April 2004: The Comprehensive Plan is changed to open the "rugby field" for commercial development
The town of Blacksburg approves revisions to its Comprehensive Plan. Among the changes is a revision to the town's future land use map. An area on Country Club Drive, in the low-density residential zone, which had been earmarked in the Plan as the site of a future park, was designated as a future commercial area. While the future land use map changed, mentions of the area, called the "rugby field," in the text of the Comprehensive Plan still stated that it should be purchased by the town for use as a public park.
May 9, 2006: A rezoning is granted for a "mixed use" development with "small-scale" shopping
The Blacksburg Town Council holds a public hearing and vote on a rezoning application submitted by Llamas, Inc., owned by Jeanne Stosser and Georgia Anne Snyder-Falkinham. The application requests a rezoning of 26 acres, including the rugby field area, to Conditional General Commercial. The rezoning application describes the intended use of this land as follows:
The Applicant’s vision for this development is a mixed use town center with commercial, residential, office, retail, hotel, entertainment, public, and cultural facilities interconnected with open spaces in a cohesive development that provides a distinctive appearance and a true sense of space. Pedestrian-scale storefronts, small-scale shopping, walkways, manicured landscaping, and open public areas compliment one another to create a social atmosphere. The development of the property adjacent to residential neighborhoods will be sensitive to the character and concerns therein.
Several members of Town Council argue that the plans and their impacts are too vague, and more time is needed for the applicants to present a detailed proposal. The applicants suggest that the entire development is in jeopardy if the rezoning is delayed. As the vote was about to proceed with a majority of Council members favoring a delay, Mayor Roger Hedgpeth calls for a brief recess. During the recess, developers were permitted to meet privately with Council Members. A vote is taken after the recess, and the rezoning is approved by a vote of 5 to 2.
January, 2007: A new plan is shown to town staff
Unknown to the Town Council and the citizens of Blacksburg, the developers of the S. Main site, Fairmount Properties, initiate a pre-submission discussion of a site plan with the town's zoning administrator, Steve Hundley, and town planning and engineering staff. In the new plans, Fairmount has abandoned the vision described in the rezoning application in favor of a commercial-only development that now includes a 175,000 square foot retail structure, with a 300,000 square foot parking lot, on the rugby field. Town Council is not informed of the new plans.
Late March, 2007: Town Council is finally informed; Ordinance 1450 proposed
The new plans are shown to members of Town Council, who are surprised to find the project has changed so drastically. Council member Don Langrehr proposes Ordinance 1450, which would require any retail of 80,000 square feet or more to obtain a special use permit.
April, 2007: The citizens spring to action
Residents of Blacksburg organize a petition in support of Ordinance 1450, which quickly gathers thousands of signers. A protest is organized outside a talk given by Fairmount Properties' owner Adam Fishman. Informational flyers and websites appear, notifying the community that Fairmount, along with the local owners of the land, intend to build a huge store, with a size and shape identical to a Walmart Supercenter, on the rugby field and next door to Margaret Beeks Elementary School. Some of those involved in these actions begin to meet under the name Blacksburg United for Responsible Growth, or BURG.
May 1, 2007: The mistake that could become a big-box store
Before an overflow crowd in the Town Council Chambers, as the Blacksburg Planning Commission is ready to vote on a recommendation on Ordinance 1450, the town's Chief of Planning and Engineering, Brandol Harvey, announces that the vote can not take place due to an error in advertising the session. A required advertisement of the public hearing and vote was placed in the newspaper one day earlier than required by Virginia law. Amid speculation that this may not have been an innocent mistake, town residents request that a moratorium be placed on all site plan reviews until a vote can be held on the ordinance. The Planning Commission unanimously recommends that Town Council adopt such a moratorium.
May 6, 2007: Blacksburg United for Responsible Growth (BURG) is formally established
In a public meeting, a steering committee is nominated and an action plan formulated for the new organization. The steering committee has eleven members. The BURG membership numbers 105. The organization mounts a town-wide mobilization in support of Ordinance 1450.
May 10, 2007: The developers sue the Town of Blacksburg
The owners of the land, Llamas, Inc., and Diversified Investments, Inc., along with the project's developer, Fairmount Properties, file a complaint against the Town of Blacksburg, its Town Council, and its Zoning Administrator, Steve Hundley. The complaint asks the court to award the plaintiffs with "vested rights" to build a retail structure in excess of 80,000 square feet. An initial hearing is set for June 7.
May 29, 2007: Ordinance 1450 passes
The Blacksburg Planning Commission and Town Council hold a joint session for public hearings and a vote on Ordinance 1450. After almost five hours of public comment, in which over 100 speakers address the Commission and Town Council, both bodies discuss and vote on the ordinance. The Planning Condition approves a resolution recommending passage of Ordinance 1450 by a vote of 7-1 (1 abstention). The Town Council then votes unanimously (7-0) to approve the ordinance.
May 31, 2007: The town responds to the lawsuit
The Town of Blacksburg files its responses to the May 10 complaint by the developers and landowners. The town asks the court to dismiss the complaint, because the plaintiffs have not exhausted the well-established administrative remedies, including the site plan review process. The town also argues that the May, 2006 rezoning does not give the developers vested rights to build a big box store.
June 18, 2007: The Zoning Administrator says Ordinance 1450 applies to the S. Main project
In a 12-page letter, Blacksburg Zoning Administrator, Steve Hundley, issued a determination on the vested rights of the owners and developers of the S. Main project. He rules that no government act approving a specific project has been made, and that therefore the developers do not have vested rights to build. Since they did not have vested rights prior to passage of Ordinance 1450, they are subject to the ordinance and must apply for a special use permit for any structure over 80,000 sq. ft. in area.
July 3, 2007: The developers appeal the Zoning Administrator's determination
After the circuit court judge ruled that they would have to take their case through the established procedures for appealing a zoning determination, Fairmount University Realty Trust and Fairmount Properties, filed an appeal with the town. Using the same arguments in their May 10 lawsuit, the developers asked the town's Board of Zoning Appeals to reverse Steve Hundley's June 18 ruling, and find that they do have vested rights giving them immunity from the provisions of Ordinance 1450.
July 31, 2007: The BZA reverses the zoning administrators decision
The Blacksburg Board of Zoning Appeals rules, by a 5-0 vote, that the zoning administrator, Steve Hundley, wrongly determined that the developers of the South Main project did not have vested rights. According to this ruling, Ordinance 1450 does not apply to the South Main project.
August 30, 2007: 21 Blacksburg residents appeal the BZA ruling
Consisting mostly of owners of property near the S. Main site, these 21 residents of Blacksburg, represented by attorney Philip C. Strother, file an appeal in the Montgomery County Circuit Court.
Sept. 28 - Dec. 12, 2007: The S. Main developers challenge Blacksburg residents' legal standing
In responding to the appeal of 21 Blacksburg residents, and despite clear legal grounds for the appeal, the developers challenge the legal standing of the appellants. Judge Bobby Turk hears the issue of legal standing on November 8, and on December 12, rules that all 21 appellants have legal standing.
Jan. 25, 2008: Judge Turk upholds decision of the Board of Zoning Appeals
Judge Bobby Turk rules that Fairmount Properties is vested in its right to build a 186,000 sq. ft. store.
March 24, 2008: BURG files a Notice of Appeal with the Circuit Court, indicating our intention to appeal Turk's Jan. 25 decision.
May 23, 2008: BURG files a petition for appeal with the Virginia Supreme Court
Aug. 27, 2008: A three-justice panel of the Virginia Supreme Court announced it will accept the appeals of BURG and the Town of Blacksburg
Sept. 10, 2008: The Virginia Supreme Court issues an official letter granting the appeal. No date has been set for oral arguments.
Oct. 20, 2008: An Amicus Curiae ("friend of the court") brief is filed by the Local Government Attorneys of Virginia, the Virginia Association of Counties, and The Virginia Municipal League, in support of the Town of Blacksburg and BURG. These three organizations represent all local governments in Virginia.
Jan. 15, 2009: The Supreme Court of Virginia hears oral arguments in our case.