The value of real estate depends on its permitted use, which is strictly regulated by local zoning laws. Those laws have become increasingly complex and cumbersome, and politically savvy groups opposing development abound. As a result, the navigation of the tricky and turbulent waters of local land use regulation has never required more skill.
Due Diligence, Analysis and Advice
Careful due diligence and analysis is essential. The complexities of today's zoning restrictions, coupled with the requirements and restrictions of past zoning approvals, require thorough and experienced analysis before an informed real estate purchase or finance decision can be made. Hunton & Williams LLP also provides advice to our clients on general issues affecting the use of property, such as comprehensive plans, environmental legislation at the federal, state and local levels, downzoning initiatives and other local government actions.
New Land Use Approvals
We represent our clients when they need land use approvals, such as rezonings, comprehensive plan amendments and plan conformity reviews, special and conditional use permits and exceptions, historic district approvals, transferable development rights, variances, administrative interpretations and site plan, plan of development and subdivision plat approvals. Representative projects include regional shopping malls, power centers, other retail facilities of all sizes, hotels, office parks, mixed-use projects, single-family detached, attached and multi-family housing projects, revitalization and rehabilitation developments, assisted living and retirement communities, individual commercial enterprises (such as fast food restaurants and service stations) and industrial uses such as telecommunications and other utility infrastructure improvements, landfills and solid waste transfer stations. The key to success in these areas is experience and long-term working relationships with elected and appointed officials, planning department staffs and civic and community groups.
Land Use Litigation
Sometimes irreconcilable conflict occurs. For every developer who wants to build a regional shopping mall there is an environmental watch-dog group that prefers a less intensive use. The conflict is exacerbated by anti-growth political sentiment, proactive zoning staffs and adversarial community and civic groups. When conflict occurs, litigation is the only means of protecting and preserving property rights. Over the years, our land use litigators have achieved significant victories for our clients in matters affecting zoning approvals, downzonings, sewer, zoning and development plan moratoria, vested property rights, tax assessment appeals, utility rates and condemnation controversies. In the course of handling those cases, we have often established important precedent at the appellate levels for landowners and developers.
The never-ending construction of highways and other public improvements requires the exercise of the power of eminent domain by government entities. That power is substantial and our clients need experienced representation to ensure that any property rights they relinquish are done so in return for adequate compensation and that the condemnation does not cause land to become non-conforming or otherwise make it less valuable or more difficult to develop.