Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Proposed Zoning Changes Oppose Law, Constitution

The recently proposed changes to the City zoning ordinance proposed by the Planning Commission constitute an uncompensated taking that will permanently destroy in excess of $108 Million in taxable real estate value. Each lot owner will lose roughly $450,000 in value at today’s prices.

Virginia is a property rights state. Under the fifth amendment of the Constitution of the United States, “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The zoning changes, as proposed, are in direct opposition to the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution and Virginia law. Attempts to forcibly join platted lots will deprive the owners of their property rights without just compensation. The forced extinguishment of a legally existing lot, properly approved and recorded at the local general district clerk of the court, constitutes a taking of private property without compensation and a circumvention of the due process clause and VA Code § 15.2-2272. There are over 240 of these lots in the city. State law protects these lots at:

§ 15.2-2272. Vacation of plat after sale of lot.

In cases where any lot has been sold, the plat or part thereof may be vacated according to either of the following methods:

1. By instrument in writing agreeing to the vacation signed by all the owners of lots shown on the plat and also signed on behalf of the governing body of the locality in which the land …

2. By ordinance of the governing body of the locality in which the land shown on the plat or part thereof to be vacated lies on motion of one of its members or on application of any interested person. The ordinance shall not be adopted until after notice has been given as required by § 15.2-2204. The notice shall clearly describe the plat or portion thereof to be vacated and state the time and place of the meeting of the governing body at which the adoption of the ordinance will be voted upon. Any person may appear at the meeting for the purpose of objecting to the adoption of the ordinance. An appeal from the adoption of the ordinance may be filed within thirty days with the circuit court having jurisdiction of the land shown on the plat or part thereof to be vacated. Upon appeal the court may nullify the ordinance if it finds that the owner of any lot shown on the plat will be irreparably damaged. If no appeal from the adoption of the ordinance is filed within the time above provided or if the ordinance is upheld on appeal, a certified copy of the ordinance of vacation may be recorded in the clerk’s office of any court in which the plat is recorded.

No lot may be forcibly vacated without the consent of the owner or a court order affirming the vacation of the lot. Note that this procedure requires each single plat to be moved upon either by a member of city council or an interested party. There is no provision for a blanket elimination of recorded plats.

There are many unintended consequences to this act: increased lot costs, higher taxes for larger lots, shifting the tax burden to owners of large lots, soaring home prices making our city less affordable, and a class action suit for mass condemnation. Another set of legal expenses for the taxpayers to fund.

What about the schools? The small number of homes involved will not harm our schools. Our city has outgrown the schools and they must be replaced. That is a fact. The only way to fund that replacement is with a long term strategic plan designed to attract high density housing for singles and seniors while simultaneously building dense and walkable commercial areas. The City Planning officer and EDA are currently developing plans along this line of thought. Our city needs a vision that includes proactive change, not reactionary leadership that cows to the drumbeat of a handful of citizens on a self appointed mission to halt new construction. Are you aware the head of this citizen activist group has a wife on the Planning Commission who promoted and voted in favor of this condemnation?

If we, as a city, fail to act with purpose and self determination we will miss a generational opportunity. If we wish to prosper, we must invest wisely and act intelligently, not cling to antiquated ideas to stymie progress. The homeowners of this city should not be forced to bear the coming capital expense via property taxes alone. Falls Church is at the center of a bright future in the Metro area…we must capitalize on our prized and centralized location. This Council already squandered our most valuable asset, the water system, and got nothing of value in return. Do not allow them to create the next loss from a class action condemnation suit as it will be your tax dollars that end up paying for this mistake. And, should this pass, what’s next? Let your imagination be your guide.

Speak out and oppose this change at the coming council meeting on July 22.


Jamie Craig is chairman of the Falls Church Board of Equalization. Mr. Craig does not own a lot that would be affected by these proposed changes.