How to Influence Land Use Decision-making

Elected and other government officials decide where to locate homes, shopping centers, stores, schools, parking lots, roads and other development. There are several ways to get involved and to influence land use decisions. 

Comprehensive or Master Plan Committees – The fundamental document governing land use in Virginia’s localities is a comprehensive or master plan which establishes policies, determines what can be built where and guides the characteristics of development. Amendments are made to these plans periodically, at the initiative of individuals and elected officials. To make these amendments, some localities have an “area plan review.” Some elected officials form citizens’ committees to pro-actively initiate proposals, make recommendations and review amendments . 

Land Use Committees – Elected officials often form a citizens committee to advise them on development and land use decisions, such as zoning changes or permits for a certain development . These committees are typically reactive to developer proposals.

Public Hearings - Elected officials, planning commissions and other land use agencies hold public hearings on land use changes, such as comprehensive plan amendments or zoning laws, and invite public comment, both oral and written. Most entities that have hearings have a formal, advance sign-up process and give speakers time limits for speaking.

Boards, Commissions and Committees – Local governments have permanent and temporary committees to advise elected officials, prepare reports and recommendations and issue permits. For example, Fairfax County has the Environmental Quality Advisory Council, an appointed body that issues annual recommendations on environmental issues. Most localities have an appointed body that manages public parks.

Town Meetings – Many elected officials have annual town meetings and other public meetings to solicit the public’s views and recommendations. 

Meetings with Elected Officials and Staff – Meeting individually with officials is often the most effective way to communicate your views. Building a relationship with an elected official is probably the single most effective way to have an impact.

Take the Initiative

• Volunteer to serve on advisory committees.
• Testify at public hearings and other public meetings.
• Organize others to attend public meetings, speak and write.
• Meet with elected officials and staff. Call and make an appointment. Organize your remarks to make your point clear. Try to take along others. Get to know them.
• Prepare consensus statements or resolutions and ask other individuals and organizations to sign on.
• Write letters to officials and to newspapers.
• Work with the media. Suggest stories to local reporters and editors. Give them background information.

Useful websites 

The following local government websites have information about development proposals and land use planning and processes:


Arlington County:

Fairfax County: 

Local governments’ websites also have information about transportation, parks, environmental services and their efforts to “go green,” such as Alexandria’s “Eco-City Alexandria” and Fairfax County’s “Cool County” initiatives.

Virginia Association of Counties:

Virginia Municipal League (cities and towns):

Virginia Public Access Project: (contributions to elected officials) 

Prepared by Glenda Booth, Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, and Mary Kadera, Mount Vernon Group, Sierra Club. October 2008