SB519: Zoning appeals, board of; petitioner to be awarded reasonable attorney fees and court costs.

SENATE BILL NO. 519
Offered January 9, 2008
Prefiled January 9, 2008
A BILL to amend and reenact 15.2-2314 of the Code of Virginia, relating to appeal of board of zoning appeals decisions; costs and fees.
Patron-- Watkins

Referred to Committee on Local Government

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:

1. That 15.2-2314 of the Code of Virginia is amended and reenacted as follows:

15.2-2314. Certiorari to review decision of board.

Any person or persons jointly or severally aggrieved by any decision of the board of zoning appeals, or any aggrieved taxpayer or any officer, department, board or bureau of the locality, may file with the clerk of the circuit court for the county or city a petition specifying the grounds on which aggrieved within 30 days after the final decision of the board.

Upon the presentation of such petition, the court shall allow a writ of certiorari to review the decision of the board of zoning appeals and shall prescribe therein the time within which a return thereto must be made and served upon the relator's attorney, which shall not be less than 10 days and may be extended by the court. The allowance of the writ shall not stay proceedings upon the decision appealed from, but the court may, on application, on notice to the board and on due cause shown, grant a restraining order.

The board of zoning appeals shall not be required to return the original papers acted upon by it but it shall be sufficient to return certified or sworn copies thereof or of the portions thereof as may be called for by the writ. The return shall concisely set forth such other facts as may be pertinent and material to show the grounds of the decision appealed from and shall be verified.

If, upon the hearing, it shall appear to the court that testimony is necessary for the proper disposition of the matter, it may take evidence or appoint a commissioner to take evidence as it may direct and report the evidence to the court with his findings of fact and conclusions of law, which shall constitute a part of the proceedings upon which the determination of the court shall be made. The court may reverse or affirm, wholly or partly, or may modify the decision brought up for review.

In the case of an appeal from the board of zoning appeals to the circuit court of an order, requirement, decision or determination of a zoning administrator or other administrative officer in the administration or enforcement of any ordinance or provision of state law, or any modification of zoning requirements pursuant to 15.2-2286, the findings and conclusions of the board of zoning appeals on questions of fact shall be presumed to be correct. The appealing party may rebut that presumption by proving by a preponderance of the evidence, including the record before the board of zoning appeals, that the board of zoning appeals erred in its decision. Any party may introduce evidence in the proceedings in the court. The court shall hear any arguments on questions of law de novo.

In the case of an appeal by a person of any decision of the board of zoning appeals that denied or granted an application for a variance, or application for a special exception, the decision of the board of zoning appeals shall be presumed to be correct. The petitioner may rebut that presumption by showing to the satisfaction of the court that the board of zoning appeals applied erroneous principles of law, or where the discretion of the board of zoning appeals is involved, the decision of the board of zoning appeals was plainly wrong and in violation of the purpose and intent of the zoning ordinance.

Costs shall not be allowed against the board, unless it shall appear to the court that it acted in bad faith or with malice in making the decision appealed from. In the event the petitioner prevails, he may be awarded reasonable attorney fees and court costs. In the event the decision of the board is affirmed and the court finds that the appeal was frivolous, the court may order the person or persons who requested the issuance of the writ of certiorari to pay the costs incurred in making the return of the record pursuant to the writ of certiorari. If the petition is withdrawn subsequent to the filing of the return, the board may request that the court hear the matter on the question of whether the appeal was frivolous.