A Virginia county planning commission will vote Wednesday on restrictions that would ban residents from flying American flags larger than six feet by four feet, and from displaying more than two flags.
The Planning Commission of Fairfax County, a 1.1 million-person jurisdiction just outside Washington, D.C., is weighing a plan by staff to limit the size of flags that homeowners may fly to 24 square feet, lower the maximum height of flagpoles to 25 feet, and limit the number of flags to two.
Zoning administrator Leslie Johnson said February 10 that her agency came up with the plan because the county believes that it may not treat the American flag differently from banners displaying political opinions, and rules that allowed large American flags would also allow flags that could be objectionable. “Somebody may want to fly the Confederate flag, the American flag, the QAnon flag,” she said.
Resident Adrienne Whyte told commissioners in a public comment session, “It seems like a solution in search of a problem,” particularly during a pandemic.
Johnson acknowledged that though flags have largely been exempt from zoning regulations, it had seldom been an issue in the past. “I would note we don’t get a lot of complaints on this, we’ve had a few… we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least look at this and put some kind of regulation,” she added.
Resident Bill Denk told the commissioners that to honor his military-vet father, he once flew the flag that adorned his casket. Those flags are five-by-ten and, like the more common five-by-eight flags, would no longer be allowed.
“I do not think any of us would like to envision Fairfax County code compliance officers ripping the American flag from flag poles of individual homeowners because the flag was more than 24 square feet? Or do you?” he asked.
Planning board member Walter Clarke asked, “Since we live in the United States, shouldn’t the United States flag be an exception?”
“If someone’s national origin is from Australia and they want to fly an Australian or Canadian flag, I don’t know if we can say pick which two flags you want to fly,” Johnson said. “Historically people look at that as an American flag, corporate [city] flag and state flag, but with all of the changes that have occurred… we felt like we had to make those changes.”
Commissioner Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner said, “I hope to goodness we find a way to exempt our American flag from any suggestion that it’s comparable to any other flag. I understand the content [neutrality] issue, but particularly in these times where as a country, it’s important that our symbols matter, I hope we don’t make an equivalency between our American flag and all other flags.”
If the planning commission approves the restrictions, they will go to the county board of supervisors for county approval.
Fairfax County has increasingly landed in the national spotlight for controversial decisions, including last month, when it hired low-paid “classroom monitors” to watch children in school while some teachers, despite having received the coronavirus vaccine, refused to return to work.
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