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Violation of sign ordinance upheld

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//June 2, 2022

Violation of sign ordinance upheld

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//June 2, 2022

Where appellant was convicted of violating a sign ordinance, his failure to appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals prevents judicial review of his claim that he was entitled to the religious building exemption from the ordinance’s requirement.

Further, even if his claim could be reviewed, the claim would fail because he did not take the necessary steps to qualify for the exemption.

Overview

Appellant conducted religious services in his home. He had an 18 square foot sign above his porch. Following a city inspection conducted by Peters, he was cited for using his home as a church without a certificate of occupancy and for violating sign regulations.

Appellant did not have off-street parking for what he characterized as “religious meetings.” He testified that attendees “parked either in a nearby city-established parking area, his driveway, or his front or back yards. Peters later testified that the City had not authorized a parking area at the address appellant had named.”

Appellant did not appeal the notice of violation to the BZA. He did not apply “for permits either to operate his residence as a church or to erect his sign.”

The general district court convicted him. In the circuit court, appellant argued that his building qualified for an exemption in the sign ordinance for buildings used for religious purposes. The circuit court concluded otherwise.

The court also noted that appellant did not exhaust his administrative remedies because he bypassed an appeal to the BZA.

The circuit court convicted appellant, issued a $500 suspended fine, “and ordered him to remove the sign within a year.”

Discussion

“Appellant contends that by holding religious gatherings in his home, he qualifies for the religious building exemption to the City’s sign ordinance.

“Generally, Petersburg zoning ordinance 10-ORD-10 requires a permit for anyone to erect a sign within the City. Petersburg City Code art. 21 § 3, app. B[.] …

“Appellant had no such permit. 10-ORD-10, however, does provide an exemption that allows for unregistered signs of up to twenty-five square feet that identify ‘buildings used for religious purposes.’ …

Appellant claims this exception applies to him. … One of the requirements a church or assembly room must meet to obtain such a certificate are off-street parking requirements. …

“Churches or assembly rooms must have a certain number of parking spaces per seat in the auditorium. … Thus, to be ‘used’ for a religious purpose … a building must receive a ‘certificate of occupancy and compliance’ showing that it satisfies applicable Petersburg building regulations, such as the parking requirements[.] …

“Even assuming appellant’s failure to appeal to the BZA does not doom his claim, his attempt to avail himself of the exception for buildings used for ‘religious purposes’ still fails. The ‘religious purpose’ exemption does not apply to him because he never took the necessary steps … to certify his residence as being ‘used’ for such a purpose. …

“Appellant never sought the necessary certificate, and he blocked the inspection that would determine the prerequisites for such a certificate. As appellant neither possessed a permit nor qualified for the exception he claims, his erection of the sign violated 10-ORD-10.”

Affirmed.

Parker v. City of Petersburg, Record No. 1020-21-2, May 3, 2021. CAV (Huff) from the Circuit Court of the City of Petersburg (Martin). Terry R. Driskill for appellant. Anthony C. Williams for appellee. Amicus Curiae: Local Government Attorneys of Virginia (Michael W.S. Lockaby; Travis S. Andrews; Guynn, Waddell, Carroll & Lockaby, P.C., on brief), for appellee. VLW 022-7-118, 5 pp. Unpublished opinion.

VLW 022-7-118

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