Boards of Zoning Appeals in Virginia: Quasi-Judicial and Quite Difficult


Imagine a situation in which a business asks your zoning administrator whether a use is permitted on property the business hopes to buy. The zoning administrator looks at the definitions and uses in the zoning ordinance, which are fairly broad, and given what the business has said, tells the business that the planned use is permitted by right in the zoning district.

In this case, the business starts spending money to make the dream a reality. A few months later, the neighbors learn about the business’ plans, and start calling the locality. They complain to the local government administration and the governing body that the proposed business will have a detrimental impact on their area due to noise, traffic and other issues. The proposed business proves to be hugely unpopular and opposed by the neighbors, the local government administration, and the governing body. It is too late for the governing body to appeal the decision to the board of zoning appeals (BZA). However, with sharp criticism of the zoning administrator coming from the public, the local governing body acts to amend the zoning ordinance to clarify that this use is not permitted by right. Fearing the loss of investment, and realizing that a legislative approval is not likely, the business owner makes a claim of vested rights to the zoning administrator, who denies it. The business owner appeals the vested rights determination to the BZA.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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