Monday, November 25, 2013

Cochran v. Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals case brief

Cochran v. Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals case brief summary
594 S.E.2d 571 (Va. 2004)

In a consolidated appeal, appellant neighbors and a board of supervisors, appealed from the affirmance by the Fairfax County Circuit Court (Virginia) and by the Pulaski County Circuit Court of variances awarded by the county boards of zoning appeals (BZA) to appellee homeowners. Appellant BZA appealed from the reversal by the City of Virginia Beach Circuit Court of its grant of a modified variance to appellee homeowner.

The homeowners argued that they were properly awarded variances.


  • The appellate court held that notwithstanding the presumption of correctness to which BZA decisions were entitled, each of the cases failed to meet the standard prescribed in Va. Code Ann. § 15.2-2309(2)regulating the BZAs' authority to grant variances. 
  • Compelling reasons for each variance application included the desires of the owners, which were supported by careful planning to minimize harmful effects to neighboring properties, probable aesthetic improvements to the neighborhood as a whole, together with a probable increase in the local tax base, greatly increased expense to the owners if the plans were reconfigured to meet the requirements of the zoning ordinances, lack of opposition, or even support of the application by neighbors, and serious personal need, by the owners, for the proposed modification.
  • However these reasons were immaterial as the BZAs had no authority to act. 
  • The threshold question was whether the zoning ordinance interfered with all reasonable beneficial uses of the property, taken as a whole. As the answer was "no," the BZAs had no authority to act.

The judgments of the circuit courts in each of case were reversed. The BZA's decision granting a modified variance was reinstated. The other decisions of the BZAs were vacated.

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