The county now has a tool to fight crowding in houses, thanks to the adoption of statewide codes on housing occupancy limits.
Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) initiated the move, which will now apply a mathematical formula to persons in a house versus square feet. Delgaudio, and other supporters of the measure, had received criticism that enforcing occupancy limits singled out minorities and was racially motivated.
"They have condemned one race of people due to the actions of one or two," said Albert Bland, a Middleburg resident.
The supervisors, who voted unanimously in favor of Delgaudio's motion Tuesday, took exception to Bland's assertion. The situation, they said, is more like how Sterling resident Richard Benenati explained it.
"All I want to do is tell you this is not a racially motivated situation," Benenati said, adding that the house next to his had people of all races spilling out of it to the extent that he didn't know who his neighbors were from day to day.
"I need to know who's in my community," Benenati said. "It's nice to open the door and see the same faces every day. It just makes good sense for our community."
Chairman Scott York (I-at large) saw it Benenati's way.
"This is a zoning issue," he said. "This is about people who buy their homes and turn them, single family homes, into boarding houses. Single family homes aren't meant to be boarding houses."
He added that the focus was "not on the people who live there, but the landlords."
An overcrowded home threatens the health, welfare and safety of occupants, York said. "It's just wrong."
Delgaudio, often a polarizing figure on the dais, seemed to appreciate the board's unilateral support.
"I have been temperate when I am usually intemperate because of the sensitivity of this issue," he said. "If it was going to affect anyone but the target ... that's it."
THE COUNTY reported 29 complaints of overcrowding in 2003, with 37 so far in 2004. Adopting state code means that the county will add two positions for verifying, investigating and acting upon crowding violations. Enforcement will take place on a passive basis, meaning that investigation will result only from complaints. The cost to the county is estimated at $149,405 for the first year.
Under the state code, a typical 1,200 square foot house can house up to 16 occupants, if it follows certain regulations. Occupancy is determined by multiplying the number of people by 50 square feet of sleeping space each. That means that a living room, kitchen or bathroom won't count toward a home's sleeping space.
That 1,200 square foot home, for example, minus non-sleeping areas, becomes a 840 square foot home. Divide 840 by the 50 square feet required for each sleeper, and the result is 16 occupants.
The state code does not contend with the possibility of all or some of the people in the home being related, sticking instead to math.
"We're not trying to define family," Delgaudio said.