The continued operation of 32 homes in Fairfax County that provide community-based treatment for children and adults with problem ranging from alcoholism to emotional ailments was thrown into jeopardy last night by a ruling that such homes fail to meet residential zoning requirements.
The County Board of Zoning Appeals ruled last week that the home Supervisors that one home for emotionally disturbed children in the Ravenwood Park area is operating illegally and the other 31 probably are too.
County Zoning Administrator Phillip G. Yates told the County Board of for emotionally disturbed children, which has been opposed by residents of Ravenwood Park where homes are valued at between $70,000 and $150,000, violates zoning laws because its residents do not constitute a family.
Yates said the home at 6209 Cheryl Dr. will have to be granted a special permit if it is to continue operating in a neighborhood zoned for a single-family residences.
The process of obtaining such permits will make group homes subject to review by the County Planning Commission at public hearings where neighbors are allowed to state their opposition or support. The planning commission will then recommend approval or rejection of group home permit applications.
"I'm terribly disappointed," said John P. Bryant, administrative director for Environments for Human Services in Northern Virginia, which runs the home for the county Department of Social Services.
"The kids are at camp now, but they're planning to return," Bryant said. "It's not my intent to violate a law."
The Board of Supervisors asked in June that the county executive suggests a zoning law change requiring public hearings and special-use permits for all group homes.
Last night board members refused to comment on the effect of Yates' ruling. The decision by the Board of Zoning Appeals about the definition of a family cannot be overruled by the board, according to Yates. An appeal of the ruling must be taken to Fairfax County Circuit Court.
Under the ruling, Yates said the homes will be required to apply for a special use permit when a "parent-child relationship" doesn't exist or when residents are not "living together in a single housekeeping unit."
Bryant said no complaints about the home in Ravenwood Park, where six emotionally disturbed children live under supervision have been received in recent months. He said most people think the idea of community-based care of disturbed children is a good idea "but in someone else's neighborhood."