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This blog focuses on real estate, land use and construction-related topics affecting Virginia and the Washington, D.C. metro area. With topics ranging from contract drafting and negotiation to local and regional land use project updates, the attorneys at Bean, Kinney & Korman provide timely insight and commentary on the issues affecting owners, builders, developers, contractors, subcontractors and other players in the industry. If you are interested in having us cover a specific topic, please let us know.

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Arlington County Board Passes New Zoning Ordinance Amendment on Size of Signs

On June 17th, the Arlington County Board approved an amendment to Arlington’s Zoning Ordinance allowing greater aggregate sign area for certain properties with retail.

The adopted amendment—which applies to buildings with comprehensive sign plans in commercial/mixed-use zoning districts—would increase the allowed aggregate sign area for retailers facing publicly accessible plazas. It would also increase the maximum size of blade signs.

A new ruling by the National Labor Relations Board could impact the relationship between developers, construction companies and their workers.

In a landmark decision on Thursday, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”), by a 3-2 vote, determined that its long-standing “joint-employment jurisprudence” had grown “increasingly out of step with changing economic circumstances, particularly the recent dramatic growth in contingent employment relationships, i.e., shift work, contract workers, and temporary employee relationships[,]” across the U.S.

The construction industry is all too familiar with its perception as a means by which individual and corporate citizens alike may experience economic opportunity. Whether at the federal, state or municipal level, set-aside programs exist to give small, local and other discrete businesses the ability to compete for lucrative construction contracts. Efforts to support local business and increase the employment of residents are important to strengthen local economies. However, it is worthwhile to reevaluate government participation in the contractor selection process to ensure the goals of set-aside programs do not produce unintended results.

In the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area there are a variety of programs that allow for small businesses, local businesses, minority-owned, female-owned, disadvantaged and veteran-owned businesses to participate in construction projects in which states and municipalities are market participants. Among the federal government, D.C. government, and governing bodies in the counties of Prince George’s, Montgomery, Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun, there is a deliberate push to create jobs for residents and local businesses. The benefits are obvious. An increased tax base and productivity builds better communities. But can more be done for the corporate participants?

Ask anyone who has several years of experience in construction if they ever engaged in a handshake deal and the answer will be a resounding “yes.” For those unfamiliar with the term, a handshake deal is essentially a verbal commitment that is sealed with a handshake between the contracting parties. Handshake deals were not just limited to transactions between a contractor and an individual. It was, and sometimes still is, common for businesses to engage in sophisticated deals with a simple handshake between business owners. The moment the parties shook hands, reputations were at stake and promises were meant to be kept. While the handshake did not obviate the need for documentation, the value of the handshake was understood to be the cornerstone of what the parties intended to occur for a construction project.

December 16, 2013
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Topics Contracts

Most contract negotiations boil down to several key terms.  For construction contractors, these are five critical items that you need to carefully consider and negotiate in each of your agreements.

I.  What is the Scope?

The starting place of a construction contract is the work to be performed.  Remarkably, this is often poorly or inconsistently defined.  Contractors should strive for a clear definition of what are the “contract documents” and what portion of the work is the responsibility of that contractor.

Stretch ArmstrongThose wishing to stretch indemnity clauses to the limit may want to read the recent Supreme Court of Virginia case, Uniwest Construction v. Amtech Elevator Services.  This case, in addition to a recent indemnification case from the 4th Circuit, demonstrate that there are some real risks to demanding excessive indemnity obligations in a contract.  You may actually wind up with nothing if you go too far.

Here is a new sampling of cases in which the Virginia Supreme Court has recently granted appeals.

In April, the Court granted the petition for appeal in Studio Center Corporation v. WKW Construction, LLC, Record No. 092257, challenging the ruling of Judge Shockley from the Circuit Court of the City of Virginia Beach. Studio Center is contesting Judge Shockley’s holding that Virginia Code Section 54.1-1115(C) applied when the unlicensed contractor admitted it knew Virginia law required a license, but did not realize that it could not use someone else’s license. This case should give us some much needed guidance on Section 54.1-1115(C)’s requirement of “good faith” and “actual knowledge.”

shredded paper binsTypically, Virginia courts will simply review and apply the terms of contracts.  This is great if you have a good contract, horrible if the contract tilts towards your opponent.  In contrast to the general rule, Virginia courts are quite hostile to non-compete agreements and are more than willing to throw them completely out when the clauses go overly broad.

Another recent example was highlighted yesterday in The VLW Blog.  The case, Specialty Marketing v. Brunson, involved Specialty, a wholesale distributor of electronics.  Brunson was a sales representative.  When he became a director and purchased stock in the company, Brunson signed a non-compete.  Brunson left Specialty's employment and was hired six months later to act as an account representative for a competitor in his old territory. 

Virginia General AssemblyThe Virginia General Assembly passed a statute, HB 797, that expressly permits architects and engineers to enter into contractual limitation of liability clauses.  The ACEC, VSPE, and VSAIA actively pushed to change the statute in the wake of several cases which ruled that previous language in the corporate enabling statute barred limitation of liability clauses for design professionals.  As can be sen from the bill tracking, the measure passed fairly easily in both the House and the Senate.

NewspaperThere are a number of important construction law and economic developments that I want to pass along to our readers.  Given timing and the plethora of topics to address, I wanted to share these developments in a more rapid fire format so these updates remained timely.