Using a Land Condominium to Broaden Development Options

If a typical subdivision does not fit your development goals or creates more problems than it solves, then a land condominium may be the right fit.

Many clients have reached out to us with a desire to create a separate parcel of property so it can be sold or financed separately. However, sometimes the locality’s subdivision ordinance does not allow the subdivision because of setbacks or other restrictions, or timing requirements make processing a subdivision by ordinance problematic. Other clients have sought advice on creating conveyable space within a building that can be sold as a separate unit, such as for a grocery store anchor in a mixed-use building, but the applicable jurisdiction does not have a subdivision ordinance for this type of airspace subdivision. In these and other situations, creating a Land Condominium may be the right fit for the desired goal.

Land Condominiums can be used as a vehicle to effectively subdivide property into separate legal parcels or land units. This achieves essentially the same result as if you were to conventionally subdivide the property under a locality’s subdivision ordinance, only without having to comply with the subdivision ordinance requirements and restrictions. The land units created are assigned their own tax map parcel number and are freely conveyable and financeable. The shape and size of each land unit are not subject to any restrictions. For instance, the land unit boundaries can trace building footprints or you can create larger land units which you can then further subdivide as the development of the property progresses.

The Land Condominium established does not need to be registered with the Virginia Common Interest Community Board, like typical residential condominiums, and the Land Condominium instruments do not need to be submitted to any jurisdiction for approval. This means that the division of your parcel into separate land units can be accomplished very quickly. The Land Condominium is set up as a vehicle for dividing property, rather than for governing the use of the divided property and common elements between various land unit owners. Although there are certain statutory requirements that need to be met under the Virginia Condominium Act, the Land Condominium instruments can be kept bare-boned, containing only what is needed to comply with the Condominium Act to establish the Land Condominium.

Frequently we still need to address shared spaces, utilities, shared expenses, maintenance responsibilities, or necessary easements between different land unit owners. For example, in a building where one land unit contains a grocery store anchor while the remainder of the building is a separate land unit containing a residential building condominium, the foregoing issues may need to be addressed. To handle these scenarios, a reciprocal easement agreement is often used. Because the reciprocal easement agreement is a private agreement between the parties, it can be tailored to address the specific operational concerns and agreements between the parties. Alternatively, we can set up a property owners association to address the various matters on which the land unit owners will need to cooperate, or we can establish a traditional residential or commercial condominium regime over one or more land units (as in the example below).

A Land Condominium, together with a reciprocal easement agreement or separate property owners association, allows for flexibility in subdividing property and creating governance structures between the land units that may not otherwise be available under a traditional building condominium regime or under the subdivision ordinance. A good situation where the use of a Land Condominium benefitted the development of a project is when one of our clients reached out to us and sought our counsel as to the best way to structure their planned development of an approximately 650,000 square foot building to be constructed on a 3 acre site, which building would include, among various amenities and a below grade parking garage, approximately 400 residential dwelling units and 3 separate commercial spaces ranging in size from approximately 55,000 square feet to 6,000 square feet. We recommended subjecting the site to a Land Condominium regime whereby the residential dwelling units and garage would be one land unit and each of the commercial spaces would be separate land units, allowing for each land unit to be separately conveyed, financed, and taxed. It also allowed the residential land unit to be subjected to a conventional building condominium so that the client could sell individual residential condominium units. We then subjected the Land Condominium to a reciprocal easement agreement which addressed easements, maintenance, and cost sharing between the land units.

If you think that a Land Condominium may be a good solution for your development needs, or if you would like to learn more about how land condominiums can be used in your development projects, please do not hesitate to reach out to one of our transactional attorneys for more information.

Do You Have More Time to Bring your Claim?

Virginia Court of Appeals confirms that the time to file claims was extended by the Supreme Court of Virginia’s Emergency COVID-19 Orders

 

On November 29, 2022, the Court of Appeals of Virginia (the “Court of Appeals”) issued its opinion in George English v. Thomas William Quinn, which held that the Supreme Court of Virginia’s (the “Supreme Court’s”) emergency orders entered between March 16, 2020 and July 8, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, tolled and extended all statutes of limitations for all claims, and not just those whose time for filing expired prior to August 2020.

The case arises out of a dispute pending before the Circuit Court of the City of Roanoke, Virginia (the “Circuit Court”). There, the Circuit Court dismissed a personal injury claim earlier this year that was originally filed in November 2020 related to an automobile accident that occurred on July 28, 2018. Ordinarily, the time for filing this personal injury claim would have expired two years later on July 28, 2020.   However, on March 16, 2020 the Supreme Court of Virginia issued an order declaring a judicial emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first judicial order “tolled and extended” “all deadlines” in all Virginia courts for twenty-one days.  As COVID-19 raged one, the Supreme Court then entered several more similar orders. The last of the seven emergency orders limited the tolling period to the 126 days between March 16, 2020 and July 19, 2020.

In the case before the Circuit Court, the Defendant, Mr. Quinn, argued that the Supreme Court’s emergency orders only paused the statute of limitations period for claims, which expired during the 126-day time-frame. The Plaintiff, Mr. George, argued that the effect of the Court’s emergency orders was to pause all statute of limitations for all actions pending before the courts of Virginia, and not just expiring during the 126-day period. The Circuit Court agreed with the Defendant and dismissed the Plaintiff’s case. The Plaintiff appealed to the Court of Appeals.

The Virginia Court of Appeals reviewed and rejected the Circuit Court’s ruling and agreed with the Plaintiff, that the effect of the Supreme Court’s emergency orders was a pause on all statute of limitations during the 126-day window.  The Court of Appeals determined that the Circuit Court erroneously concluded that the emergency orders tolled only the statutes of limitations and deadlines “that would expire during the (126 day) tolling period.” Therefore, the Plaintiff’s claim was not time-barred. The Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the Circuit Court and sent the case back to the Circuit Court for trial.

This Court of Appeals decision is important, because, if you have a cause of action, which was pending during the 126-day suspension period, you may have more time than you anticipated to bring your claim. If you have any questions on how this decision may apply to a case which you are involved, please contact our office.

 

Employee Spotlight: Melissa Mahan

Melissa Mahan joined the firm in April 2022, as an associate for the Arlington office where she supports the Land Use & Zoning practice group. Melissa graduated cum laude from Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology and Sociology. She earned her law degree from William & Mary Law School where she was the symposium editor for the William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review.

Melissa is originally from Dayton, Ohio (go, Bucks!). In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, crafting, and making treats for both dogs and humans.

This month, the spotlight is on Melissa. 

Tell us a little about yourself — where did you grow up?

I grew up in Miamisburg, Ohio, in a house full of animals, art supplies, and activities.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

I wanted to be a writer like Mary Pope Osborne or find the real Magic Tree House. I still love a good story!

What aspect of your role do you enjoy the most? 

I enjoy puzzles and problem-solving. In every case, there is a bit of detective work to find what options are available for a property. I enjoy the challenge of navigating a path between what is desirable for localities and developers to find a solution that everyone is happy with.

Words of advice for aspiring land lawyers?

Making land useful involves knowing how people interact with each other and their environment – be ready to use interdisciplinary tools. And always keep asking questions!

Aside from a very busy schedule, what do you like to do for fun outside of work?

I keep a garden full of fruits and veggies, make dog treats, and try too many DIY projects with mixed success.

What is one thing about you that few people know? 

In college, I was part of the production team for an amateur movie about cupcakes that turn people into zombies.

Favorite place(s) to travel to?

Madrid. Specifically, a little bakery just off the Embajadores train stop.

Favorite book?

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. I don’t think anything can top the magic of being a kid who loves to read and finds out that books can be real.

Do you have any pets? 

Cinder, my 13-year-old lovebug cat, and Nala the puppy. They alternate between snuggling together on the couch and competing for attention (loudly).

What do you think makes Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley & Walsh a great place to work?

I come into an office full of people excited to see each other and solve problems – it’s a great atmosphere.

Thank you, Melissa!

Will Your Development Rights Change if the Zoning Ordinance Changes?

When a locality changes its zoning ordinance, landowners can be left wondering what effect those updates have on their ability to pursue the future development of their property. Generally, under Virginia law, landowners do not have a property interest in anticipated uses of their land or their current zoning classification. As a result, if a locality updates its zoning ordinance, the amendments will generally control. However, in some limited circumstances, a landowner may have an enforceable right to the future development of its property for a particular use. These rights are called vested rights, and protect a landowner against future zoning ordinance updates. Virginia recognizes two main types of vested rights.

The first way a landowner may protect its future development rights is by obtaining a significant affirmative governmental act (a “SAGA”) of approval allowing for the desired uses. SAGAs can include, among other things, the approval of a proffered rezoning, special use permit, preliminary or final subdivision plats, or site plan for a particular use. The landowner must also show that it relied in good faith on the SAGA and incurred extensive obligations or substantial expenses as part of its diligent pursuit of the project. Examples of such acts could include hiring consultants or engineers to develop necessary plans for the approved project. If a landowner can meet this burden, the development rights granted by the SAGA are protected against future amendments or changes to the zoning ordinance for so long as the approval is valid. Generally speaking, subdivision plats and site plans are valid for five years, and development rights granted as a result would be protected for that period of time. However, the General Assembly, on several occasions, has extended the validity of certain approved subdivision plats and site plans beyond the typical five-year period.

Landowners may also be able to claim vested rights if they have relied in good faith on certain written decisions, orders, requirements, or determinations of a zoning administrator or other administrative officer. Such decisions or determinations must be in writing, final and effective for at least 60 days, and the landowner must have materially changed his position in good faith reliance on that decision or determination. If a landowner can make this showing, the use will be protected from future changes to the zoning ordinance, future changes to the interpretation of an ordinance provision, and from approvals that were erroneously made. It is important to note, however, that not all correspondence from the zoning administrator will qualify as a “decision” or “determination.”

Vested rights provide powerful protection for landowners, but successfully establishing such claims is often more difficult than they appear at first glance. If you would like more information about vested rights or would like to discuss your options to protect your development interests, please contact Erin Swisshelm.

Update on Loudoun County’s Zoning Ordinance Rewrite

Following the passage of the 2019 General Plan, which was the first overhaul of Loudoun County’s long-term planning document since the early 2000’s, Loudoun County has now turned its eye towards a comprehensive rewrite of its entire Zoning Ordinance. While this process has been ongoing for well over two years, the County recently concluded a 90-day referral period this summer, in which the public was encouraged to review the proposed draft text of the Zoning Ordinance and provide feedback to the County.

The Leesburg office took the opportunity to conduct an in-depth review of the proposed Zoning Ordinance. This review resulted in our drafting of a nine-page executive summary and the recordation of hundreds of comments. This combined letter was then submitted to County administration, County staff, and to all members of the Loudoun County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. The scale and scope of the feedback produced by our review speaks to the incomplete nature of the current draft text, as well as the major overarching concerns and issues that were brought to light by our review. Where possible, we offered solutions and options for resolving concerns, and have already had productive conversations with members of County staff, the Planning Commission, and the Board of Supervisors.

When the proposed Zoning Ordinance is adopted, it will be the controlling document for all development in the County. Our review of the Zoning Ordinance in its current state raises serious concerns about the future of land use regulation in Loudoun County. While large sections of the Zoning Ordinance have yet to be released, the sections that have been released to the public are overall too prescriptive and often incomplete. Loudoun’s 2019 General Plan provides an overall vision for development through 2040. The proposed Zoning Ordinance should be a document that provides a regulatory framework for citizens and the development community to facilitate the implementation of this vision.

We highly encourage stakeholders to review the draft text and continue to follow the Zoning Ordinance Rewrite process. Our Leesburg Office stands by ready to assist our clients and stakeholders in providing information and updates, in an effort to protect individual property rights, and safeguard against unnecessarily prescriptive and burdensome regulations which may limit Loudoun’s land use and economic potential.

At the Planning Commission’s August 30th public hearing, we heard some encouraging comments from Commissioners in regard to taking the time necessary to produce a Zoning Ordinance that works.  The Planning Commission will hold another public hearing later this fall and will conduct many work sessions to review additional sections of the proposed Zoning Ordinance. While we are hopeful that a substantive and thorough review comes to fruition, the time and opportunities to make further changes are not limitless. For this reason, we would encourage anyone with specific questions or concerns to reach out to J. Randall Minchew so that we may begin to assess your case.

Utterback Rezoning Receives Approval from Prince William County

On May, 24, 2022, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors approved what is called the Utterback Rezoning, which rezoned approximately 81.6 acres from A-1, Agricultural, to PMR, Planned Mixed Residential for 222 single-family homes. The property, which is located near the intersection of Route 15 and Lightner Road in Haymarket, had been under consideration by the County since 2016. The Project is named for the County road that serves as its southern boundary, which was first laid off in the 1870s.

The Project, which includes approximately 26 acres of open space, will have a variety of active and passive amenities including two Community Parks and Corner Parks. Other highlights of the new community will include operational, safety, and pedestrian improvements to Lightner Road such as an additional turn lane (resulting in two designated left turn lanes and one designated right turn lane) onto Route 15 from Lightner Road.

Pete Dolan, John Foote, and Jessica Pfeiffer successfully guided this case for The Peterson Companies. Pete worked tirelessly on it prior to his passing in January of 2021.

 

The Alexandria Chamber of Commerce selects Cathy Puskar as the 2022 Business Leader of the Year

 

[EXCERPT FROM THE ALEXANDRIA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE]

The Alexandria Chamber of Commerce selects Cathy Puskar as the 2022 Business Leader of the Year

The Chamber ALX is thrilled to announce Cathy Puskar as the 2022 Business Leader of the Year. She will be honored at the 2022 Best in Business Awards, presented by Burke & Herbert Bank, on October 27.

M. Catharine Puskar
Shareholder, Land Use & Zoning
Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley, & Walsh, P.C.

Cathy Puskar joined Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley, & Walsh in November 1998. Her practice focuses on land use and zoning matters in the City of Alexandria and Arlington County. With an in-depth knowledge of the law, process, politics, and people required to achieve her clients’ goals, Cathy has successfully represented a number of clients in obtaining the necessary entitlements for a variety of projects including major residential, commercial, and mixed-use developments. READ MORE

Virginia Supreme Court Expands Standing in Land Use Cases

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In a shift from its prior decisions and those of many circuit courts, the Virginia Supreme Court recently held that neighbors of two separate land use applications had standing to challenge the governing body’s approval of those projects. The Court’s decisions appear at conflict with its 2013 decision in Friends of the Rappahannock v. Caroline County Board of Supervisors, 286 Va. 38 (2013), and may open the door to more challenges to the legislative decisions of local governing bodies, which could cause delays in the approval of land use projects in Virginia not previously experienced.

In 2013, the Virginia Supreme Court decided Friends of the Rappahannock and established a two-part test to determine whether a party who is not an owner of the subject property has standing to challenge a legislative land use decision regarding the subject property. The complainant must (i) own or occupy real property within or in close proximity to the subject property and (ii) allege facts demonstrating a particularized harm to a personal or property right or an imposition of a burden different from that suffered by the general public. In Friends, the Court held that the neighbors of a proposed sand and gravel mining operation lacked standing to challenge the governing body’s approval of that project because they did not sufficiently allege facts to satisfy the second prong of the test despite the fact that they alleged that the approval of the project would interfere with their access to a right-of-way and would cause economic harm, noise pollution, and air pollution. One neighbor even alleged that the air pollution from the project would endanger the health of their asthmatic child. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court held that those allegations were insufficient to confer standing and dismissed the  case on demurrer.

In the nine years since Friends was decided, numerous circuit courts applied the Friends test and concluded that third party challengers lacked standing to challenge legislative land use decisions. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court reversed two of those decisions.

In Anders Larsen Trust v. Board of Supervisors (May 26, 2022), the Court held that neighbors of a proposed residential treatment center had standing to challenge a decision of the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals, and reversed the circuit court’s dismissal of the case under the Friends standing test. The Court did not overrule Friends or change the test; however, it concluded that the neighbors satisfied both prongs of it. Among other things, the Court held that the alleged loss of value can constitute an interest distinct from that of the general public. The Court noted, however, that at this stage of the proceeding, the Court had to assume the plaintiff’s allegation that their property values would be diminished is true, and that if they do not sufficiently prove that allegation at trial, that the court must dismiss the case for lack of standing.

Two weeks later, the Court reached a similar result in Seymour v. Roanoke County Board of Supervisors (June 9, 2022). In that case, the Court held that owners of property accessed by a shared private easement had standing to challenge the issuance of a special use permit to another land owner who shared the same easement. The neighbors alleged that prior permits issued to the wildlife center already caused an increase in traffic and that the issuance of the SUP would increase these harms. In particular, the owners claimed the traffic (1) creates excessive dust, noise, and light pollution which wakes them up at night and caused one of the owners to have asthma attacks; (2) causes them to incur additional maintenance expenses for the road; (3) poses a danger to their children who walk along the road to get to the bus stop; and (4) decreases the value of their property. The Court held that these harms were not suffered by the public generally because the public did not have to deal with the pollution, maintenance costs, or added dangers.

The full impact of the Supreme Court’s decisions in Anders and Seymour remain to be seen; however, they could lead to more land use cases surviving standing challenges. That, combined with a new, automatic appeal as a matter of right to the Virginia Court of Appeals in these types of cases, could lead to previously unexperienced delays in the approval of land use projects in Virginia. If you have questions about whether your neighbor may have standing to challenge your land use approval, please contact Matthew Westover at (703) 680-4664 or at mwestover@thelandlawyers.com.

Virginia Supreme Court Addresses the Unconstitutional Conditions Doctrine in the Context of Proffer Enforcement

“[P]roffers are voluntary commitments made by landowners in order to facilitate approval of conditional zoning and rezoning requests by ameliorating the impact of development on their property on the local infrastructure and the character and environment of adjoining land.” Hale v. Bd. of Zoning Appeals of Town of Blacksburg, 277 Va. 250, 273 (2009). They are so useful that the Supreme Court has held that a proffer amends the otherwise applicable provisions of the locality’s zoning ordinance. Rowland v. Town Council of Warrenton, 298 Va. 703(2020).

On June 2, 2022, however, the Virginia Supreme Court issued its opinion in Board of Supervisors of the County of Albemarle v. Route 29, LLC, Record No. 201523 (Goodwyn), holding that the unconstitutional conditions doctrine can apply to voluntary proffers, a ruling that can affect both the drafting and acceptance of proffers, and years later the attempted enforcement of a given proffer.

The case arises out of a September 2007 rezoning approved by the County Board of Supervisors for Hollymead Town Center, a large Charlottesville development north of downtown on Route 29, subjected to numerous proffers. The property has been owned by Route 29, LLC since 2009. The proffer at the center of dispute provided that public transportation service provided to the Town Center by the County would require the Owner to contribute cash to the County for operating expenses relating to such service totaling $500,000, to be paid over 10 years (the “Transit Proffer”).

In 2016, the County finally initiated a “Commuter Route” to run from northern Albemarle County to Downtown Charlottesville, with a stop at the Town Center, and, contending that the Owner owed money under the Transit Proffer demanded payment of a first $50,000 tranche. The Owner objected, however, that the Commuter Route had nothing to do with the Transit Proffer, that the Town Center did not create a need for it, and that while there was a stop at the Town Center the Commuter Route never stopped there when the Town Center was open and transit services might have been of use. It refused to pay the demanded sum, so the County issued a zoning violation for failure to comply with the Transit Proffer, and denied the Owner’s renewed objections on appeal.

The Owner then filed a complaint and petition for review in the Albemarle Circuit Court seeking injunctive relief and contending that the Commuter Route was not a valid trigger of the Transit Proffer’s obligations. The Circuit Court overruled the County’s Demurrer and Plea in Bar and denied the County’s Motion to strike at trial. The case was appealed.

The Virginia Supreme Court first acknowledged that the U. S. Supreme Court has long recognized what is called the unconstitutional conditions doctrine, citing Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Mgmt. Dist., 570 U.S. 595, 607 (2013). The purpose of the doctrine is to vindicate “the Constitution’s enumerated rights by preventing the government from coercing people into giving them up.” In the land use context, the unconstitutional conditions doctrine prevents a locality from conditioning the grant of a land use permit on an applicant’s surrender of its 5th and 14th Amendment rights to just compensation for property improperly expropriated for public use. Id. at 613. As noted in Nollan v. California Coastal Comm’n, 483 U.S. 825, 834, 837 (1987), while a state may regulate land use through the police power to further legitimate state interests, it may not use this power to unlawfully coerce concessions from land use applicants seeking to repurpose their property.

Because a rezoning can, and often does, impose costs on the public that payments or land dedications toward mitigation efforts can offset, the Supreme Court recognizes that a proper balance must be struck between preventing an applicant’s legitimate mitigation of its impact, against governmental demands that slip constitutional bounds. It has struck this balance through the evolution of a test to determine whether an exaction of real or personal property operates as an unconstitutional condition in the land use permitting context.

First, an “essential nexus” must exist between the condition placed on the land use, and the “original purpose of the building restriction.” Id. at 837. The condition must relate to the project upon which it is imposed. Second, the degree of connection must satisfy a “rough proportionality” test, which requires a “reasonable relationship” between the exaction imposed by the conditional proffer and the projected impacts of the project. Dolan v. City of Tigard, 512 U.S. 374, 391 (1994). The Court has emphasized that this is not a precise mathematical calculation, but rather an “individualized determination” that the required dedication is related both in nature and extent to the impact of a proposed development. Id. Significantly, a locality cannot evade the unconstitutional conditions doctrine by claiming that a proffer is simply a condition precedent to the grant of a land use approval, and thus deny that approval if the applicant refuses to give in to the government’s demand. Koontz, 570 U.S. at 606. An applicant need not agree with an unconstitutional condition sought to be imposed, and may challenge a refusal to approve its proposal when faced with such condition.

In Route 29, our Supreme Court held that the County had not even made an effort to identify an essential nexus, or a rough proportionality, between the Commuter Route Transit Proffer and any impact created by the Town Center to which that Proffer was directed. Moreover, even if a nexus did exist, the County had not conducted the “individualized determination” as to whether the imposition of the monetary requirements in that Proffer might be unconstitutional as applied, and as required by Dolan. The Court determined that the evidence sufficed to support the lower court’s conclusion that the County had failed to meet its burden of proving that the Transit Proffer, as it was being enforced, was simply an extraction of money from an available target.

While the Court accepted that the Proffer was not void on its face, its ruling recognizes that attempted enforcement of an unconstitutional condition may be challenged at any time, and is not constrained by the 30-day appeal period in Virginia Code §15.2-2285 (F). In Virginia, such claims may be raised either through the course taken by Route 29, or by proceedings under Virginia Code §15.2-2208.1, colloquially known as the Koontz Remedy Statute, enacted after the Koontz decision above.

If you have questions as to how the unconstitutional conditions doctrine may apply to cases in which you are involved, please contact John Foote or Joanna Thomas at 703-680-4664.