VA Supreme Court Takes Away Planning Commission Power

A recent Supreme Court of Virginia ruling has rendered Virginia planning commissions pretty much useless, Kurt Walters writes for Charlottesville Tomorrow. Kent Sinclair, an Albemarle County resident and UVA law professor, was unhappy after the Albemarle Planning Commission provided his neighbor with a critical slopes waiver that allowed a 103-foot-tall communications tower to be built on their land. Sinclair sued and, in Sinclair v. New Cingular Wireless PCS et al, the state’s highest court ruled that, under the state code, planning commissions simply do not have the power to provide waivers to violate zoning ordinances. Instead, planning commissions must simply approve or deny, then leaving it to elected bodies like the Board of Supervisors to grant (or not) waivers.

The filing deadline for legislation for the already underway 2012 General Assembly session has come and gone, so if the legislature is going to take any steps to address this, it won’t happen in 2012.

4 Responses to “VA Supreme Court Takes Away Planning Commission Power”


  • Isn’t it already the case that the PC just gives a recommendation to the City Council (or Supes) regarding a Special Use Permit or zoning amendment? Sees like an exaggeration to say they have been made “pretty much useless.” The council most often takes their advice without questioning it and without having to hear the hours of boring debate that went into it.

  • Bill, from reading the Charlottesville Tomorrow story, it sounds like the PC has in the past granted waivers to county ordinances — not merely recommended that the Board of Supes take some action, but actually granted the waiver. And now they can’t. I think some of their other work did amount to passing along recommendations to the Board, but this granting of waivers seems like it was more than that.

  • It certainly sounds like this was only a matter of time. The planning commission grants waivers of zoning ordinances based on absolutely no statutory authority? Under what authority did they claim the right to allow the violation of zoning ordinances? I mean, when did “planning commission” come to mean “zoning ordinance violation permit commission”?

    Good for the Supreme Court. If there’s a good reason why a planning commission should be allowed to grant the ability to violate local ordinances, then let the localities or the state legislature grant that authority under law.

    As it was, if I had a number of friends on the planning commission, they could just grant me whatever waiver I wanted and there was no appellate review? Sounds like an arbitrary system ripe and ready for abuse.

    Good for this citizen to stand up to this arbitrary assertion of authority. That is EXACTLY what America is all about.

  • “Good for the Supreme Court. If there’s a good reason why a planning commission should be allowed to grant the ability to violate local ordinances, then let the localities or the state legislature grant that authority under law.”

    It is worth repeating.

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