Developer sues Hanover supervisors after residential project rejected

hanover court house scaled

Hanover County Courthouse. (Jack Jacobs photo)

After multiple attempts over more than a year to get a residential development through the Hanover rezoning process, a local firm has taken to the courtroom in its latest bid to move the project forward.

Rogers-Chenault Inc. recently filed suit against the Hanover County Board of Supervisors to challenge the board’s denial of a rezoning request tied to the firm’s proposed 176-lot Rock Springs subdivision.

Rogers-Chenault argues that supervisors had no substantive reason for rejecting the proposal, because the project was in line with Hanover’s land-use policies.

“The subdivision was thoughtfully designed, would increase the value of neighboring properties, and went beyond the requirements enumerated in the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance,” reads the complaint, filed in Hanover Circuit Court in April. “Because there was no substantial police-power reason for the County to refuse the rezoning request, the Board’s decision violated settled Virginia land-use law.”

Rogers-Chenault also argues that Hanover has adequate water and sewer infrastructure for the project and in rejecting the application denies the plaintiffs the right to develop the land as they desire.

In its response in late May, Hanover said there was “extensive discussion” of various factors among county officials before the board’s rejection of the request, all of which were permissible to consider under state law.

“Included in the matters that the governing body may consider are the existing use and character of property, the comprehensive plan, the suitability of property for various uses, the trends of growth or change, the transportation requirements of the community, and the encouragement of the most appropriate use of land,” the filing reads. “The evidence offered in support of the opposing views on the request could, and did, lead objective and reasonable persons to reach different conclusions.”

Hanover’s comprehensive plan identifies the area where Rock Springs is proposed as a place for future residential development. The plaintiffs note this in their filing and say the Rock Springs project density is under the Suburban General Residential zoning density of 1.5 to 3 units per acre. The project’s latest version of 176 units would result in an average of 1.1 units per acre.

But while the project checked some land-planning boxes, Supervisor Susan Dibble voiced concerns during the board’s March 2023 meeting about traffic safety and how the project would affect the existing community. Supervisors rejected the proposal at that meeting.

“This application generally does meet most of these (comprehensive plan) requirements and is therefore worthy of consideration. However there are also a couple of areas where the technical evaluation falls short,” she said. “We’re dropping a proposed subdivision in the middle of an established rural residential area that’s completely different from the area around it.”

Dibble, who represents the South Anna district where the project was proposed, declined to comment further.

Lawyer Tom Wolf of O’Hagan Meyer, who is representing the plaintiffs alongside colleagues Joseph Rainsbury and Kenneth Stout, said Thursday their position is that the board was unduly motivated by residents’ feelings that traffic conditions would worsen and that the character of the area would change if the development was built.

“Apparently the reason the application was turned down is that some residents objected to it, but they objected to it on bases that weren’t grounded in facts,” Wolf said. “For example, they objected that the development would make the road unsafe. Well, there were traffic studies showing that didn’t have any basis in fact. And I understand that people say, ‘Well, I’d prefer things to remain exactly the way they are,’ but that’s not a legitimate objection.”

The plaintiffs want the Hanover Circuit Court to declare the board’s decision null and void and order the board to approve the rezoning application. For its part, Hanover wants to see the board’s decision upheld.

In an emailed statement to BizSense on Thursday, Hanover County Attorney Dennis Walter said: “After thoughtfully considering everything provided by the developer, Planning Department staff, the Planning Commission, and members of the community, the Board decided that this request was not appropriate for this location at this time.”

A court hearing date hasn’t been set.

rock springs hanover map e1685652098880

A map of the 161 acres proposed for the Rock Springs subdivision in Hanover County. (Image courtesy of Hanover County)

Rogers-Chenault has developed other residential projects in Hanover, among them Hickory Hill and Stony Run Condominiums. It first filed a rezoning application for Rock Springs in September 2021. The project site, which fronts Winns Church Road and is near the Henrico County line in southwest Hanover, has been owned for generations by the Willson family. The family is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit through an LLC.

Todd Rogers of Rogers-Chenault directed a request for comment to Wolf.

After an initial denial by the county Planning Commission in May 2022, the developer decreased the project size from 250 lots to 176 lots, among other changes. The commission again voted to recommend denial of the revised project in February 2023, and the Board of Supervisors ultimately rejected the project in March.

Rogers-Chenault has filed suit over a development review before. In 2015, the firm sued the Town of Ashland after its review of a project called Green Acres appeared to hit a stalemate. The lawsuits were dismissed later that year, and the site was eventually sold to Markel | Eagle Partners, whose Eagle Construction of VA picked up the project.

hanover court house scaled

Hanover County Courthouse. (Jack Jacobs photo)

After multiple attempts over more than a year to get a residential development through the Hanover rezoning process, a local firm has taken to the courtroom in its latest bid to move the project forward.

Rogers-Chenault Inc. recently filed suit against the Hanover County Board of Supervisors to challenge the board’s denial of a rezoning request tied to the firm’s proposed 176-lot Rock Springs subdivision.

Rogers-Chenault argues that supervisors had no substantive reason for rejecting the proposal, because the project was in line with Hanover’s land-use policies.

“The subdivision was thoughtfully designed, would increase the value of neighboring properties, and went beyond the requirements enumerated in the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance,” reads the complaint, filed in Hanover Circuit Court in April. “Because there was no substantial police-power reason for the County to refuse the rezoning request, the Board’s decision violated settled Virginia land-use law.”

Rogers-Chenault also argues that Hanover has adequate water and sewer infrastructure for the project and in rejecting the application denies the plaintiffs the right to develop the land as they desire.

In its response in late May, Hanover said there was “extensive discussion” of various factors among county officials before the board’s rejection of the request, all of which were permissible to consider under state law.

“Included in the matters that the governing body may consider are the existing use and character of property, the comprehensive plan, the suitability of property for various uses, the trends of growth or change, the transportation requirements of the community, and the encouragement of the most appropriate use of land,” the filing reads. “The evidence offered in support of the opposing views on the request could, and did, lead objective and reasonable persons to reach different conclusions.”

Hanover’s comprehensive plan identifies the area where Rock Springs is proposed as a place for future residential development. The plaintiffs note this in their filing and say the Rock Springs project density is under the Suburban General Residential zoning density of 1.5 to 3 units per acre. The project’s latest version of 176 units would result in an average of 1.1 units per acre.

But while the project checked some land-planning boxes, Supervisor Susan Dibble voiced concerns during the board’s March 2023 meeting about traffic safety and how the project would affect the existing community. Supervisors rejected the proposal at that meeting.

“This application generally does meet most of these (comprehensive plan) requirements and is therefore worthy of consideration. However there are also a couple of areas where the technical evaluation falls short,” she said. “We’re dropping a proposed subdivision in the middle of an established rural residential area that’s completely different from the area around it.”

Dibble, who represents the South Anna district where the project was proposed, declined to comment further.

Lawyer Tom Wolf of O’Hagan Meyer, who is representing the plaintiffs alongside colleagues Joseph Rainsbury and Kenneth Stout, said Thursday their position is that the board was unduly motivated by residents’ feelings that traffic conditions would worsen and that the character of the area would change if the development was built.

“Apparently the reason the application was turned down is that some residents objected to it, but they objected to it on bases that weren’t grounded in facts,” Wolf said. “For example, they objected that the development would make the road unsafe. Well, there were traffic studies showing that didn’t have any basis in fact. And I understand that people say, ‘Well, I’d prefer things to remain exactly the way they are,’ but that’s not a legitimate objection.”

The plaintiffs want the Hanover Circuit Court to declare the board’s decision null and void and order the board to approve the rezoning application. For its part, Hanover wants to see the board’s decision upheld.

In an emailed statement to BizSense on Thursday, Hanover County Attorney Dennis Walter said: “After thoughtfully considering everything provided by the developer, Planning Department staff, the Planning Commission, and members of the community, the Board decided that this request was not appropriate for this location at this time.”

A court hearing date hasn’t been set.

rock springs hanover map e1685652098880

A map of the 161 acres proposed for the Rock Springs subdivision in Hanover County. (Image courtesy of Hanover County)

Rogers-Chenault has developed other residential projects in Hanover, among them Hickory Hill and Stony Run Condominiums. It first filed a rezoning application for Rock Springs in September 2021. The project site, which fronts Winns Church Road and is near the Henrico County line in southwest Hanover, has been owned for generations by the Willson family. The family is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit through an LLC.

Todd Rogers of Rogers-Chenault directed a request for comment to Wolf.

After an initial denial by the county Planning Commission in May 2022, the developer decreased the project size from 250 lots to 176 lots, among other changes. The commission again voted to recommend denial of the revised project in February 2023, and the Board of Supervisors ultimately rejected the project in March.

Rogers-Chenault has filed suit over a development review before. In 2015, the firm sued the Town of Ashland after its review of a project called Green Acres appeared to hit a stalemate. The lawsuits were dismissed later that year, and the site was eventually sold to Markel | Eagle Partners, whose Eagle Construction of VA picked up the project.

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Victoria Woodhull
Victoria Woodhull
1 year ago

Maybe if the developer would offer the “neighbors” free tie in to gas/water plus all the other infrastructure the subdivision offers like driveways, or re-grading/replacing of the ditches for run-off, then the neighbors may not slow the development. Each day the developer isn’t building costs money – and the free stuff to the neighbors may cost less than what they are paying in interest payments?

Jay Emory
Jay Emory
1 year ago

That isn’t how it works. If the development is allowed by right, or with a CUP or SUP, the jx can be taken to court, which is what we’re witnessing. It’s a delicate balance because you don’t want the rural character of certain locations to be corrupted but you also cannot insist, as a resident, that once you live somewhere nothing else can be built. If someone is truly concerned with development then they’d better read through their jx’s zoning ordinance to understand what is and is not authorized within each zone before they purchase a home. If the zoning… Read more »

David Humphrey
David Humphrey
1 year ago
Reply to  Jay Emory

Actually, it is not what we are witnessing with this. The subdivision is not allowed by right. They needed to get a rezoning and were denied. Being consistent with the comp plan and being allowed by zoning are two different things.

That being said, the line on what is a legitimate reason for denying a zoning will be tested with this case. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Jay Emory
Jay Emory
1 year ago
Reply to  David Humphrey

I didn’t only mention “by right” development. I also mentioned CUPs and SUPs.

David Humphrey
David Humphrey
1 year ago
Reply to  Jay Emory

A rezoning is none of those.

David Humphrey
David Humphrey
1 year ago
Reply to  Jay Emory

I would also add that I do not agree with the previous poster though. A developer should not have to essentially bribe neighbors by supplying unreasonable demands. .

Jay Emory
Jay Emory
1 year ago
Reply to  David Humphrey

I do think developers should bear some responsibilities when it comes to residential and/or commercial developments. Slight road improvements, traffic mitigation plans (i.e. an additional turn lane), upgraded support infrastructure, etc. are very fair asks of a developer in my opinion. However, I agree bribing is far from the right way to go about it.

Victoria Woodhull
Victoria Woodhull
1 year ago

Jay & David – bless your hearts. Developers would never negotiate with neighboring landowners and Boards of Supervisors to get their developments authorized.

David Humphrey
David Humphrey
1 year ago

I can only imagine you are being sarcastic because they do it all the time. However, they usually do so in a reasonable manner because there should be a limit to the “free stuff” people demand. By law there is limits on what a locality can look for.

Additionally, all this “free stuff” you want for localities and neighbors is not actually free and can substantially add to the costs of housing. Thereby making housing less affordable which seems to be something you are against. So which is it, affordable housing or “free stuff”?

Bill Davenport
Bill Davenport
1 year ago

Builders are the scourge of the earth at this point in my opinion. They build super cheap homes with low bid contractors most of which are foreign illegals who do NOT Pay taxes and the builders hold up their money for stupid reasons screwing them over … Big tract builders don’t care about PEOPLE … they care about their bottom line. Even the Homebuilders Association Lobby won’t allow fire suppression sprinklers to be put into Fire / Building codes because they say it will price out homes for people which is BS …. …. With Pex Piping from domestic water… Read more »

Last edited 1 year ago by Bill Davenport
Brad Pendley
Brad Pendley
1 year ago

IMO, The representatives elected by the citizens have decided. The courts have no place here.

Claire Reed
Claire Reed
1 year ago
Reply to  Brad Pendley

AGREED

Claire Reed
Claire Reed
1 year ago

I am happy with the Board of Supervisors decision to reject the project. Many of us lifelong residents of Hanover County do t want to see the county built up to capacity. The county needs to slow down development. Hanover county schools are already struggling to meet transportation needs and adding more students to the mix is ludicrous. So why keep building developments? To make builders richer?

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
1 year ago
Reply to  Claire Reed

A community is similar to a human body in that when growth stops, death begins.

Victoria Woodhull
Victoria Woodhull
1 year ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

The most optimum “Growth in a human body” often comes from mental and spiritual growth (no physical growth). Gaining weight and getting physically bigger increases the likelihood of early death.

David Humphrey
David Humphrey
1 year ago

While population growth has slowed, overall our population is still growing. People need a place to live. If new housing is not built then the costs of housing will skyrocket even more than it is now. Simple law of supply and demand.

Mindy Harden
Mindy Harden
1 year ago

I am so happy this project was denied! I drive Winns Church Rd at least once a week and it is a narrow, winding road. Widening it by a couple of feet would not have made it safe; I was so concerned about how much extra traffic all of these homes would have added. This project was a bad idea from the start. Unfortunately, the land looks horrible now with all of the trees taken down and large stumps everywhere.

Amy Cavender Turpin
Amy Cavender Turpin
10 months ago
Reply to  Mindy Harden

That’s not the land that the neighborhood was planned for. Those trees were sold for timber and more trees will be planted.

Justin Ranson
Justin Ranson
1 year ago

Sorry, Boards of Supervisors are NEVER obligated to rezone property from existing zones to the benefit of private development

Brian Glass
Brian Glass
1 year ago

Victoria: Since the Landowner is a part of the lawsuit in all probability the land hasn’t changed ownership.. Developers don’t ordinarily purchase property until their plans are approved by the local jurisdiction. It’s standard contract language.

Anna Williams
Anna Williams
1 year ago

I personally hope the Board of Supervisors stand their ground against the Good ole boy’s network”.