The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is scrapping an unpopular proposal that would have limited large gatherings in private homes.
Zoning officials proposed the limits to provide them with an additional tool to go after people who are regularly creating noise and parking problems that disrupt their neighbors by hosting large parties or using a home as a church or a restaurant, for example.
The proposed rule would have limited gatherings of 50 or more people to three times in a 40-day period, or about 27 times a year.
However, as the county began gathering feedback about the proposal at public meetings last month, many residents said that the proposal was over-reaching. Some suggested that it would be unconstitutional, violating the right to assembly.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors instructed county staff not to pursue the ordinance change any further.
Board Chairwoman Sharon Bulova (D-At Large) said the proposed limitation was “a very sincere, good faith attempt to deal with people turning a single family home into something that disrupts the community.”
However, she said, “This I think was not the vehicle to try and deal with that … it goes too far.”
Jeff Blackford, director of the Department of Code Compliance, said there have been about a dozen cases in recent years in which having the statute would have been helpful but that county inspectors will continue to try and use other legal tools to address individual situations.
The update of the county’s noise ordinance that was being discussed in conjunction with the group assembly proposal is still moving forward.
The proposed changes would set daytime and nighttime decibel limits and prohibit certain types of noise-generating activities, like loudspeakers and construction, between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Zoning administrator Leslie Johnson said that county staff will continue to review and possibly update aspects of the proposed ordinance, such as the time of day when the strictest limits are in effect, as well as the decibel level.
During the initial public comment period, Johnson said, there were residents who said the proposal was too strict, as well as those who said it was not strict enough. There are also some concerns from county agencies like the Park Authority and Fairfax County Public Schools about how the proposed changes would affect their operations, she said.
“There is a balancing act here we are trying to accomplish,” Johnson said. “I think we’ve stuck a fairly reasonable middle ground, but I think there is still more work to be done.”
When the issue goes to the Board of Supervisors this fall, Johnson said it will likely be crafted to include a range of options for the board to consider after holding public hearings.