Stafford to hold public hearing on cemetery rules after Muslim association rejects offer

The Stafford County Board of Supervisors will hold a joint public hearing with the County’s Planning Commission to consider repealing the county’s cemetery ordinance.

The move comes as the county is being sued by the U.S. Department of Justice for an alleged violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act — a federal law that protects religious institutions from discriminatory land-use regulations.

The lawsuit alleges that the county enacted overly restrictive zoning regulations that prevented the All Muslim Association of America from developing a cemetery that would have been constructed on 29 acres of land the association had purchased on Garrisonville Road in North Stafford.

The Muslim association had planned to build a cemetery and to follow state requirements that call for burying bodies at least 100 feet away from private wells and streams. Then in 2016, county officials passed an ordinance that required a minimum distance of 900 feet, which effectively reduced the number of burials the Muslim association could perform on its land.

The property is located directly across from the home of Rock Hill District Supervisor Crystal Vanuch, who sat on the county’s Planning Commission went the decision was made to amend the cemetery ordinance.

Since then, the Board of Supervisors has met in closed session meetings on the subject. Over the summer, the county offered to push the limit to under 200 feet but the Muslim association rejected that offer. In a letter to Supervisors, the association stated that nothing less than the restoration of the previous ordinance would be satisfactory.

The joint public hearing will be held on Thursday, October 29, 2020, at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Colonial Forge High School, at 550 Courthouse Road in Stafford.

The meeting is open to the public and the school’s auditorium will accommodate 65 people. There will be minimal overflow seatng in the cafeteria next to the auditorium, a county press release states.

In-person speakers will receive a number and will listen for their number to be called up. Face masks will be required due to coronavirus restrictions.

Public comments are also being accepted online. The deadline to comment is 4:30 p.m. on October 28.

The meeting will be streamed online via and viewable on Facebook Live and cable access channels. The pertinent documents are also available online.

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