Clarke County neighborhoods may soon look different thanks to recent legislation enacted by the 2010 Virginia General Assembly. The laws mandate changes to Clarke County’s and all other Virginia local zoning regulations. Under the new laws, assisted living facilities and family healthcare buildings can be implemented without the prior approval of local officials.
Temporary Family Healthcare Structures
The first law, HB 1307, sponsored by Virginia General Assembly House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem), defines “temporary family healthcare structure” as a facility that can be placed on a residential property and occupied by a relative who is physically or mentally impaired as diagnosed by a doctor. The structures must be less than 300 square feet and conform to local regulations governing sheds or garages. The building must be removed within 30 days after the occupant passes away, moves or no longer needs to receive care in the dwelling.
Sometimes referred to as “Granny Pods”, the term is derived from design similarities to temporary onsite storage pods. The new law is the work of the Rev. Kenneth Dupin, pastor of a small Methodist church in Salem, Virginia. Dupin’s vision is to provide aging family members with small, specially equipped, shelters close to relatives as an alternative to nursing homes.
Dupin invented what he terms the “MEDCottage”, a portable high-tech dwelling that can be hauled into a residential back yard temporarily to house a loved one in need of special care.
Virginia’s General Assembly must have been smitten by Dupin’s vision. Dupin and his team persuaded the delegates to pass legislation authored by Dupin without the help of lobbyists and without having built a prototype of the MEDcottage.
Clarke County officials voiced some trepidation about the impact of the new law at a recent planning commission meeting.
County Planning Administrator Chuck Johnston said that some of the law’s administrative details were not completely clear, however, the new structures must comply with Virginia Department of Health regulations.
The new law effectively allows a homeowner to establish a second residence on a single-family property, a right previously governed by local zoning ordinances. Opponents argue that the law will give rise to new structures in subdivisions all over the state creating “not-in-my-back-yard” tension between neighbors. Lack of local government oversight and inspection authority has also raised concerns that the units could be misused.
Group Homes and Assisted Living Facilities
Virginia Assembly Senate Bill 339 became effective July 1, 2010. Bill 339 modifies the Code of Virginia to treat assisted living facilities of eight or fewer persons in the same manner as residential occupancy by a single family.
The new law allows no conditions more restrictive than those imposed on family residences occupied by related persons on an assisted living facility.
Prior to passage of Senate Bill 339, Clarke County zoning regulations required a special use permit for assisted living facilities and group homes occupied by four to eight residents. Because the new law focuses on local zoning ordinances and not state licensing, it effectively removes local oversight from the placement and management of group homes and assisted living facilities.
“If someone calls Clarke County about a problem with this type of facility our only recourse will be to refer them to the Virginia Department of Social Services” Johnston said.