My Side of the Fence

The danger isn't going too far. It's that we don't go far enough.

Zoning Text Amendments for Abortion Clinics

There has been a fair amount of kerfuffle about a recent examination by the Land Use committee of the City Council of the zoning ordinance, text and definitions.  Specifically as it pertains to abortion clinics and other out-patient medical providers.  At the request of Councilmember Aveni, the staff has done some legwork on the question of modifying our zoning code to require a Special Use Permit for either abortion clinics or just all outpatient surgical providers.  We had a meeting a couple of weeks ago about the subject.  The outcome of that meeting was a unanimous recommendation from the LU Committee to the full Council that the staff not address the zoning code on a subject by subject basis but rather pursue a comprehensive re-write.  This does not give priority to the abortion clinic/outpatient request.  The reason that I voted for the comprehensive re-write is that the City has shelled out well in excess of 1 million dollars of taxpayer money over zoning related issues since I've been on Council.  It started with the definition of family question championed by Jackson Miller and the last tranche was paid out studying assembly uses in industrial districts

Random Zoning Map

Random Zoning Map

What we are doing, in essence, is re-writing our zoning code to address a single legal issue at a time.  It's hideously expensive and we should stop being dumb about it.  Surrounding jurisdictions have had their codes overhauled and the price is about $150k which seems like a bargain compared to over $1 million.  The public's interest here is having a modern zoning code that governs modern problems, not patching potholes in outdated ordinances.  The framework of the existing zoning code was enacted in the middle 1950's.  We don't have working farms in Manassas anymore and our zoning code should act like it.

At the meeting Monday night the staff gave a presentation outlining their proposal to the full Council.  I admit to being surprised at the number of people there!  Most meetings concerning zoning have zero attendees or only staff but we had a full house!  Given the subject I wasn't surprised to see the pro-life folk there but for maybe the first time ever the pro-choice crowd was well represented.  That was new.  In any event, the Council considered its options and voted 5-1 to direct the staff to pursue a complete overhaul.  The question about abortion clinics and other outpatient providers will be addressed as a part of this larger process and not as an individual item.  The proposal indicated that we will be using in-house staff to do the work and save money so the entire process will take several years.  Depending on the progress that the staff makes the Council may elect to revisit doing the entire process in-house if we have the money.

A word about Special Use Permits: no doubt that those who oppose abortions believe that requiring a SUP will prevent another clinic from locating in the City or at least make it very difficult.  It may make it difficult but it may or may not prevent it.  I've no love of abortion but it is currently legal.  The Special Use Permit process is designed to allow localities to work with applicants to address the "impacts" that certain types of businesses present.  Impacts might be traffic, noise and public health hazards among others.  If the SUP applicant can address the impacts as identified then the SUP is normally approved.  If the Council feels that the conditions for the SUP do not address the impacts they can deny the SUP.  Denying the permit because "we don't like it" isn't a defensible action.  That denial would have a good chance of being overturned upon appeal to the courts.  I'm not a zoning expert but the impacts of an abortion clinic would seem to be about the same as any other doctors office.  

However, we do have zoning experts on staff and that's why they're looking at it and not me.  The hospital is a big employer and might attract many more outpatient providers.  Will that eventually cause an issue?  I don't know but the guys we pay will figure it out.

One last thing: this is a controversial issue.  If you comment, follow the rules.  Other blogs allow and even encourage attacks on third parties but I do not.  If you disagree with this action, say your piece and keep it at that.  If you want to say terrible things about other Council members or the Mayor, cowboy up and send them an email under your own name 'cause you ain't doing it here.


  1. I did not attend last night as (1) pulled the Staff memo, read it – very well written by the way – and (2) knew y'all were going to get as big, if not bigger crowd than at the LUC.  I applaud 100% the decision to do the WHOLE code – the Staff's recommendation – for as I have said in the past before Council, and written here, we have to overhaul our Code so it does reflect current and also acts as an enabler for Manassas Next 2032 Comp Plan.


    With Logic and no Emotion:  You are correct, Andy, when you wrote "the impacts of an abortion clinic would seem to be about the same as any other doctors office" WHEN those doctors office perform some form of an invansive procedure, even as simple as removing a mole or a carbuncle. VDH has the standards for each type of office:  surgical, just medical, dentist, etc.  I applaud the Council for maintaining the approach this is not just about one clinic.  Well done, well done!


    By the way, also find it to be fantastic the City is finally advertising for the Econ Development Manager position!  Well done, well done!

  2. Andy,

    Would this also address the other zoning overlays such as the historic district and the visual (I may not have the correct name for this) district as one enters the historic district?

  3. Seems like a rational approach. 

  4. andy

    February 6, 2014 at 8:00 am

    @ray: I agree with your modification.  Either way, I think I understand the impacts right now.  Counting on staff to sort out what they'll be down the road.


    @Mo: I don't know.  I wouldn't think so but if staff feels like they need modification, they'll bring them forward.  Also know that this will be a public process.  The City WILL be seeking citizen input.

  5. I highly encourage those reading Andy's blog that if you have not looked at the February 3rd Agenda, please do so at the link below.  The agenda included:  the Staff Recommendations, the Presentation, and the draft Minutes from the Land Use Committee.  Please do read ALL of it.

  6. Mo, the way I read the Staff report and the various phases, since the First Stage is to look at "permitted uses in each zoning district", I figure like Andy said the Staff will look at both.  The Historic District is in Section 130-541, and the Gateways are kind of spread across several Sections.  Maybe a small section defining the Gateways would be an improvement in the Code?


    I also would like to see, and this may really stir things up, as the Code is overhauled we look at Proffers.  Take Age-restricted Housing:  there should be a higher-rate for Fire & Police contributions given statistically, these complexes are a higher user of both.  This is an issue cropping up nationwide; well, except in places like Ohio and Arizona where there is an "age levy" in taxes (Ohio is 5cents) which pays not only for aging services and programs, but also a portion is passed through to Fire and Rescue.   Just something to think on, not a demand 🙂

  7. Ray- Don't give the City any ideas. Besides, i doubt that age differentiated taxes would fly in Virginia. 

  8. Mary Ann Jenkins

    February 7, 2014 at 9:36 am

    There could also be a higher rate for new developmets that generate school children that have to be educated and with taxes that are paid for all residents regardless of age..  Age-resticted housing does not generate school age children that have to be educated.  Also from personal experience in having to have my mother transported several times via rescue squad, they are reimbursed for the transport by the fees that are charged for this service  and are paid by medicare and/or health insurance.  This is in addition to the property taxes already paid to provide these services.  Targeting a specific group of people that may or may not cost the City more money for living here is not very prudent.

  9. Considering the frequency that the zoning discussions/debates are occurring, I agree with the rationale to overhaul the code. I hope this also includes looking at our signage code. There's a small, woman-owned business on Cockrell road who has had nothing but headaches dealing with our zoning department. She sells icecream. She wants to put up a sign telling people she sells Icecream. She can't. She want's to put up an awning so people eating their icecream can so so out of the sun. She can't. This is Cockrell road. It's next to a 7-11, a carwash, a garage, and backs up to an overpass. Strict zoning for asthetic reasons here is like putting a bandaid on a sucking chest wound. Let's have some rational zoning rules here.


  10. andy

    February 7, 2014 at 10:50 am

    @steve – tell her to call me!

  11. Andy, I will.

  12. @Frank  you're right it may never fly in Virginia, although it is something being tossed around at the various Aging Services meetings/conferences I have attended in the last year.  The concern is given the Older Americans Act funding is primarily Federal, well, you can draw the picture there with all those issues.


    Age-Restricted Housing:  let me toss in a bit more.  This housing is not designed/built with the target population being the Older Adult on fixed income aka Affordable Housing.  This is higher-end housing built with a specific target in mind.  The Baby Boomers, at least statistically, have around $18,000 a year disposable income and hence, can afford these $300K and up places.  Even in the last presentation prior to approval for the next set of condos over at Wellington, the developers acknowledged the economic benefit of having age-restricted housing because of the money that can be spent locally by residents.  Again, the changing of proffers as they relate to Age-restricted housing is a topic being discussed at many locations.

  13. It was pretty obvious in that meeting, Andy, that the abortion clinic was the elephant in the room. You know my thoughts on the local abortion clinic; they are public record, as I have spoken before to the Council. I understand the limitations on the Council, and the need for an updated city zoning ordinance. However I want to give you an illustration of the real cost here. 
    The next evening, the MCPS All City Chorus gave a concert at the Hylton centre. I don't know if you were there, but over 500 of the city's school children gave an outstanding performance. It was beautiful watching this boys and girls sing. You can see it here:

    As you watch that, Andy, realize that those children singing are the same number as the unborn children that died in the last two years at the local abortion clinic. Take a good look at that video; that is what is being lost, our children in our city. There is no way to calculate the cost of that loss. 

    I know you have limitations, Andy, but do everything you can. And please do it now.

  14. As I said last night at City Council, the resolution passed by a majority of the Council backing Delegate Marshall's efforts for consolidation of regulations all came true this past summer.  I read highlights from the VA Administrative Code, and invite all – be you Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, or just want to ensure the Council does what is legally allowed under their Statutory Powers.  The regulation on Abortion Clinics along with the FAQ defines things very clearly.  Link is below:


  15. If the zoning code re-write may take a couple of years as you indicated, what happens if an abortion clinic seeks to come to the city in the interim?  Wouldn't that require the CIty to handle that zoning issue separately anyway?

  16. GMan:  If a clinic were to want to open in the City it would have to satisfy the existing zoning requirements.  I don't know off the top of my head but I'd guess its a by-right use in the proper district.  Probably the same as a doctors office or similar use – but I'm only guessing.

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