State court favors developer

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 7, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Though it goes against city zoning regulations, a Suffolk developer will be allowed to proceed with plans to build a housing community near the intersection of Godwin Boulevard and Kings Fork Road.

The Virginia Supreme Court on Friday upheld a lower court’s decision giving Etheridge Manor Corporation the right to move ahead with the development.

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The project has been on hold since the September 1999 adoption of the city’s the Unified Development Ordinance, which rezoned the property from residential to office/industrial.

The case is the first the state Supreme Court has interpreted using the state’s vested rights statute, said Joseph L. Lyle Jr., the Norfolk attorney representing Etheridge Manor. Under that law, a local government is not permitted to take away a landowner’s development rights through rezoning so long as he is working &uot;diligently&uot; on a previously approved development plan.

&uot;This sets a very important precedent,&uot; Lyle said. &uot;The UDO happened to trigger this dispute in Suffolk but the impact of this decision will have statewide ramifications.

&uot;We regard this as a major property rights decision in Virginia.&uot;

Etheridge Manor began applying for necessary zoning changes and submitting preliminary plans for the Planters Station, the development it planned to build in three stages, in the mid-1990s. Although the company filed the final plat in April 1998, the city took no action before the City Council adopted the UDO in September 1999.

Etheridge appealed the city’s action to the Board of Zoning Appeals within 30 days after the adoption of the UDO, Lyle said. That board determined that the company had a right to pursue the development under the vested rights statute, a decision that was later upheld by Suffolk Judge Rodham T. Delk.

Efforts to reach City Manager Steve Herbert for comments late Friday were unsuccessful.