Flag regulations

Fairfax County has set new regulations for flagpoles which will set a new standard for their height, but if residents want their flagpoles to be taller then they’ll have to pay a fee.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a decision to set new zoning ordinances setting the standard height of flagpoles and repeal the old regulations March 23. The height for residential lots was set for 25 feet while the height for lots that have other uses such as businesses have been set at 60 feet. The number of flagpoles allowable on a lot, which is three, will remain unchanged. 

One aspect that the board left open for the county’s Planning Commission to work out were the fee rates for special permits since those fees had not been advertised when the regulations had been presented to the board. Those interested in purchasing a special permit to go beyond the heights set by the new regulations will have to go through a review of the applicant’s request and would pay a fee if that request is approved. The amount of the fee will differ depending on the situation.

“They are knowingly disrespecting veterans and veterans’ families’ memories, said Bill Denk, a 40-year Fairfax County resident and former chair of the Budget and Taxation Committee for McLean Citizens Organization. “A heroes flag or veteran’s flag is larger than a standard flag and therefore requires a larger pole.” These flags are the ones presented to a family member after the death of a military member or veteran. According to the Gettysburg Flag Works a heroes flag requires a 35 to 40-foot pole. Denk also noted that flag poles installed before July 1 are grandfathered in and the policy only applies to new flag poles.

The fee structure will be divided into four different categories, according to a report by the Planning Commission.

The first category allows for an increase in the height of a flagpole on a residential lot above the set height of 25 feet. This particular category also allows for increases on lots meant for non-residential purposes. The fee in these cases will be set at $435.

The next category allows for an increase in the height of a freestanding accessory structure, this permit allows such structures on a lot of 36,000 square feet or less and developed with a single-family detached home to go above 20 feet. The fee for this particular permit is set at $910.

The third category allows for the increase in the cumulative square footage of freestanding accessory structures. This permit allows for such structures to exceed 50 percent of the gross floor area on the lot’s main dwelling if it measures 36,000 square feet or less with a detached single-family home. The fee for this permit is set at $910.

Lastly, the final category allows for a special permit for accessory structures on through lots. This permit allows freestanding structures in the front yard that serve as a back yard for a through lot. The fee for this permit would also be set at $910.

The new flagpole regulations are part of a package called the Zoning Ordinance Modernization Project that has been in the works since 2018. This package sought to update zoning regulations that had been on the county’s books since 1978. The goal was to streamline the regulations to make them easier to understand as well as removing inconsistencies, gaps, and ambiguities that made their way into the ordinances and made them confusing for residents.

A big concern about the new regulation from the public was that it would restrict the size of flags that could be flown, members of both the board and the Planning Commission assured that the new regulations did not affect flags.

“We have heard a great deal of testimony on several topics including the accessory housing units, home-base business units, and flags,” said Sully District Supervisor Kathy L. Smith who had been heading up the project since it began.

The proposed fees for special permits will go back to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors July 13.

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