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The Recurring Quixotic Quest for Zoning Moratoria in Northern Virginia

Arlnow.com recently reported that the Arlington Ridge Civic Association (ARCA) has requested the Arlington County Board “freeze” all zoning action within the Arlington Ridge neighborhood until the impact of current development on the neighborhood can be assessed.  This request came as part of ARCA updating its Neighborhood Conservation Plan, a non-binding document that creates recommendations for county staff to consider during zoning permit requests.  ARCA appears to be making the request because of recent growth in their neighborhood, due in part to the fact the neighborhood sits adjacent to I-395, South Glebe Road, and is near the Pentagon City mall.

Staff is not recommending the Arlington County Board adopt this particular request.  And with good reason.  While popular in some states, the Virginia Supreme Court has held that zoning moratoria are illegal in Virginia and violate the “Dillion Rule,” which controls the interpretation of a county’s powers.  These cases date back to the 1970s, when Fairfax County tried a similar tactic as it began to feel development pressure within its borders.  For instance, in Board of Supervisors v. Horne, the Virginia Supreme Court held that Fairfax County’s moratorium on approving site plans and subdivision plats was not allowed under the Virginia Code.  See 216 Va. 113, 122 (1975). 

In the end, the board is unlikely to adopt this recommendation, even in this non-binding neighborhood plan.  It is bad policy, because it privileges existing landowners over potential newcomers seeking the same opportunities.  More to the point, Virginia localities simply lack the authority to impose these types of harsh development restraints on landowners.        

  • Matthew G. Roberts
    Shareholder

    Matthew Roberts is a shareholder at Bean, Kinney & Korman. His practice focuses on land use and zoning, administrative and municipal law, public utilities, and real estate transactions.

    Matt represents and advises clients in land ...