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Supreme Court to hear appeal in Spotsylvania downzoning
Virginia's Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of a judge's decision to dismiss part of a lawsuit challenging Spotsylvania County's recent downzoning.

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Date published: 4/25/2003

The Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal filed by landowners suing Spotsylvania County supervisors over changes made in zoning laws last year.

About 20 property owners filed a total of 10 lawsuits against the Board of Supervisors in March 2002, a month after supervisors voted to reduce by 42 percent the number of homes that can be built without their permission.

Last summer, Spotsylvania Circuit Judge William H. Ledbetter Jr. dismissed three counts in the nearly identical lawsuits while allowing two others to move forward.

The plaintiffs’ appeal of that decision will be heard by the state’s highest court later this year, said John Tyler Jr., an attorney with Leming and Healy, the Stafford County law firm representing the landowners.

The court will hear the plaintiffs’ claim that language the county used in its newspaper advertisement of proposed zoning law “text amendments” did not meet a state law requirement for a “descriptive summary” of proposed action.

The ad announced public hearings on whether to “amend development standards” and referred to the zoning districts affected. No specific changes were mentioned, including the major reduction in residential density.

County Attorney Mark Taylor argued last summer that the ad offered enough information to pique anyone’s curiosity. The judge ruled the notice was sufficient, but agreed “it could have been done a lot better.”

Tyler said his clients are pleased they will have another chance to argue their point.

Taylor said today the county hopes the appeal hearing will not delay the scheduled May 22 trial on the other issues in the lawsuits.

If the plaintiffs are successful, the entire downzoning would be invalidated, Taylor said.

“That would call into question the legality of rezonings that have been approved” since February 2002.

Four projects have been green-lighted during that time, two small subdivisions at Lake Anna, the 2,232-home Lee’s Parke in the Massaponax area and the 234-home Breckenridge off Courthouse Road.

The main issue to be considered at the May trial is the county’s cap of 10 lots per parcel in rural areas regardless of the parcel size.

With their separate parcels added together, the plaintiffs own 2,500 acres. The zoning changes reduced the total number of lots they could create from 1,000 to 200.