If you are planning to buy or renovate a home, RPA may be something that will impact you and the value of your home more than you expect. A Resource Protection Area (RPA) is created to limit development around water bodies with perennial flows. The goal is to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries through limited development.
The Chesapeake Bay Act has been around for a while and most purchasers do know that development potential is limited around streams, lakes and rivers in Fairfax County. However, in 2003, the regulations were amended and further restrictions were put in place. The definition of what was covered under the act was changed from “tributary streams” to “water bodies with perennial flow”. The result was that a large number of new areas and homes were affected.
The most obvious impact on homeowners are limitations on the use of a property and a resulting loss of value. If you are in a RPA, you are possibly subject to limitations on decks, sheds, fences, extensions on your home and many landscaping projects.
For example, if your home is in an RPA and you want to build an extension to your home :
For those lots that have areas of RPA on them, the ordinance provides relief from the full effects of the RPA restrictions through the administrative waiver provisions. The provisions allow minor additions of up to 1,000 sq. ft. or 2 percent of the lot area up to a maximum of 2,500 sq. ft. of new impervious area in the RPA for homes constructed prior to the original effective date of the ordinance, July 1, 1993, with respect to both the old and new RPA areas. For homes that were constructed between July 1, 1993, and the effective date of the 2003 amendments, Nov. 18, 2003, minor additions are only allowed to encroach into the new RPA areas created by the amendments. This relief is provided to the current owners of these homes because the regulations were not in effect at the time the homes were built and the original builders did not have the opportunity to plan the location of these homes to avoid future conflicts with the RPA.
The state regulations on which the county’s ordinance is based do not permit detached structures to be treated as minor additions. The construction of detached structures and larger additions in the RPA are still possible, but would be subject to an exception process requiring a public hearing.
(from the Fairfax County brochure on RPAs)
For information on landscaping, fences, sheds and decks look at the brochure link above.
Determining if your home is in an RPA is therefore very important. One tool to do that would be to use the online Digital Map Viewer for Fairfax County – you select the “Chesapeake Bay Map” and then pick the Tax Map number for your property. You can find the tax map number by looking at the two first numbers of the tax-id for the property in the county tax records. With the correct map you will have to zoom in to find your property and determine if it is in one of the RPAs, if it is then 1993 or the 2003 RPAs and what effect that has on the specific property (see the excerpt above for the difference between being in the 1993 and 2003 RPAs.)
Purchasing a home next to a small stream is the dream of many (myself included.) Before you purchase, make sure you know what the impact, if any, the RPAs has on specific property. You will then be able to make an informed decision and be sure you can live with any possible limitations.
(As an aside – if you are in a RPA, you may also want to check if you are in a flood-zone…)