You can be born, attend school, grow up and take a job in Reston, just as the creators of the acclaimed planned suburb envisioned.

You just can't stay there forever. There are no funeral homes or cemeteries.

The dead have to commute.

"Obviously, we should have had a cemetery," Reston founder Robert E. Simon said of the community of 56,000. "I came to the wrong decision. So many people have asked me since, 'Why don't we have one?' "

It isn't just Reston. In recent weeks, the difficulty of making a place for death anywhere amid Fairfax County's fastidious suburbs has caught the attention of local leaders.

Though it boasts more than 1 million people, Fairfax counts only a handful of full-fledged funeral homes, in part because officials, in their zeal to protect prosperous enclaves from every unpleasantness, have excluded the business of death from much of the county.

"Clearly, we're underserved by funeral homes," said Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly (D-Providence), adding that he and other county leaders were stunned by their scarcity. "Unfortunately, while all of us have to use funeral homes sometime, none of us want to live near them."

Earlier this month, supervisors slightly loosened funeral home zoning laws and promised to study other changes. But death, like affordable housing and some other planning necessities, inspires nothing but dread in neighborhood hearings. The subject has been so touchy that in one instance supervisors barred the word "funeral" from a business name on signs in the community: It's being called a "memorial" chapel instead.

Such restrictions arise from an irrational squeamishness, say those in the industry.

"I have never known of anyone who escaped death," said Andy Higham, owner of the Jefferson Memorial Chapel, built in the Alexandria section of Fairfax four years ago. "But there are those who just absolutely don't care to think or talk about it.

"One lady asked me at a hearing, 'If you put the name "funeral" on your sign, how do I explain it to my children?' I didn't know what to say. I can understand why you wouldn't want a Wal-Mart. But I fail to comprehend . . . their opposition to funeral homes."

Higham is also prohibited from doing embalming on the premises. Unlike Montgomery and Prince George's counties, Fairfax generally prohibits full-fledged funeral homes -- that is, those with embalming facilities -- from being built in residential zones. And while Fairfax planners have permitted funeral homes in commercial districts such as shopping centers, operators say many such locations are too expensive or hectic to suit grieving families.

"I don't think a person would want to have a loved one's funeral from an outbuilding of Springfield Mall," Higham said.

As a first step toward change, supervisors voted this month to permit funeral homes in industrial areas and agreed to study whether to grant special exceptions allowing them in residential neighborhoods. (Crematories are handled separately in the zoning code.)

As attitudes toward death have changed over the years, so has the death business. In many older American towns and cities, the dead were given a prominent place: The cemetery was right next to the church at the center of the community. Christ Church Cemetery in Alexandria is one example. But beginning in the 19th century, health codes, zoning and other forces relegated the death industry to less prominent locations, pushing most cemeteries to the metropolitan fringe, according to scholars.

"Funeral homes were never particularly desirable businesses in residential areas, but they were seen as a part of the fabric of life," said Ann Palkovich, a professor of anthropology at George Mason University who has been researching historic cemeteries in the Washington region for 20 years. Today, though, "they are increasingly viewed as objectionable. That's why I think they have been marginalized in city planning the same way that cemeteries have been."

Even neo-traditional town planners, who are fond of re-creating many aspects of early American towns, frequently don't include cemeteries. The reason, in part, is money.

"We believe a proper community makes room for all aspects of daily life -- including death. But we have yet to work for a developer who wishes to give up potential home sites for a cemetery," said Jeff Speck, the director of town planning at Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., designers of neo-traditional communities such as Kentlands in Gaithersburg, and the co-author of "Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream."

Until this month's vote in Fairfax, funeral homes were allowed only in commercial zones and cemeteries of more than 75 acres -- a policy that, combined with the cost of real estate, appears to have artificially limited their number.

According to state statistics and interviews, there are only four full-fledged funeral homes in Fairfax County, along with one each in Herndon, Fairfax City and Vienna, which have their own zoning. More than 4,200 residents of the county die every year.

By contrast, neighboring Alexandria and Arlington County together have eight full-fledged funeral homes, though they have less than a third of Fairfax's population. Prince George's County, whose population is smaller than Fairfax's, has 18, and Montgomery County, whose population also is smaller, has 12, according to Maryland state statistics.

Whether Fairfax officials are willing to liberalize the codes enough to prompt more is unclear, however.

The two funeral business operators pushing for zoning changes, Higham and Steven Wooddell, say that simply allowing them in industrial districts may not be enough. Industrial parks in Fairfax typically consist of warehouses and other storage places.

"If you are having a funeral service for a loved one, you don't want it in an industrial park," said their attorney, William B. Lawson Jr.

They'd like to see the county seriously consider allowing some funeral homes in residential zones -- a category, they point out, that sometimes allows medical offices. They liken embalming to a medical procedure.

But supervisors say they want to be cautious about granting special exceptions, and on this point at least, one funeral home operator agrees.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with having a funeral home in a residential area," said Peter Treibley, owner of the Money & King Funeral Home in Vienna. "It's a quiet business, not a Burger King. But no one wants to face death every day on the way home."

Said chapel owner Andy Higham: "I can understand why you wouldn't want a Wal-Mart. But I fail to comprehend . . . opposition to funeral homes."Andy Higham is calling his business a memorial chapel after Fairfax supervisors barred him from using the word "funeral" in its name on signs in the community.