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The Challenges of Unfair Zoning Decisions

From construction disputes to real estate law, legalities involving property are among the most complex in our system. Unfortunately, issues can become even more complicated when zoning issues are involved. Property owners can suddenly lose rights they’ve had since their initial purchase. Fortunately, these property owners can challenge zoning decisions in Warrenton, VA.

In fact, there are often various opportunities to secure a positive outcome when local authorities are making inappropriate decisions. In some instances, you may not even have to go to court to protect the rights of you and your neighbors. However, every situation is different. This is why it’s important to speak with an attorney and understand all your options.

Get Involved Early in the Process

Filing appeals and going to court are great ways to challenge zoning decisions in Warrenton, VA. However, favorable outcomes can sometimes be reached before it ever gets that far. That’s because — in most cases — such decisions are not reached overnight. There will typically be a period prior to any decision that’s open for the public to let their voices be heard.

This is a great opportunity to let local authorities know what you think. There will be some instances where the government tries to “sneak” decisions past the public, but these actions raise different questions that can result in legal action. However, there are some ways to prepare for a public hearing when authorities are following proper protocol:

  • Familiarize yourself with the zoning decision and its rationale
  • Gather information and evidence supporting your stance
  • Identify the key concerns of you and your neighbors
  • Prepare a written statement that concisely summarizes your arguments
  • Organize supporting materials (e.g., maps, documents, visuals)
  • Consider additional witnesses or experts
  • Review meeting procedures beforehand
  • Engage with other stakeholders (e.g., community groups, neighbors, etc.)

These steps can help you prepare a strong argument against potential zoning decisions. If successful, you can avoid a lot of headaches related to appealing such decisions. However, local authorities will not always listen to you. If they ignore your concerns or have otherwise pushed forward, there are more ways to challenge zoning decisions.

Review Zoning and Related Regulations

This step should be taken prior to attending public hearings, but even if it’s not, it remains critical after decisions have been made. Put simply, reviewing existing regulations can provide a powerful tool for preventing or overturning unfair zoning decisions. That’s because politicians and zoning boards often overlook established guidelines when they have certain goals in mind.

Existing zoning ordinances, land use plans, and zoning maps may supersede new zoning decisions. In some instances, state and local laws may preclude the decisions made by zoning authorities from ever taking place. If you can show that existing ordinances, regulations, and laws are violated, you may be able to stop new zoning problems from ever occurring.

Unfortunately, this can be a complex task. This is why it’s critical to work with local authorities who are on your side and attorneys knowledgeable in zoning and land use disputes. These professionals can help you understand what you’re up against and the best tools available to challenge zoning decisions in Warrenton, VA.

Consider Political Advocacy

Clearly, some of the best ways to stop an unfair or illegal zoning decision are available long before the decision is made. Action can also be taken after these decisions — even when a formal appeal hasn’t been filed. Engaging in political advocacy falls into both of these categories, and it’s proven extremely effective across the country.

Engaging with community groups, elected officials, and other stakeholders can help build support for your position. These partners can help you advocate for changes to the zoning decision — often through established political channels. Fortunately, such decisions can often be prevented or reversed through such actions.

Even going to the media can be an effective step. We live in a world where all news is local. A small story featured on a local Warrenton media station can be uploaded to YouTube and shared by millions. Sometimes, it only takes shining a light into the darkness to stop unfair zoning decisions in our city.

File an Appeal

While the preceding strategies aren’t simple and straightforward, they can often help you avoid the difficult process of filing an appeal. Unfortunately, these steps will not always be effective. Luckily, there are established guidelines for filing Virginia zoning appeals. This is done by filing a petition in the county or city circuit court where the decision has been made.

Keep in mind that these appeals typically must be filed within 30 days of the zoning decision. Additionally, they can only be filed by an “aggrieved party” — someone who will be negatively affected by the zoning decision. This means they have standing to file an appeal. To qualify, a person must meet two criteria:

  • The filer must occupy or own real property that is in close proximity to land that’s subject to the zoning decision.
  • The filer must be able to show that the zoning decision will cause specific and particular harm to them.

If these two elements exist, you likely have legal standing to file a petition challenging a zoning decision in Warrenton, VA. Establishing that a person owns property in close proximity to land subject to such decisions is easy enough, but proving the second element can be more difficult. It’s simply not enough to claim that the decision is bad for the community in general.

This is why it’s advisable to speak with an attorney. At Ashwell & Ashwell, we’re here to guide you through this complicated process. Contact us at 540-991-9100 to schedule your confidential consultation.

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