Arlington County COVID-19-Related Planning and Zoning Matters

April 20, 2020

Arlington County, Virginia, has enacted several policies and procedures to keep the county’s planning and zoning operations open and running during the COVID-19 crisis. While the situation continues to evolve, it is clear that Arlington County is finding creative ways to stay open for business and to help local businesses impacted by the pandemic.

County Board Meetings

On March 24, 2020, the Arlington County Board approved an emergency ordinance allowing the board to meet virtually to address the COVID-19 crisis and to handle matters essential to the continued operation of the county government. The board has held several virtual meetings since enacting the March 24 emergency ordinance, but county commissions, including the Planning Commission, have not met in March or April. The board and county staff spent the last few weeks deciding whether commissions essential to the land use process can and should meet virtually under the emergency ordinance. The county has not made a definitive decision on this issue as of April 20.

The board announced on April 16 that the April 18 and 21 board meetings would be deferred one week. The board made this decision in part to allow the Virginia General Assembly to consider a proposal by Gov. Ralph Northam to allow public bodies, including the Arlington County Board and local commissions, to meet virtually during the current state of emergency. Gov. Northam’s proposal, should it be adopted by the General Assembly, would provide clarity by definitively permitting commissions to meet virtually if authorized by the board. This means Arlington’s robust community review process for land use cases could continue in the near future with virtual commission meetings.

Planning Applications and Zoning Enforcement

Most planning applications — including 4.1 site plans, use permits and site plan amendments — are being processed electronically through the county’s Permit Arlington system. For the first time, the county is processing administrative change applications that are submitted to [email protected]. Planning staff has been working remotely since mid-March, and applicants are regularly holding teleconferences with staff. County staff is processing applications with the intention of having the board review the applications at a virtual board hearing during the pendency of the pandemic.

On March 29, the county announced that it would relax the enforcement of certain zoning regulations for businesses particularly impacted by COVID-19. Specifically, the county announced that conditions associated with use permits and site plans will not be enforced for the following commercial retail, restaurant and food establishments, or building uses:

  • Drive-thru facilities
  • Food delivery service (groceries, and food and beverages to off-site locations)
  • Parking lot/sidewalk sales associated with retail/restaurant establishments
  • Provision of signs for retail and restaurants establishments on-site, indicating the availability of pickup, drive-thru and food delivery service
  • County board-approved loading dock hours with special exception site plans and use permits

Small Business Grant Program

On April 16, Arlington County unveiled a small business emergency grant program. The program provides grants of up to $10,000 to businesses and nonprofits with less than 50 employees. Businesses may use the grants for employee salary and benefits as well as for other business capital and operating expenses directly related to the immediate impacts of COVID-19. The application process is expected to start in early May.

McGuireWoods has published additional thought leadership analyzing how companies across industries can address crucial business and legal issues related to COVID-19.