A controversial group home in Fairfax County has gained a reprieve from a previously ordered closing because of a new group homes policy approved this week by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
The action angered both citizens and Fairfax Supervisor Alan H. Magazine (D-Mason) in whose district the home is located.
County zoning administrator Philip G. Yates said it is "likely" he will not take action to close the home, which houses six emotionally disturbed children in the Ravenwood Park subdivision, until its status is reviewed again under the new policy - a process that could take up to 90 days.
"This is a blatant case where the county staff is ignoring the county's own laws and the wishes of its citizens by refusing to take action against this particular group home," said Carl Ericson, president of the Fairfax County Federatin of Citizens Associations.
The new policy, adopted as an emergency amendments to the zoning ordinance, gives the Ravenwood home 30 days to apply for another review.
The policy establishes a nine-member citizens commission to review the compatibility of group homes with the surrounding areas. The commission, part of the county's first attempt to govern the growth of group homes, would then make a recommendation to the zoning administrator, who would determine if a group home could locate in the area it proposes. That decision could be appealed to the Board of Zoning appeals. Guidelines for the commission are being developed, and commission members are expected to the appointed within two weeks.
Because the new policy is an emergency (temporary) amendment, public hearings must be held before permanent adoption.They are scheduled for Oct. 25 and Nov. 6.
Before the new policy was approved, Yates had ordered the Ravenwood home to move by Nov. 2. The order followed a County Board of Zoning Appeals ruling in July that the home, run by Environmental Services Inc., was operating illegally because it did not constitute a family in a residential area. Nearby residents had protested its presence.
"The citizens are practically unanimous in their opposition to the home. They went through a long and arduous process to make their feelings known," said Magazine, who was the only supervisor to vote against the new policy, which was approved 6 to 1. "Now again we open the doors for the operator to make a new application to gain approval of this location."
Yates said he also notified 11 other group homes that they were violating the county's zoning ordinance.
There are about 20 group homes in Fairfax County, according to the zoning office. Previously, only those operated by county were reviewed under the category of "public facility." Privately operated homes could locate without governmental control.
The county established the specific review process for group homes to control their recent growth in local communities and to respond to increased citizen resistance to their presence. Citizen opposition prevented two homes from settling where they had planned this summer, and precipitated the controversy over the Ravenwood Park home.
The growth of group homes results from trends to deinstitutionalize large facilities that had housed the emotionally disturbed, mentally ill, mentally retarded and others whose behavior is judged different from the society's at large.