Cornerstone Church filed three applications in 2008 in order to construct a Church on its property. The first application was to remove a proposed section of Tolbert Land that had not yet been constructed and was on Cornerstone’s property. The second was an application to change the zoning district to B-3 community retail to allow a church as a permitted use. Lastly, Cornerstone requested an exemption to allow it to operate a daycare on the premises. As the Town’s transportation needs had changed, the Town no longer considered Tolbert Lane necessary and adopted Cornerstone’s request. This resulted in Tolbert Lane ending in a cul-de-sac that Long Lane Associated Limited Partnership (Long Lane) had constructed and dedicated to the Town. Cornerstone’s remaining applications were approved. Long Lane challenged ordinances adopted by the town council. Shute, a principal of Long Lane had argued that the “Town could not amend the application of the conditions required by the High Point Rezoning Ordinance (1988) without the consent of all owners of property originally included in the rezoning.” Shute contended that Long Lane did not consent. The circuit court “declared Long Lane to have a vested right to the completion of Tolbert Land and the development set forth in the ZM-98 proffers approved by the Town Ordinance. It ruled that the Town’s approval of Cornerstone’s request for rezoning was void and of no effect because it violated Long Lane’s vested rights under the High Point Rezoning ordinance and that the rezoning as well as the amendment to the Town Plan and the granting of the special use permit were this illegal, void and of no effect.” The Town and Cornerstone appealed.
The Court held that:
“A landowner’s rights shall be deemed vested in a land use and such vesting shall not be affected by a subsequent amendment to a zoning ordinance when the landowner (i) obtains or is the beneficiary of a significant governmental act which remains in effect allowing development of a specific project, (ii) relies in good faith on the significant affirmative governmental act, and (iii) incurs extensive obligations or substantial expenses in diligent pursuit of the specific project in reliance on the significant affirmative governmental act.”
Furthermore, the Court noted:
“The Town approved the rezoning of the High Point Property conditioned upon the ZM-98 proffers and specified the land use relating to the zoning amendment. The Town’s approval of the proffers was a significant affirmative governmental act allowing development of the specific project provided for in the proffers. As a subsequent owner of a subdivided parcel of the property governed by the ZM-98 proffers, Long Lane was a beneficiary of the significant affirmative governmental act. Pursuant to Code § 15.2-2307, Long Land has a vested right in the land use allowed by the High Point Rezoning Ordinance.”
However, Long Lane was not just claiming a vested right in their own property, but also a right with respects to the property now owned by Cornerstone. “When a landowner has only a future expectation that he will be allowed to develop his property in accord with its current classification under the local zoning ordinance, there is no vested property right in the continuation of the land’s existing zoning status.” Long Lane claimed a vested right in the proffers, but one cannot acquire a vested right in a proffer, so Long Lane only had a future expectation. Furthermore, the vested property rights do not prohibit rezoning. The Court held that a landowner does not have “vested rights in the zoning classification or land use of his or her neighbor, even where the property was subdivided from a parcel which was rezoned subject to proffered conditions.”
Next, the Court turned to Long Lanes contention that the Town acted in contravention to code when approving Cornerstone’s application. The relevant code holds that “once the governing body accepts voluntary proffers, such proffers become conditions of the rezoning and, once entered into law, the conditions become zoning restrictions.” Long Lane argues that “on the property covered by such conditions in Code § 15.2-2303(A) refers to the undivided property originally owned by High Point, to which the ZM-98 proffers applied.” The Court held that as a result of the rezoning “ the Zm-98 proffers properly no longer applied to Cornerstone’s property. Long Lane’s parcel was not rezoned and the ZM-98 proffers continue in effect because a subsequent amendment has not changed the zoning on its property covered by such conditions.”
Finally, the Court held that the Town had the authority to amend the High Point Rezoning Ordinance. “When considering the rezoning application, the Town took into account the effect the zoning legislation would have on the citizens of the Town. Long Land was able to raise its concerns to the planning commission and town council before the Town approved Cornerstone’s application.” Thus the Town acted pursuant to its authority and no evidence indicated that its actions were unreasonable. Therefore, the Court reversed and declared final judgment.
Town of Leesburg v. Long Lane Associates Limited Partnership, 726 S.E.2d 27 (VA. 6/7/2012)
The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.courts.state.va.us/opinions/opnscvwp/1111658.pdf