"Promoting housing affordability by combating exclusionary housing policies"

 

CFC # 41863 (Combined Federal Campaign) 

EHI addresses Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on housing problems related to
controversial high-rise office building proposal for Reston
 

 
In September 2012, EHI President Tom Loftus spoke before the Fairfax County (VA) Board of Supervisors and submitted an extensive memorandum in opposition to a proposed 23-story office tower in the Reston Town Center area. He noted that, among other things, the proposal would aggravate the shortage of housing in Reston, and that it violated basic objectives and regulations of the land’s zoning classification (Planned Residential Community). He supported the County's Planning and Zoning staff's recommendation not to approve the proposal. (The property is a 2.36-acre parcel owned by RTC Partnership, at the Northwest corner of Reston Parkway and Bowman Towne Drive.)

Despite the strong case presented by EHI, County staff, and numerous Reston community representatives, the Board approved the proposed building.  Opponents were left to conclude that the Board’s action was inconsistent with the facts and the law. Nevertheless, the proceedings on the proposed development gave EHI the opportunity to address the Board directly on a larger issue. That is the need to change Board policies that have resulted in unbalanced development -- predominantly commercial, with insufficient housing -- in most of the County, including Reston. 

The proceedings also gave EHI the opportunity to explain when landowners gain "vested rights" to develop as they wish. Many planning officials in Reston and Fairfax County seemed heavily influenced in this case by the landowner's claims that it had gained a right in 1978 to develop its parcel commercially to a virtually unlimited extent at any future time it chose -- even thought its current development plan (submitted in 2010) would conflict with important objectives and regulations of its zoning classification, and even though development and County needs in the area had changed markedly since 1978. 

However, EHI explained that in Virginia, a landowner has no vested right or other property right to develop a new project until there is "a significant affirmative governmental act . . . allowing development of a specific project," and until certain other criteria are met. (Va. Code sect. 15.2-3207). The Virginia Supreme Court has stated repeatedly that: “Generally, landowners have no property right in anticipated uses of their land since they have no vested property right in the continuation of the land's existing zoning status.” E.g., City of Suffolk ex rel. Herbert v. Suffolk BZA, 266 Va. 137, 144, 580 S.E. 2d 796 (2003). Because there had been no "significant affirmative governmental act" allowing development of the new project -- the 23-story office tower -- the landowner had not gained any vested right to develop it.