RICHMOND—Today, Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) expressed his disappointment at a Senate committee's decision to kill legislation (SB 1073) establishing a more even playing field for property owners challenging local zoning and land use determinations.
"When property owners run up against City Council, it doesn't always seem like a fair fight," said Obenshain. "No matter what the merits of a property rights challenge, any property owner at odds with local government feels like David taking on Goliath."
"Last year, Virginians overwhelmingly affirmed their commitment to private property rights with the ratification of the Virginia Property Rights Amendment. But sometimes, property rights cases don't involve outright takings, but instead deal with unwarranted restrictions on a property owner's use of his or her land," Obenshain added.
"Localities clearly have the right to adopt zoning ordinances, but when those ordinances or the way they are being enforced violate property rights, it's important that property owners have a fair chance at mounting a challenge to them," said Obenshain.
Senator Obenshain's bill, SB 1073, would have allowed (but not required) a court to award reasonable attorney fees to a property owner who prevailed against their locality in a zoning or land use case upon a showing of good cause. "You have a right to your property. If local government unlawfully restricts that right and you can prove it in court, you ought to be able to recover your costs," said Obenshain.
"I am disappointed that the committee didn't see it the same way," Obenshain added. The bill failed to report from the Senate Committee on Local Government on a 6-9 vote, with all six Republicans voting in favor of the bill and all nine Democrats voting in opposition.
"It's dispiriting to see this turned into a partisan issue," Obenshain continued. "The voters clearly didn't see it that way when voters of all parties embraced the Property Rights Amendment at the polls last November, and it shouldn't matter whether you're a Republican, Democrat, or independent: if you can prove in court that the government abridged your rights, you shouldn't have to be the one footing the bill."
Mark Obenshain has served in the Senate of Virginia since 2004, and is a candidate for the Republican nomination for Attorney General of Virginia.
ON THE WEB:
SB 1073: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?131+sum+SB1073