Wednesday, February 1, 2023

JCC Planning Commission looks to update definition of ‘group home’

4933 Westmoreland Drive in James City County is a group home belonging to Gateway Homes of Greater Richmond. (Andrew Harris/

Update Feb. 6: The James City County Planning Commission Policy Committee is postponing addressing the group home zoning ordinance until a related group home bill is addressed within the General Assembly, according to the JCC Planning Office.

The Policy Committee will reevaluate the bill once the group home bill moves through the General Assembly.

Original story:

James City County officials are working to update a zoning ordinance that will bring county regulations on group homes into compliance with state code.

The changes come after the James City County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution Nov. 8 allowing county staff to look into group home uses in all zoning districts, according to a memorandum sent from Deputy Zoning Administrator Terry Costello to the Planning Commission Policy Committee.

The changes to the county code will bring the county into compliance with the Code of Virginia and the Federal Housing Administration’s Federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing based on a person’s disability and requires localities to ensure reasonable accommodations for such individuals and groups, the memorandum states.

The Policy Committee will review the proposed changes at their meeting at 4 p.m. Feb. 9.

When researching how to alter the county code, staff researched and reviewed the definitions of family and groups homes in zoning ordinances of other localities, including Virginia Beach, York County and Abermarle County.

The first change proposes adding two points that would include residential facilities under the definition of a “family” residence. In the addition, residential facilities housing “individuals with mental illness, mental retardation or developmental disabilities [residing] with one or more resident counselors or other staff persons” would be included under the definition of a “family,” the memorandum states.

The facility must be licensed by the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services.

Another addition to the existing code would include “no more than eight aged, infirm or disabled persons residing with one or more resident counselors.” The facility would also be licensed by the Department of Social Services.

The proposed definition for “family” also adds approved foster care individuals to those who qualify as members of a family. The existing definition includes two or more persons related by blood, marriage, adoption or guardianship.

County staff also suggested redefining “group home” to bring the ordinance into compliance.

The home at 101 Woodmere Drive that is under lease by Gateway Homes. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily.)
This home at 101 Woodmere Drive in Williamsburg is under lease by Gateway Homes. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily.)

The two suggestions are as follows:

Definition one:

“A residential facility housing the aged, infirm, disabled, or individuals with handicaps, mental illness, intellectual disabilities, or developmental disabilities, not meeting the definition of ‘family’ in this Chapter. This shall be in accordance with requirements of the Fair Housing Act.”

Definition two:

“A residential facility shared by more than three unrelated individuals who live together as a single housekeeping unit which does not qualify as a ‘family’ as defined in this chapter.”

If the Policy Committee elects to change the definitions of “family” and “group home,” the county will also need to amend the use lists for some zoning districts, to reflect the new definitions.

If the first definition of “group home” is chosen, staff recommends those group homes be permitted in the Rural Residential zoning district. For other zoning districts, staff recommends other group home projects would need a special use permit, the memorandum said.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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