This story has been updated to reflect new information.

Members of the Fauquier County Planning Commission voted unanimously Thursday to recommend a zoning ordinance amendment that would allow religious organizations to establish transitional housing facilities on rural properties. The proposal now goes to the board of supervisors.

The ordinance amendment would allow “transitional family housing” at places of worship located at least 12 acres in areas zoned “rural – agricultural.” If the measure is ultimately approved by the board of supervisors, religious organizations would still need to obtain a special exception permit to establish transitional housing on their properties.

The request to amend the county’s zoning ordinance came from Dayspring Mennonite Church, located on a 13-acre parcel in Midland. The church would “utilize part of the church property as a facility offering housing, counseling, educational and support services to victims of human trafficking,” according to the staff report.

Currently, transitional housing is allowed only on parcels of 20 acres or more located in areas zoned “residential-1.” There are 12 religious facilities currently located on 12 acres or more in areas zoned “rural – agricultural,” according to the community development department’s staff report. The proposed zoning amendment would limit programs to 24 residents at a time in transitional housing programs located on 12 to 20 acres. On sites greater than 20 acres, up to 20 rooms and up to 40 residents would be permitted.

Although no one spoke at the public hearing before the vote Thursday, one public comment submitted by email expressed concern that the amended ordinance would, in theory, allow for up to 24 individual structures on properties, thereby threatening the commenter’s “viewshed.”

Amy Rogers, the county’s chief of zoning services, addressed the comment, explaining any organization wishing to establish a facility would need to go through the special exception process. This process gives planning commissioners and supervisors an opportunity to review – and, potentially, to reject – any aspects of a specific proposal.

Commissioner John Meadows (Lee District) echoed this point of view. “We will have the time and the opportunity to look at each and every [application] when and if they come in,” he said.

A second public comment favored the proposed amendment.

The facilities at Dayspring, the staff report said, “would offer living arrangements in both a group home and individual living scenarios. The residents would transition from living in group situations to individual cottages as they prepare to move ahead to permanent living arrangements. They would be offered financial and career mentoring, and educational support similar to other transitional family housing opportunities.”

If the zoning amendment is approved, the Dayspring proposal will still need to go through the special exception permitting process.

Commissioner Matthew Smith (Cedar Run District), whose district includes Midland, said he and Supervisor Rick Gerhardt (Cedar Run District) met with the applicant several months ago. “I think [the transitional housing facility] is going to be a good opportunity to help some of these people in this situation,” Smith said of the Dayspring application.

When reached for comment Wednesday, Phil Mast, the lead pastor at Dayspring, said the church is working with another organization to develop the transitional housing services on site. Mast declined to comment on details of the potential program at Dayspring until he could speak with the director of the outside organization, which he did not name. Mast did not speak at the public hearing.

There are currently two transitional housing programs in Fauquier County, including one operated by a religious organization.

Victory Transitional Housing, founded 2003 in Bealeton by True Deliverance Church of God, can accommodate up to 40 residents with stays lasting up to one year.

Vint Hill Transitional Housing comprises 22 three-bedroom townhouses adjacent to the former Vint Hill Farms military installation; residents may stay for up to two years. The transitional housing program is operated by Family Shelter Services, the organization that also operates the 52-bed emergency homeless shelter in Warrenton.

Reach Coy Ferrell at cferrell@fauquier.com

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(2) comments

Virtus

Perhaps more people may have had comments if Fauquier.com had provided coverage at least a week before the hearing to allow the public time to review the materials and to either provide comments in writing or in person or via virtual audio during the meeting.

Virtus

While the County has good intentions in working with the Dayspring Mennonite Church to find a solution to address the Church’s desire to incorporate transitional housing on its parcel of land, in my opinion this transitional housing zoning ordinance text amendment should not be approved tonight for the following reasons:

1. This zoning amendment text change has the potential to destroy the appeal of living in a RA zone. Approval is incongruent with Fauquier County’s Chapter 8 Rural Land Use Plan’s Introduction: “The landscape of Fauquier is an enormous source of pride: One of the most common refrains from people who move here, when asked why, is, “How rural it is, the beauty. The open spaces.” A place to breathe.” Has the Board of Supervisors, who drove this text change, considered that many homeowners built their “forever homes” in a RA zone, with the expectation that the elected Board of Supervisors would keep these homeowner’s interests in mind when considering any zoning ordinance text changes?

2. While the staff report cites that “Based on a search of the land records, there are only 12 religious facilities in the County that would be affected by this text amendment, theoretically an unlimited number of RA houses of worship and associated transitional housing could be approved via a special exemption permit.

If you are concerned about this zoning change and how it will impact you and your neighbors, highly recommend you virtually attend tonight’s meeting. If this zoning text amendment is passed tonight, it will go to the Board of Supervisors on December 10, 2020 for their vote, which will likely pass unless there is strong community opposition.

From the public announcement: “…citizens are encouraged to participate virtually in this process. The meeting may be viewed on Fauquier County Government Channel 23 and livestreamed at:

http://fauquier-va.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=1.

Citizens desiring to participate in the meeting remotely are required to register in advance. Instructions are available on the County website at: http://www.fauquiercounty.gov/PCVirtualMeeting.”

The staff report and resolution: http://agenda.fauquiercounty.gov/Bluesheet.aspx?ItemID=7667&MeetingID=442

Fauquier County’s Chapter 8 Rural Land Use Plan:

https://www.fauquiercounty.gov/home/showdocument?id=7216

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