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Zoning board went too far, judge rules

Add Front Royal to the list of Virginia localities where the Board of Zoning Appeals was accused of being too generous. Warren County Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp this week nullified a variance that would have allowed a tall addition to the Afton Inn in Front Royal, as reported by the Northern Virginia Daily. At a hearing, board members admitted that they found no unconstitutional hardship on the property owner to justify the variance.

A similar issue has the Staunton City Council at war with that city’s BZA.

The Supreme Court of Virginia, in a 2004 opinion, held that a BZA cannot grant a zoning variance unless the property would be useless without it. Nevertheless, it seems that zoning boards sometimes forget or disregard that strict standard to help a landowner with a beneficial project.

In Staunton, the circuit court is wrestling with whether the BZA is entitled to a lawyer at the expense of the city that haled the BZA into court. Judge Thomas H. Wood appointed William E. Shmidheiser III of Harrisonburg to represent the BZA. City Attorney Douglas Guynn has objected.

In the Front Royal litigation, it appears that the Virginia Municipal League arranged for the BZA to be represented by Charlottesville’s John W. Zunka.

By Peter Vieth