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Fairfax supervisors throw out proposed ban on large gatherings

By Karen Goff

Tuesday - 7/1/2014, 4:30pm  ET

Fairfax County Feel free to plan that big summer party: the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday scrapped plans for proposed new zoning rules on group assembly in private homes.

Earlier this year, the supervisors sought feedback from the public on new language in the zoning ordinance. The zoning ordinance would have banned large gatherings — more than 49 people — in private residences more than three times in a 40-day period.

The board said on Tuesday there was not enough public support to move forward with the proposal. The county held three public hearings on the subject and read 200 submitted comments. As a result, the proposal was removed from the 2014 Zoning Ordinance Work Program that the board approved at its Tuesday meeting.

The supervisors began considering the proposal in February, saying that “over the last several years, there have been complaints from residents regarding frequent and large gatherings at neighborhood homes. These gatherings can create parking, noise, and other concerns for the neighborhood.”

More from the county:

Although occasional, large gatherings – such as private parties, house concerts, religious meetings and social clubs – are expected and permissible activities at a home, gatherings that occur on a regular basis involving numerous people can detract from the residential nature of a neighborhood because most residential structures and neighborhoods are not designed to accommodate such events.

Accordingly, it is recommended that language be added to the Zoning Ordinance to define what is a permissible “group assembly,” and when associated with a residence, when such a group assembly is an appropriate “accessory use.” Currently, the Zoning Ordinance does not identify guidelines for the frequency or scale at which group assembly is considered to be a permitted accessory use to a dwelling.

Without such specificity, managing and addressing impacts of these large, frequent gatherings becomes problematic, and the County is limited in its ability to respond to neighborhood concerns.

The proposal was criticized by many local residents, including this Reston Now reader:

“What a ridiculous proposal. I can have groups of 49 but that 50th person is “over the top? Every 41 days is OK but 40 is too much? Do children count? How are the police going to enforce, will the residents need to hand out numbered tickets to all their party guests or maintain a guest list so that when the cops come knocking we can show them we are in compliance?”

“Will this be 49 total for the day or at any one time? Don’t our local representatives have something better to do (like implement a meals tax or raise my property taxes)?”