Virginia Supreme Court strikes down revised Fairfax County zoning law

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is going back to the drawing board after the Virginia Supreme Court struck down a newly revised zoning ordinances.

The Board voted to overhaul the county's existing zoning ordinance, which had been adopted in 1978. Challengers argued that the Board could not update the ordinances in a virtual meeting. That would violate Virginia's Freedom of Information Act in-person meeting requirement, they claimed.

The Commonwealth's Supreme Court unanimously agreed.

"We tried to make our points to the Board of Supervisors. We tried to make our points to the county attorney. But nobody would listen. Nobody would listen. That has its own sense of frustration. And then we got to the Supreme Court. And they listened," says Craig Blakeley the attorney for the plaintiffs.

"There was a frustration that they weren't being listened to. The board has done something during the pandemic that didn't need to be done in that way, at that time."

During the pandemic, Virginia and Fairfax County both passed emergency measures to allow the government to continue its business remotely. But on Thursday, the Commonwealth's rtSupreme Cout reasoned that there were strict parameters on those emergency measures. 

The parameters included giving government bodies, like the Board of Supervisors, the ability to pass measures dealing with the emergency or necessary function of government. They did not include, however, the overhaul of the zoning ordinances, a project that began in 2016 -- long before the pandemic.

In 2021, the Virginia General Assembly amended Virginia's FOIA to resolve this issue, allowing for more decisions to be made in virtual meetings. But certain government decisions made before that amendment took effect could be subject to future challenges.