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Property Owners Entitled to Relief from Zoning Administrator’s Mistake

Gentry Locke for the Defense

Circuit Court for the County of Richmond

Gentry Locke successfully represented property owners in a zoning dispute. The County’s zoning administrator approved plans for the property owners to build a two-story garage on their property, and the zoning administrator certified that the plans fully complied with the County’s Zoning Ordinance. However, unbeknownst to the property owners, the zoning administrator did not review the zoning application or the building plans. In good faith reliance on the zoning administrator’s certification of compliance with the Zoning Ordinance, the property owners built the garage. Several months after construction was completed, the County claimed that the garage did not comply with the height restrictions in the Zoning Ordinance, and brought an enforcement action against the property owners.

The trial court ruled that the property owners were entitled to relief under Virginia Code § 15.2-2311(C). That statute provides that a decision or determination by the zoning administrator cannot be modified after 60 days when the property owner reasonably relies in good faith upon that determination to his detriment. The trial court held that the property owners were entitled to the safe harbor created under Virginia Code § 15.2-2311(C) because they relied in good faith upon the erroneous determination by the zoning administrator. The County appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Virginia.

On August 31, 2017, the Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The court held that the property owners had a vested right to the use of their property in violation of a zoning ordinance where they relied in good faith upon a determination of the zoning administrator that the building plans complied with the zoning ordinance.

Board of Supervisors of Richmond County v. Rhoads, 294 Va. 43 (2017).

Status of the case:

The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed our client’s vested right to use their property.

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