On July 12 the Goochland Board of Zoning Appeals decided, by a unanimous vote, that it has jurisdiction over an appeal of approval of a county plan of development for property on River Road owned by the Benedictine Society of Virginia.
The session was held to rule on a motion made by the county to reconsider the BZA’s June affirmative interpretation of its tie vote on the jurisdiction question.
After BZA Chair Chris Williams, District 2, called the July 12 session to order attorneys for both sides requested the opportunity to point out problems with opposing briefs submitted on the jurisdiction question.
The county and Benedictine asserted that a majority vote of the BZA is necessary to establish jurisdiction, while the appellants, River Road neighbors of the property in question, contended that the tie vote rule applies only to the matter in question, not procedural matters.
Legal terms and case law citations filled the air as the four BZA members listened intently to arguments presented by both sides. Darvin Satterwhite, representing Benedictine, stated that the need for a majority vote of BZA members on the jurisdiction question is “black letter law.”
Benedictine alumnus Pat McSweeney representing the appellants stated that the BZA’s June interpretation of the situation follows state law that has been in force for 36 years.
Yasmine Hamad District 4 expressed frustration at the task before the BZA. She asked if perhaps the General Assembly or a judge was better suited to decide the jurisdiction issues than the BZA. She seemed dismayed that the BZA, comprised of citizens who are not lawyers, must base its interpretations and decisions on arguments before it. She also expressed concern about the amount of public money being spent to adjudicate a complaint against county actions made by a select few individuals.
Dr. Richard Carchman District 1 observed that as the kerfuffle over the county’s approval of the Benedictine plan of development involves three parties, perhaps the Circuit Court should determine jurisdiction.
In January, 2012, Goochland Circuit Court Judge Timothy K. Sanner dismissed a case against the Benedictine move to the River Road property on the grounds that it was premature because no one had been damaged by the action.
Part of the problem seems to be that state laws addressing the situation are contradictory.
The Commonwealth’s legislators on both sides of the aisle need to spend more time crafting coherent laws governing real world issues than frittering away their valuable time on social manipulation.
The BZA met closed session with its attorney Maynard Sipe for more than an hour. During this time, it seemed like the loudest sound in the board room was the accumulation of billable hours for several lawyers and a court reporter.
The appeal of disputes the safety of road improvements made at the entrance to the subject property and contends that downstream effects of topographical changes on storm water runoff were not properly addressed. The appeal also argues that the procedure used to approve the plan of development was incorrect.
Unless the county and/or Benedictine successfully appeals the jurisdiction decision to the Circuit Court, the next round in the dispute is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Monday, August 26 at which time all witnesses will testify in full blown proceedings.
More than $4 million, not counting legal fees, has been spent on renovations and improvements to the River Road property to facilitate the move of the high school from Richmond to Goochland.