Great Falls Citizens Association Opposes Flag Restrictions

Great Falls Citizens Association Opposes Flag Restrictions

Long-time Great Falls resident and Great Falls Citizens Association Board member Ruth Carver says she finds it "highly offensive" that Fairfax County advertisement of the Zoning Ordinance Modernization (zMOD) program is equating the American flag to a commercial banner.

"While it, (zMOD) was intended to streamline the Zoning Ordinance to make it easier for citizens to read and interpret its content, the County has taken it several steps further by including changes to contents of the current regulation and adding new requirements," said a spokesperson for GFCA.

On Thursday, Feb. 18, William Canis, President of the Great Falls Citizens Association issued a letter to Commissioner Peter Murphy, Chairman of the Fairfax County Planning Commission, on behalf of the GFCA Board. He conveyed a resolution adopted by the Great Falls Citizens Association on Feb. 16.

Resolution of the Executive Board of the Great Falls Citizens Association objected to the proposed "overly restrictive" treatment of flags in the zMOD amendments to the Zoning Ordinance. Canis copied Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville District) and Vice Chairman John Ulfelder, appointed to the Planning Commission by the Board of Supervisors to represent the Dranesville District.

"GFCA believes that the display of the United States flag should be exempt from this Ordinance, and we have attached a resolution in support of that position that was adopted by our board on February 16," Canis said in the letter.

THE RESOLUTION said that the proposed amendment changed the substance of a flag's definition and incorporated the phrase "regardless of content." That definition eliminated the distinction between the United States Flag and any other flag's design defined under the Zoning Ordinance code.

The proposed amendment "does not recognize differences between the Flag of the United States, or any other ‘single piece of cloth,’ as defined in the proposed Ordinance," stated wording in the Resolution.

GFCA Vice President Ed Phillips, a retired U.S. military officer, later said the importance of the U.S. Flag could be diminished with a cookie-cutter approach to the Ordinance.

The Executive Board of the Great Falls Citizens Association said in the Resolution that the National Flag of the United States deserved special recognition within the Zoning Ordinance due to its historic and patriotic significance.

"The United States Flag, as the symbol of America, has been described in a history published by Drexel University Today, as a "...vibrant symbol of the American principles of democracy, justice, and freedom, and the everlasting memory of those who have sacrificed their lives defending these intrinsic principles of the United States of America," stated the Resolution.

According to the Executive Board, the amendment would create a new compliance burden because it set new limits on the total square footage and the number of displayed flags, including that of the United States, unless an exemption is offered in the proposed amendment. The Executive Board called on the Planning Committee to reject a flag's proposed definition and insert new language exempting the United States Flag from the proposed rules.

The County Zoning Ordinance previously allowed up to three flags, provided the flags were limited to U.S., State, and corporate flags. "In 2019, that provision was amended to address "issues with content-neutrality." County staff have cited 2015 Supreme Court decision (Reed v. Town of Gilbert, AZ) as the basis for changing the Ordinance," cited a GFCA spokesperson.

SIGNATORIES on the cover letter: William Canis, President, Edward Phillips, Vice President, Elizabeth Huebner, Secretary, James Trent, Treasurer, and Board Members Michael Barclay, Ruth Carver, Jennifer Falcone, Peter Falcone, Pam Grosvenor, Dawn MacPhee, and Fadi Shadid.

After delivery of the letter and the Resolution, Canis said, "With thousands of U.S. servicemen and women serving overseas under the National flag, and in the midst of a devastating pandemic, Fairfax County has more important issues it should be focused on."

Board member and Land Use and Zoning Chair Jennifer Falcone raised a concern that County staff had not drawn a nexus between the proposed rule to govern flags and the harm that it would prevent. Falcone suggested that the County had yet to provide the public and members of the Planning Commission evidence of the "compelling state interest" that this rule would serve.

The recent zMOD Public Hearing Draft can be viewed online at Public Hearing Draft Memorandum to the Planning Commission (February 17, 2021).

On March 9, 2021, at 4 p.m., the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will hold a Public Hearing on a New and Modernized Zoning Ordinance to Replace the Current Zoning Ordinance. Information on how to provide written phone and video testimony can be found online.