Fairfax County Planning Commission Recommends Denial of Flag Limitations

It's not a done deal.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission voted 11-0 to recommend denial to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to replace the current zoning ordinance establishing specific regulations for flags and flagpoles in the New and Modernized Zoning Ordinance (zMOD Updates) countywide. Mason District Commissioner Julie M. Strandlie was absent from the March 3 vote. The proposed regulations would include different standards appropriate to lots with single-family dwellings or manufactured homes and lots developed for multi-family or non-residential.

Commissioner Timothy Sargeant, Member-at-Large, introduced the motion regarding flags and flagpoles. He said the proposed regulations were intended to establish "reasonable limits" on the size and number of flags and flagpoles' height. Sargeant recognized that the United States Supreme Court ruling of Reed versus Town of Gilbert, Arizona prevented regulation based on content and prohibited exempting the United States flag while regulating other types of flags.

Sargeant said, "There has been an exceptional number of public comments with concerns about this amendment, suggesting that at the least additional time is needed for consideration." The current zoning regulation on flags and flagpoles is a maximum of three per lot. Sargeant recommended retaining the limit and not the adoption of additional limitations as recommended by Fairfax County staff.

The proposal limited flagpole height to 25 feet on single-family lots and 60 feet on all other lots. It limited single-family lots to no more than two flags.

"I felt it was a solution looking for a problem," Commissioner John Ulfelder, Dranesville District, said. "I suspect, based on a lot of comments we've received, a lot of other people perceived it in the same way...If it ain't broken, don't fix it. I will heartily recommend denial for this proposal."

Opponents of the measure came together in recent weeks to voice their concerns. The Fairfax County GOP organized a petition to the Fairfax County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors on Change.org to tell Fairfax County, no. "The American flag should never be restricted," said Katherine Morgan of Fairfax, according to Change.org.

The Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) board expressed concerns about the regulations. In a Feb. 18 letter to Fairfax Planning Commission Chairman Peter Murphy, GFCA President Bill Canis wrote that the GFCA Board believed that the measure was overly restrictive in its scope.

Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield District) said in The Herrity Report, his weekly newsletter, "I will strongly oppose it if it comes before the Board of Supervisors."

The March 3, 2021 Planning Commission Video with Linked Agenda can be found on the County website. Changes to regulations on flags and flagpoles will be considered part of the public hearing for zMOD before the Board of Supervisors on March 9, 2021.

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