Fairfax County is reevaluating its zoning definitions of churches and activities allowed in church facilities.
Although the move was sparked by interest expressed by churches in the Mount Vernon-Route 1 corridor in establishing temporary shelters for the homeless, the attempt to change zoning regulations on the use of church property is generating strong criticism of the county's Board of Supervisors.
Fliers accusing the county of being both "anti-Biblical" and "unconstitutional" in its efforts to change the ordinances are being circulated anonymously in parts of western Fairfax.
Dranesville district supervisor Nancy Falck this week asked fellow supervisors to go along with advertising and public hearings on proposed changes that had generally been regarded as housekeeping measures that might make it easier for churches to house the homeless.
The proposed changes would simply clarify permitted uses of church facilities, including temples, chapels, synagogues, churches and other places of worship.
"The proposed amendment better defines what they churches can and cannot do. We don't want to tell people what they can do in their churches," Falck said.
An ad hoc committee of the board has been studying possible changes for several months. Worship activities are not involved at all, said a county staff member.
The county does have control over land use by churches, especially when questions of public safety or traffic are involved, Falck explained.
Falck said her motion was sparked by interest from churches in the Mount Vernon area which want to set up temporary housing shelters.
But those who oppose the changes warn, "Do not be confused or lulled into complacency because the paper particularly discusses 'temporary shelter for the homeless.'"
The proposed changes would allow church facilities to be used for community and nonprofit functions.
Apparently some churches are worried about church-sponsored day care or school operations which they say could be endangered if they are profit-making ventures.
Efforts to track down the sources of material attacking the proposed changes has led to several dead ends.
One flier that begins "Christians in Fairfax county" says the proposed changes would allow the county to control the use of church property. The flier said use of the word "permitted" to describe uses to be allowed in churches means that "the position of the county is that any use of church property and facilities is at the privilege and pleasure of the county."
A single phone number belonging to an organization known as Comnet Alert is on the flyer, which is unsigned.
A reporter's phone calls to the number were answered by recorded messages urging support for anti-abortion legislation and encouraging callers to participate in upcoming elections. Comnet Alert is not listed in local phone books or with directory assistance. The operation is not affiliated in any way with a Washington-based computer company also known as Comnet.
Some of the material attacking the proposed changes hit the streets before supervisors agreed to hold hearings on the proposed changes. Dates for those hearings have not been set.
In recent months, the county's Board of Zoning Appeals, which is not part of the Board of Supervisors but is appointed by the circuit court, has been involved in several controversial cases which have led to major confrontations between churches seeking to expand either their existing facilities or activities in neighborhoods that are primarily composed of single-family houses.
In Fairfax, churches are allowed to exist in single family neighborhoods if they are granted special permits by the Board of Zoning Appeals.
At least one case involving a new church is pending in court as a result of a lawsuit filed by area residents challenging the BZA decision to allow the church to build a new facility in the McLean-Falls Church area. Those challenging the BZA action have charged that the church is more of a conference center than it is a church.