Planning staff typically has devoted considerable time to negotiating with the applicant, improving the project’s quality and mitigating to the greatest degree possible any adverse impacts on the community.

Even the most straightforward cases take about four months from beginning to conclusion. The average is six to seven months, while larger, more complex cases can stretch out even longer.

Does the Board of Supervisors approve all (or most) rezoning requests?
Not even close. In an average year, only about 20% of the zoning inquiries received by the Planning Department make it to the public hearing stage. The vast majority of requests never result in a filed application because people decide not to go forward with their project.

Center Pointe ConstructionConstruction at Centerpointe

What is the comprehensive plan?
The comprehensive plan is a long-range vision document, crafted by county staff and elected officials with input from citizens, that guides how Chesterfield should grow and evolve. It consists of 16 chapters, including Land Use, Public Facilities, Transportation and Utilities. It must be reviewed at least every five years; the current comprehensive plan was approved by the Board of Supervisors in May 2019.

What is the zoning ordinance?
The zoning ordinance is a legal document that provides the regulatory framework for implementing the comprehensive plan. While the comprehensive plan is regularly updated, much of the core content of Chesterfield’s current zoning ordinance hasn’t been substantially amended since the 1970s. 

The Planning Department has contracted with a team of consultants and initiated a multiyear project, known as ZOMod, to create a new, more nimble and user-friendly zoning ordinance with modern land use categories that align with the comprehensive plan. The public will have multiple opportunities to weigh in on the document before it is approved by the Board of Supervisors most likely in 2023.

Why is ZOMod important?
Chesterfield was largely developed with residential, commercial, office and industrial uses separated into distinct geographical nodes. In recent years, however, there has been growing market demand for developments that include a mix of uses in the same area to facilitate walkability and reduce reliance on vehicles.

Because the county’s current zoning ordinance doesn’t include a mixed-use zoning district, applicants who want permission to build such projects must apply for a conditional use planned development (CUPD) – a complex process in which Planning staff must effectively create a customized zoning district with a series of conditions that apply specifically to that project. 

With the changing nature of both brick-and-mortar retail and modern advanced manufacturing, the addition of a mixed-use zoning district in Chesterfield would streamline the zoning process – potentially making it more attractive for developers to repurpose existing shopping centers and companies to bring high-paying manufacturing jobs closer to where their employees live. 

This has a high-level view of zoning in Chesterfield and is not intended to be an exhaustive discussion about the subject. If you have additional questions, contact the Planning Department.

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