RASTATTER: Zoning Changes, Flag Regulations Are Unconscionable

By Sean Rastatter

On Tuesday, March 23rd, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors passed a much debated zoning modernization (zMOD) change in a 7-3 vote. The 700 page omnibus zMOD can be described as nothing less than a boondoggle, including changes to accessory-living units, home-based businesses, freestanding accessory structures, food trucks, and much more. These changes will affect traffic, housing density, schools, and parking for years to come.

One particularly contentious provision restricts the freedom of citizens to fly American flags outside their homes. Under the new ordinance, homeowners are restricted to 3 flags, which includes state, military, or college flags. They must also apply for a special permit if they wish to have flagpoles over 25 feet in height. This in effect limits the size of flags that can be flown. Chairman McKay made it clear that he, “[does] not support regulating the American flag.” He then proceeded to do precisely that.

The new changes passed despite an overwhelmingly negative reaction from the community. Homeowners associations throughout the county were strongly opposed to zMOD. Citizens sent thousands of emails to their local supervisors. A petition opposing the flag ordinance was signed by 1750 people. Over 100 people attended a rally outside the county government center to voice their concerns. The opposition to the measure was unprecedented. Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, who opposed the changes, had the following to say:

Let’s discuss a little bit about this flag situation. The county government has now made an unconscionable decree which they know they cannot enforce. Imagine the controversy that will ensue the moment an American flag is pulled down because it is being flown too high. Worse than the ordinance being unenforceable, though, is the cost paid by the county board. Financially, it costs them nothing. Morally, it costs them everything; the county board simply cannot afford the cost.

Freedom isn’t free. Our freedoms were bought with a steep price. American soldiers die every day defending the very same flag that has now been relegated in Fairfax County. Is the county board willing to carry that burden; are they willing to pay that price? It is a truly sickening display of irony that our government will accept the sacrifice of our young men and women, but will not accept the manner in which we choose to honor that sacrifice unless it falls under their 25 foot limit.

Over the past year, I have seen families struggling to survive in the midst of this pandemic. I have witnessed unspeakable misery on account of our predicament. I have experienced the pain caused by suicide and mental illness. There is an epidemic in our community; like COVID, it is insidious because it is impossible to see. We have a growing mental health crisis on our hands. One would think the county board would be inclined to do something about it.

You know what we don’t have in Fairfax County, or anywhere in Northern Virginia for that matter: an epidemic of flags in our communities. Perhaps the size of flags isn’t the problem. Perhaps the real problem is the size of the county supervisors’ inflated egos. The zMOD changes are just the latest display of hubris: a chronic inability to admit, just for once, that they are in the wrong on this issue. To the county board I say: your arrogance blinds you. Can you not see how your policies are morally offensive, not to mention undesirable, to a large swath of citizens who you purport to represent?

Rather than admit that, they have declared bankruptcy and defaulted on their promise to fairly represent the concerns of the community.

County resident Sean Rastatter is 1st vice chairman of the Fairfax GOP. 

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