Bottom Line Up Front
The residents of Fairfax County are not opposed to group homes, but we believe Newport Academy is a treatment facility and requires a special exception permit from the county. Group homes exist all over Fairfax County and are part of the fabric of our community. Newport Academy offers “inpatient” services (nurses, doctors, psychiatrists, dietitians, counselors, etc.) and has substance abuse as part of their admission policy per their license application. More details on the appeal filed by residents of Salona Village can be found on the appeal section of this website.
The nexus of treatment facilities such as Newport Academy seeking to operate “by right” is a statute in the Virginia law, 15.2-2291. What does “by right” mean? It means that a business can buy any residential home as if they are a single family and open up their business once a license is obtained from the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Human Services.
§ 15.2-2291. Assisted living facilities and group homes of eight or fewer; single-family residence.
A. Zoning ordinances for all purposes shall consider a residential facility in which no more than eight individuals with mental illness, intellectual disability, or developmental disabilities reside, with one or more resident or nonresident staff persons, as residential occupancy by a single family. For the purposes of this subsection, mental illness and developmental disability shall not include current illegal use of or addiction to a controlled substance as defined in § 54.1-3401. No conditions more restrictive than those imposed on residences occupied by persons related by blood, marriage, or adoption shall be imposed on such facility. For purposes of this subsection, "residential facility" means any group home or other residential facility for which the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services is the licensing authority pursuant to this Code.
However, does a business that has a taxonomy code of a “substance abuse disorder rehabilitation facility” that lists substance abuse as part of its admission policy get afforded the protections of 15.2-2291 even though it gets a license from DBHDS? We don’t believe so and with the pending facility on Kurtz Rd. only 350 feet from Franklin Sherman Elementary School, we believe this is precisely why zoning ordinances exist.
Why are zoning ordinances important?
Newport Academy has a National Provider Identifier (NPI) that categorizes itself as a psychiatric residential treatment facility and substance abuse disorder rehabilitation treatment facility. References to this NPI description can be found on this website. The pending Newport Academy facility on Kurtz Rd. is approximately 350 feet from Franklin Sherman Elementary School. The facility on Kurtz Rd. is also on a busy residential road and the Newport Academy business operations call for three shifts of employees, up to 15 cars on premises at one time that don’t include visiting family members. For these reasons, the county must zone businesses of this nature and of this scale in an area that fits the community. We can debate the proper classification of this facility, but current zoning ordinance define congregate living facilities and medical treatment facilities that require setback requirements from other residential lots and minimum lot sizes. A special exception allows the county to enforce the Fairfax County zoning ordinance and prevent treatment facilities, such as Newport Academy, from clustering in a neighborhood, operating in close proximity to schools and operating in dense residential neighborhoods that don’t satisfy setback and lot size minimums.
Newport Academy on Davidson Rd.
Newport Academy has shown signs of returning the three properties on Davidson Rd. to original form and one of the three homes is for sale. However, Newport Academy is appealing the determination by the County that they can’t operation three adjacent properties “by right”. We believe that Newport Academy would like to cluster homes in other locations in the McLean area, which is the motive for their appeal. One would imagine there are business efficiencies to clustering treatment facilities in close proximity to shorten the intraday transit of medical professionals (psychiatrists, dietitians, counselors, etc.) between facilities. However, clustering treatment facilities impedes the fabric of our residential neighborhoods and is another reason the must require a special exception permit from Fairfax County.
What is fair housing?
The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act protect the most vulnerable among us from discrimination in obtaining residence in any neighborhood. The disabled include those recovering from addiction and those with mental illness. Group homes serve a greater purpose for the community as a whole by allowing the disabled to obtain residences within a community setting and transition back into the community. To that end, senior citizens and people with disabilities have long lived in group homes in McLean, as long term or permanent residents. Many work here, participate in local activities and they are a part of the fabric of our community. Not only is this permitted by law, but this is welcome. We do not believe treatment facilities, such as Newport Academy, are the intention of the Fair Housing Act. Patients at Newport Academy are not residents and only stay for periods of 6-10 weeks and are charged up to $2000/day according to a recent WUSA9 report.
We believe the business operations by Newport Academy should be designated a “Congregate Living Facility” or “Medical Care Facility” despite a potential license by DBHDS as a “Group Residential Facility”. DBHDS licenses a facility and their programs to accept patients, but the Director of Licensing at DBHDS has stated in a letter to concerned citizens that “DBHDS has no control over local zoning ordinance or zoning permits issued by local governments”. Therefore, the license by DBHDS is irrelevant to the county’s ability to appropriately zone a treatment facility such as Newport Academy in a residential zone. Medical Care Facilities are typically placed in commercial zones, but may be placed in a residential zone. In a residential zone they must be operated on a lot size of 5 acres or greater and require a special exception permit. One of the many reasons to require a permit is to ensure treatment facilities have more parking and broader street access to ensure a seamless integration into the community. See the photos below of the vehicular activity observed at the pending Newport Facilities on Davidson Rd and Kurtz Rd. It is the medical profile and staffing that makes Newport Academy facilities different than, say, Oxford House or other Group Residential Facilities already operating without opposition in McLean.
Vehicular activty at the Davidson and Kurtz facilities