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Virginia Land Use Planning (1-VA-a)

In Virginia, a developer may need approval from the local planning commission to construct a project. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2232(A). Virginia municipalities must create local planning commissions “to promote the orderly development of the locality and its [environment].” Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2210. Municipalities regulate land use planning and development pursuant to Virginia – Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2 ch. 22 et seq., Planning, Subdivision of Land and Zoning.


Land Use Planning Process

1-VA-a.1 – Contact Appropriate Local Planning Commission(s)

A developer should contact the appropriate local planning commission(s) in the preliminary planning stages to determine required application and review processes. Local planning commissions primarily serve “in an advisory capacity” to local governments in making land use determinations. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2210. Depending on where the project is located, a joint local commission, or planning district commission may also serve an advisory role to local governments in making land use determinations. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2219; Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-4200.

1-VA-a.2 – Review Applicable Zoning Ordinances

A developer should review the applicable zoning ordinances to ensure that the proposed project complies with zoning requirements. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2280.

1-VA-a.3 – Does the Proposed Project Require a Special Exception or Variance?

If a proposed project does not comply with applicable zoning ordinances, then the developer may petition the zoning board of appeals for a Special Exception or Variance. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2390.

A Special Exception is defined as “a special use that is not permitted in a particular district.” Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2201.

A Variance is defined as “a reasonable deviation from those [zoning] provisions regulating the shape, size, or area of a lot or parcel of land or the size, height, area, bulk, or location of a building or structure when the strict application of the ordinance would unreasonably restrict the utilization of the property.” Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2201.

1-VA-a.4 to 1-VA.6 – Application for Special Exception or Variance

A developer may need to submit a complete Application for a Special Exception or Variance (Application) to the applicable zoning administrator. The Application should include maps, plans, and other information required by the zoning board of appeals. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2310.

Upon receipt, the zoning administrator reviews the Application for technical and administrative completeness.

1-VA-a.7 to 1-VA-a.8 – Provide Notice of Hearing Considering the Application

Before holding a hearing considering the Special Exception or Variance, the zoning administrator must publish notice of the hearing once a week for two (2) successive weeks in a newspaper in general circulation in the appropriate locality. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2204(A). The advertisement must include a descriptive summary of the proposed action, and reference to the place where project plans can be examined. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2204(A). The notice must also state the time and place of a public hearing considering the Special Exception or Variance. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2204(A). The zoning administrator must publish notice not less than five (5) days nor more than 21 days after the second advertisement. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2204(A).

The zoning administrator must also submit a copy of the Application to the local planning commission. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2310. Upon receipt of the Application, the local planning commission may send recommendations to the zoning board of appeals or appear as a party at the hearing.

1-VA-a.9 to 1-VA-a.10 – Hold Public Hearing

The zoning board of appeals must hold a public hearing considering the request for Special Exception or Variance. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2204(A). During the hearing, the zoning board of appeals reviews the Application for approval.

1-VA-a.11 – Does the Zoning Board of Appeals Approve the Special Exception or Variance?

Special Exception

In granting an Special Exception, the zoning board of appeals may impose any conditions that are necessary to protect the public interest. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2309.

Variance

A zoning board of appeals may only grant a Variance if:

  • The property interest for which the Variance is being requested was acquired in good faith and hardship was not created by the applicant (developer);
  • Granting the Variance will not be substantially detrimental to adjacent property and nearby properties;
  • The condition of the property is not so common as to require a general amendment to the applicable ordinance;
  • Granting to Variance will not result in a use that is not otherwise permitted; and
  • The relief or remedy sought is not available through an Special Exception process or modification of a zoning ordinance.

Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2309.

1-VA-a.12 to 1-VA-a.13 – Appeal Decision (Optional)

Any person aggrieved by a zoning board of appeals decision may file a written appeal with the Virginia circuit court in the county where the proposed project is located within 30 days of the zoning board of appeals issuing its decision. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2314.

1-VA-a.14 – Review Applicable Comprehensive Plans

A developer should review applicable comprehensive plans in the preliminary planning stages to ensure that the proposed project complies with plan requirements. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2223. Local planning commissions must prepare and recommend a comprehensive plan for the physical development of the territory within its jurisdiction. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2223. Local governments must adopt the applicable comprehensive plan. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2223.

Comprehensive plans detail the locality’s long-term recommendations for the development of the territory and may include “the designation of corridors or routes for electric transmission lines of 150 kV or more.” Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2223.

In formulating a comprehensive plan, the local planning commission considers the “transmission of electricity” as well as several other land uses. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2224.

1-VA-a.15 to 1-VA-a.16 – Does the Project Require Constructing Electric Transmission Lines of 150 kV or More?

Every electric utility responsible for constructing, operating, and maintaining electric transmission lines of 150 kV or more must provide any reasonable information upon request by the local planning commission if the proposed project may affect the locality’s comprehensive plan. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2202(E). The project developer must also notify the appropriate local authority “in every locality in which the electric utility (developer) plans to undertake construction of any electric transmission line of 150 kV or more” prior to filing a necessary application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity with the Virginia State Corporation Commission outlined in 8-VA-c. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2202(E).

For more information, see: Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity:
8-VA-c

1-VA-a.17 to 1-VA-a.18 – Is the Developer a State Agency of a Project Costing $500,000 or more?

If a state agency is responsible for constructing, operating, or maintaining public facilities and intends to undertake new construction costing at least $500,000, then the state agency must send notice to the appropriate local authority in every locality in which the project is located. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2202(C).

Sufficient notice must include a project description and point of contact with contact information for the project and be given during the planning phase of the project prior to preparation of construction and site plans. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2202(C).

1-VA-a.19 to 1-VA-a.20 – Review Notice for Consistency with Local Ordinances

Upon receiving sufficient notice of the proposed project, local government authorities evaluate the project for consistency with local ordinances and submit comments to the developer during the planning phase.

If a local government requests project plans, the developer must transmit a copy of the plans to the local government for comment. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2202(C).

1-VA-a.21 – Petition for Approval

Prior to constructing any aboveground public utility facility, the developer must submit a Petition containing proposed project plans detailing the “general location, character, and extent” to the local planning commission for approval. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2232(A).

Note: “Normal service extensions of public utilities or public service corporations do not require approval unless the work involves a change in location or extent of a street or public area.” Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2232(C).

1-VA-a.22 to 1-VA-a.23 – Review Petition Materials for Completeness

The local planning commission reviews Petition materials for technical and administrative completeness.

1-VA-a.24 to 1-VA-a.25 – Does the Proposed Project Impact a Military Facility?

If a proposed project impacts military facilities, the local planning commission must consult with the appropriate military personnel. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2211.

1-VA-a.26 – Provide Notice of Petition

Prior to the appropriate local planning authority approving a proposed project and/or a locality adopting a proposed project plan, the appropriate local planning authority must publish its intention to approve a Petition containing the proposed project plan once a week for two successive weeks in a newspaper in general circulation in the appropriate locality. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2204(A).

The advertisement must include a descriptive summary of the proposed action, and reference to the place where project plans can be examined in the advertisement. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2204(A). The notice must also state the time and place of a public hearing considering the project plan. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2204(A). The appropriate local authority must publish notice not less than five (5) days nor more than 21 days after the second advertisement. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2204(A).

Note: If the appropriate local planning authority and locality elect to hold a joint hearing, then notice requirements are satisfied by the two advertisements in successive weeks. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2202(A). However, if the locality and the appropriate local planning authority elect to hold separate hearings considering the proposed plan, then both the local planning authority and the locality must give notice of the distinct hearings. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2202(A).

1-VA-a.27 to 1-VA-a.28 – Hold Public Hearing (If Applicable)

The local planning commission may hold a public hearing on the proposed project. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2232. If the locality with jurisdiction over the proposed project site requests that the local planning commission hold a public hearing on the proposed project, then the local planning commission must hold public hearing. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2232(A). The local planning commission has 60 days to make a decision on the proposed project.

1-VA-a.29 to 1-VA-a.30 – Does the Local Planning Commission Make a Decision within the Prescribed Period?

If the local planning commission fails to make a decision on the proposed project within 60 days, then the proposed project is deemed approved.

1-VA-a.31 – Notice of Decision

At the conclusion of the public hearing considering the proposed project, the local planning commission must communicate its findings to the local governing authority in a notice of decision indicating its approval or disapproval in writing. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2232(B).

1-VA-a.32 – Does the Local Planning Commission Approve the Petition?

If the local planning commission approves the Petition, then the developer should proceed to 1-VA-a.35.

1-VA-a.33 to 1-VA-a.34 – Petition for Appeal

If the local planning commission denies the Petition, the project owner (developer) may file appeal the decision to the local governing authority within ten (10) days of the local planning commission decision. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2232(B).

The Petition for appeal must be in writing and state the reasons for the appeal. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2232(B). The local governing authority must hold a hearing on the appeal and make a decision within 60 days of the developer filing the appeal. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2232(B).

1-VA-a.35 to 1-VA-a.36 – Review Local Planning Commission’s Recommendation

The local governing authority reviews the local planning commission’s recommendation for approval.

1-VA-a.36 to 1-VA-a.37 – Does the Local Governing Authority Approve the Proposed Project?

The local governing authority may either accept or overrule the local planning commission’s decision by majority vote. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2232(B).

1-VA-a.38 – Appeal Decision to Superior Court (If Applicable)

Any developer aggrieved by a local planning commission or locality decision may appeal the decision to superior court within 60 days of the decision. Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2208.1(A). Va. Code Ann. tit. 15.2-2259.


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