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Board of Supervisors of Richmond County v. Rhoads

Supreme Court of Virginia

August 31, 2017

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF RICHMOND COUNTY
v.
JANIE L. RHOADS, ET AL.

         FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF RICHMOND COUNTY Harry T. Taliaferro, III, Judge

         PRESENT: All the Justices

          OPINION

          S. BERNARD GOODWYN, JUSTICE.

         In this appeal, we consider whether the circuit court erred in applying Code § 15.2-231l(C) and ruling that property owners had a vested right to the use of their property in violation of a zoning ordinance, when more than 60 days elapsed after the zoning administrator issued a determination which allowed that use, and the property owners materially changed their position in good faith reliance upon that determination.

         Background

         Janie Rhoads, Edmund Rhoads, Crystal Rhoads, and Meade Rhoads (collectively, the Rhoadses) own property in Richmond County (the Property).[1] On November 13, 2013, the Rhoadses filed an application for a Zoning Certificate of Compliance (Application) to build a "2-story all unfinished detached garage" (Garage) on the Property, and attached architectural drawings of the proposed Garage. The Richmond County (County) zoning administrator, Morgan Quicke (Quicke), visited the Property, which has a one-story primary dwelling, before checking the box for "Approved" on the Application and signing the Certificate of Compliance (Certificate) on November 18, 2013.[2] The Certificate included instructions regarding how to appeal if the Application was denied. The Rhoadses completed the Garage in June 2014 at a cost of approximately $27, 000.

         In July 2014, Joseph Quesenberry, the new County zoning administrator (Quesenberry), informed the Rhoadses that the previously approved Garage was in violation of Richmond County Zoning Ordinance (Zoning Ordinance) Section 2-3-6 (the Ordinance), because it was taller than the primary structure on the Property. On September 24, 2014, a written notice of zoning violation was sent to the Rhoadses, advising them that the Garage was in violation of the Ordinance (Notice).

         The Rhoadses appealed the Notice to the County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) by letter dated October 13, 2014. The stated grounds for the appeal were that the Rhoadses had received a Certificate of Compliance signed by the County's zoning administrator, the Rhoadses had relied upon the Certificate in building the Garage, and, under Code § 15.2-2311(C), their "rights [had] vested and the permits for erection of the [Garage] are not subject to revocation or reversal." The BZA denied the Rhoadses' appeal, and affirmed Quesenberry's decision that the Garage violated the Ordinance.

         On February 23, 2015, pursuant to Code § 15.2-2314, the Rhoadses appealed the BZA's decision by filing a petition for certiorari in the Circuit Court of Richmond County (Rhoadses' Appeal). The County Board of Supervisors (Board) filed an answer to the Rhoadses' Appeal and also filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Rhoadses, requesting a declaration that the Garage is in violation of the Ordinance and an injunction to prevent the continued violation of the Ordinance (Board Case).

         On October 19, 2015, the circuit court held an ore tenus hearing to address both the Rhoadses' Appeal and the Board Case, and admitted into evidence a joint stipulation of undisputed facts and evidence regarding the history of the Property and the Garage project. The Rhoadses stipulated that the Garage violated the Ordinance, but for the approval of the zoning administrator, and the Board stipulated that Quicke visited the Property in September 2013, and "knew, as of that site visit, that the primary structure was one-story in height."

         Meade Rhoads testified that, prior to beginning the Garage project, he and his contractor met with the County code compliance officer at the Property, and the code compliance officer suggested a two-story garage. The two-story Garage design was submitted in the Application, for the zoning administrator's approval. Quicke acknowledged that the Application showed a 14 by 32 feet, two-story garage, but testified that he did not read the Application or look at the plan attached to the Application before signing the Certificate, in his capacity as the County's zoning administrator. After receiving the Certificate, the Rhoadses built the Garage, according to the plans approved by the Certificate.

         The Rhoadses asserted that the BZA erred by failing to find that their rights, in the zoning administrator's initial determination, vested pursuant to Code § 15.2-2311(C). The Board asserted that Code § 15.2-2311(C) did not apply and that the BZA's decision should be affirmed.

         On May 18, 2016, the circuit court entered its final order in both cases and held that "Code § 15.2-231l(C) applies, and the Rhoads[es] have established their entitlement to relief under that provision." Accordingly, the circuit court reversed the BZA decision, and entered judgment in favor of the Rhoadses in the Rhoadses' Appeal. It also denied the Board's requests for ...


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