- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 5, 2006

Several local officials — facing overcrowding problems in their respective jurisdictions — support the recent suspension of a ban on extended family members living under one roof in Manassas but said localities still must find a way to deter illegal aliens and others from cramming into single-family homes.

“Overcrowding is a problem in a number of our neighborhoods and we have to find some way to address that problem [but] I don’t believe the government can tell families which relatives can live with them,” said Gerald E. Connolly, a Democrat who is chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

“Manassas made an earnest effort to come up with some sort of enforcement mechanism to limit overcrowding,” said Sean T. Connaughton, a Republican who is at-large chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. “We’re facing the same types of challenges in the county [because] the problem has arisen very quickly. … For all of us in local government this has been a very difficult issue to get our arms around.”

Their comments come after Manassas officials decided to suspend — and possibly repeal — a zoning ordinance that states a household may consist of only immediate relatives plus an unrelated person, and that extended relatives, including aunts, uncles and cousins, do not factor into the “family” equation.

Adopted last month, the ordinance drew criticism from civil rights and fair housing groups who called the city’s definition of “family” an unconstitutional government probe into the personal matters of families.

Manassas officials on Wednesday recanted their position after the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia threatened to suethe city, saying the ordinance targeted Hispanic immigrants who residents and lawmakers blame for overcrowding in neighborhoods throughout Northern Virginia.

Yesterday, Manassas City Manager Lawrence D. Hughes said the city is determined to create a neighborhood maintenance program that is sensitive to everyone.

“We know that communities across the region and the country are struggling with how to respond to real and complex issues resulting from growing residential overcrowding,” Mr. Hughes said in a written statement. “Communities are doing so without yet having clear and effective guidance from the courts or federal or state policy on dealing with this issue.”

Mr. Hughes told The Washington Times yesterday that Manassas had received about 400 overcrowding complaints since it created a task force to review the problem 18 months ago.

Last year, Fairfax County recorded more than 600 complaints regarding overcrowding, officials said. The county had about 360 such complaints in 2002, officials said.

Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, said he doesn’t think that approving the ordinance was a legitimate attempt to fight overcrowding in Manassas. “What it amounts to is an outright attack on Manassas’ growing Latino population,” he said.

Virginia Gov.-elect Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, said he doesn’t want to interfere at the local level but noted the attempt by Manassas officials to redefine family might be unconstitutional.

Prince William County SupervisorJohn T. Stirrup Jr., Gainesville District Republican, disagreed with the council’s definition of family, but said he doesn’t think officials should have backed off.

“I’m not sure if public policy needs to be driven by who might sue you or who might not. You need to rise above that to do what’s right for your constituency,” he said.

The Manassas City Council is expected to discuss the ordinance at its meeting Monday night.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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