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Orange loses subdivision challenge


Date published: 10/3/2012

BY DAN McFARLAND

Orange County has lost a legal challenge to its controversial subdivision ordinance.

Shortly after the county Board of Supervisors adopted a controversial 2008 provision restricting land divisions in its agricultural zoning district to one division in four years, four lawsuits were filed challenging the ordinance. Three were dismissed by the judge, who found that those plaintiffs did not have standing to sue.

James and Diane Strong's case, however, was allowed to continue because they had filed a subdivision plan that was affected by the change. The plan called for the eventual creation of 65 lots of at least 2 acres each; the new rule prevented them from further subdividing their 175 acres into parcels of less than 50 acres.

The case was finally heard in Orange County Circuit Court on Aug. 30 by visiting Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. of Charlottesville. He ruled in favor of the Strongs on Tuesday, declaring the ordinance void and unenforceable.

Susan Cooke, attorney for the Strongs, said the lawsuit claimed the ordinance violated the Dillon Rule, which limits local government's powers to those specifically granted by the state. The judge said he did not find in the Code of Virginia any provision permitting supervisors to impose a time delay on the subdivision of lots.

"Obviously that is a victory for us and for the other landowners in Orange County," Diane Strong said Tuesday. "We have been fighting this for four years. Obviously the economy and everything else has played into what our next step will be."

Attorney Sharon Pandak, who represented Orange County in the case, declined to comment on the ruling before the supervisors' meeting next Tuesday.

The Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission have spent much of this year working on updating the county comprehensive plan and zoning and subdivision ordinances. The Planning Commission will be holding a public comment session on the new proposed rules at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Dan McFarland:
Email: dmcfarland@freelancestar.com