(703) 369-4738

1
Sep
2022

Prince William County’s Pathway to the 2040 Comprehensive Plan: One Step Closer

Written by: Olaun Simmons, Esq.

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors have been working diligently to finalize the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. When it is adopted by the Board of County Supervisors, the 2040 Comprehensive Plan will help guide future land use and development for properties in Prince William County.  

The most recent draft of the Land Use Chapter of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan was issued in August 2022. The goal of the Land Use Chapter is to provide an official statement of the County’s vision for land use and to provide the aspirational goals for the County’s future development and growth.

Additionally, the “Pathway to 2040 Proposed Long-Range Use Interactive Map” provides information regarding the proposed long-range use designations for properties within the County including primary and secondary uses, compatible zoning districts, and density designations.

If you have questions related to the draft 2040 Comprehensive Plan and the ways in which it may affect your rezoning application, special use permit application, or the desired use of your property, please contact me at (703) 369-4738 or osimmons@vfnlaw.com.


This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of legal counsel with respect to specific facts and situations. See disclaimer

17
Aug
2022

The Mixed Use District  – A Flexible Approach to Use and Density

Written by: Olaun Simmons, Esq.

In 2021, Prince William County adopted a new zoning district entitled “Mixed Use District (MXD).” The new Mixed Use District seeks to provide a thoughtful approach to development because it allows for flexible land development, promotes
transit-oriented development, and encourages a mix of residential and commercial uses in a single zoning designation. Under the MXD umbrella, there are three tailored mixed-use zoning designations that provide specific details and guidance regarding allowable uses and density.

Mixed Use District-Neighborhood (T-2)

The Mixed Use District-Neighborhood (MXD-N) is intended for smaller-scale mixed-use developments that are surrounded by lower-density residential areas, as well as in neighborhood corridors, or at the edges of town centers. The MXD-N allows for by-right uses such as single-family detached homes, craft breweries, and coffee shops; secondary uses such as child-care facilities and farmer’s markets, and special uses such as kennels and indoor shooting ranges. In terms of density, the MXD-N has a Transect 2 designation which allows for a residential density of 0 – 4 du/acre and non-residential density of 0 – 0.23 FAR.

Mixed Use District-Community Zoning District (T-3 and T-4)

The Mixed Use District-Community Zoning District (MXD-C) is intended to encourage a diversification of uses, including residential, commercial, and civic uses. The MXD-C is intended for a variety of sites and in smaller mixed-use areas that are well served by transit. The MXD-C allows for by-right uses such as distilleries, hotels, and religious institutions; secondary uses such as attached single-family dwellings and farmer’s markets; and special uses such as bed and breakfasts, retail stores, and restaurants. In terms of density, the MXD-C allow for more density than the MXD-N. The MXD-C has two transect designations: T-3 and T-4. Transect 3 allows for a residential density of 4 – 12 du/acre and non-residential density of up to 0.57 FAR, and Transect 4 allows for a residential density of 8 – 24 du/acre and non-residential density of up to 0.1.38 FAR.

Mixed Use District – Urban Zoning District (T-5 and T-6)

Finally, the Mixed Use District – Urban Zoning District (MXD-U) is intended to encourage the development or redevelopment of mixed-use centers that combine new or existing retail development with a variety of housing, offices, studios, live-work space, civic buildings, and other complementary uses arranged in a cohesive, compact, and walkable environment. The MXD-U zone must be located along existing or planned high-capacity multi-modal transportation corridors. The MXD-U allows for by-right uses such as assisted living facilities, multi-family dwellings, and hotels; special uses such as attached single-family dwellings on lots in excess of one acre; and special uses such as restaurants and self-storage centers.  In terms of the allowable density, the MXD-U allows for the most density. The MXD-U has two transect designations: T-5 and T-6. Transect 5 allows for a residential density of 20 – 50 du/acre and non-residential density of up to 2.30 FAR, and Transect 6 allows for a residential density of 50 -100 du/acre and non-residential density of up to 3.0 FAR.

The new MXD zoning designation is designed to provide developers with the flexibility needed to obtain the desired mix of commercial and residential uses and density on the site. The flexibility provided by the MXD will also be useful for developers who are seeking to revitalize aging properties within Prince William County.


This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of legal counsel with respect to specific facts and situations. See disclaimer

9
Aug
2022

The Importance of A Guaranty.

Written by: Guy Jeffress

The decision of the Supreme Court of Virginia in Grayson v. Westwood Buildings L.P., 300 Va. 25, 859 S.E.2d 651 (2021) highlights the need to confirm a tenant’s financial ability to pay the rent during the term of a lease and obtain personal guaranties regarding the same.

The facts of the cited case are complex but can be briefly summarized as follows: Landlord obtained judgments for unpaid rent against tenants. Landlord, upon finding that the tenants and their principals had engaged in a number of transactions that left the tenant entities all but insolvent, filed suit against both tenants and other parties claiming, in part, that the defendants engaged in a series of fraudulent conveyances and sham transactions designed to avoid the judgments. The trial court found in favor of landlord making each of the remaining defendants jointly and severally liable for unpaid rent, awarding the landlord attorney fees, and imposing sanctions. On appeal, however, the Supreme Court of Virginia reversed the trial court, vacated the judgments, and entered the opinion as final judgment. The court noted that the “badges of fraud” relied upon by the trial court to support its findings “did not apply here.” The opinion also noted that the landlord failed to perfect landlord’s security interest in tenant’s inventory and other assets (as landlord was permitted under the terms and conditions of the lease) and did not obtain a signed personal guaranty from principals of the tenants.

The purpose of this article is not to undertake a deep dive in the law of fraudulent conveyances but to illustrate some basic strategies a landlord could use to avoid an outcome similar to that in the above-referenced case.

First, as regards landlord lien rights we have noticed that many landlords are quick to negotiate their lien rights away. The lien right is a powerful remedy to landlord. If a tenant objects because the rights of a lender or lessor of equipment are primary, offer to subordinate landlord’s lien rights to that of the primary lien holder until such time as the primary lien is satisfied or extinguished. It is better to be in a subordinated position than to waive the lien rights altogether.

Second, obtain personal guaranties from tenant principals and their spouses. Under Virginia law guaranty agreements must be independent agreements that are supported by separate consideration. The terms and conditions of a guaranty should also include certain waivers including a waiver of the application of certain Virginia statutes. The absence of said waivers could delay or jeopardize a landlord’s recourse against the named guarantor.

Third, when vetting a tenant, a landlord should undertake sufficient due diligence to accurately determine the tenant’s management structure and its credit worthiness. Additionally, the landlord should try to keep tabs on a tenant’s financial condition throughout the term of the lease by including language in the lease that allows the landlord to request, from time to time, financial disclosures from a tenant which are (preferably) audited or certified as true and correct by a principal of the tenant.

Fourth, we advise letting one of our lease attorneys review letters of intent prior to sending them to prospective tenants. Our financing and lease attorneys frequently notice issues in letters of intent that put the landlord on its hind legs before the first draft of the lease is even circulated.

Fifth, do not negotiate against yourself and offer concessions the tenant does not ask for, and do not give into the frequent lament of tenant brokers, “it’s not market” without substantial and verifiable data to back it up.

Recent changes in the economy and lender practices are prompting building owners to review their lease forms. If you are feeling challenged by current circumstances or have not reviewed your lease forms in the last few years consider having the lease attorneys at Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian, P.C., review your lease and lease-related documents.

Call one of the attorneys at Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian, P.C., or email and let us see if we can assist you.

This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of legal counsel with respect to specific facts and situations. See disclaimer

16
May
2022

Abandoned Permits

Written by: Guy Jeffress

On April 25, 2022, Prince William County Development Services, Building Development Division, issued Policy 1.03 entitled Abandoned Building Permits and Applications, and is in the process of auditing and revoking “abandoned” permit applications and issued permits. In general, an issued permit may be revoked if work on the site authorized by the permit is not commenced within six months after the issuance of a permit, or if the authorized work on the site is suspended or abandoned for a period of six months after the permit is issued; however, permits issued for plumbing, electrical and mechanical work shall not be revoked if the building permit is still in effect.

If current events including supply chain disruptions have delayed your project be sure to check the status of your permit applications and permits. The full policy along with a process flow chart can be seen below and found here https://www.pwcva.gov/department/building-development-division/abandoned-building-permits-applications.

Call one of the attorneys at Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian, P.C., or email and let us see if we can assist you.

This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of legal counsel with respect to specific facts and situations. See disclaimer

12
May
2022

Prince William County Is Totally Awesome And VFN Is More Gooder Than Other Firms

Written by: Guy Jeffress

In April 2022, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association (aka “NAIOP”), released the results of their national Developer Approvals Index study. The results of the study ranked Prince William County, Virginia in sixth place nationally, with an overall weighted score of 51, and attained a category-leading score of 75 points for “Consistency.” Consistency metrics covered code and ordinance updates, time frames for completed reviews, approval processes, feedback across different organizational levels and functions, including published approvals for project phases, and staff-based results, such as tenure, training, and their ability to handle complex projects. In short, Prince William County, Virginia is open for business.

For the attorneys at Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian, P.C., the study reiterated what we already knew, i.e., that Prince William County, Virginia, is a national leader when it comes to the provision of building development services and the approval of innovative projects including world-class data center infrastructure, bio/life science incubators, and higher education. Nor was the result of the study a surprise to some of our county’s most well-known business residents which include Amazon Web Services and the microchip manufacturer Micron.

If you are considering a project in Prince William County, Virginia, or any of the surrounding jurisdictions, the attorneys at Vanderpool, Frostick, & Nishanian, P.C. are able to bring their 80+ years of combined experience and community involvement to mitigate the legal risks and challenges related to your real estate development projects.

Call one of the attorneys at Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian, P.C., or email and let us see if we can assist you.

This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of legal counsel with respect to specific facts and situations. See disclaimer

10
May
2022

Billboard Regulation Survives at the US Supreme Court

Written By Martin Crim, Esq.

I think that I shall never see
              a billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
 I’ll never see a tree at all.
—Ogden  Nash

In the 2015 case of Reed v. Town of Gilbert, the U.S. Supreme Court announced a new rule that restricted local government regulation of signs. That case broadly defined “content-based” regulation in a way that caused alarm in local government circles because it threatened to render unconstitutional many zoning ordinances that addressed signs. One of the fears that it generated was that we might no longer be able to have one set of rules for signs that advertise products and services sold on-site and another set for signs that advertise products and services that are sold elsewhere (a/k/a on-premises v. off-premises signs).

Most billboards are off-premises signs, and the billboard industry aggressively protects its interests in those signs. The Reed opinion gave them an opportunity to increase the number and value of their stock of billboards if they could turn on-premises signs into off-premises signs by getting courts to strike down local ordinances that discriminated against off-premises signs. Federal and state beautification laws dating back to the 1960’s and 1970’s have curbed the ability to put up new billboards, so most billboards you see are “grandfathered” under zoning law – allowed to remain as long as they do not expand in size or upgrade their technology.

Since 2015, billboard companies have filed several challenges around the nation against ordinances that used the on-premises/off-premises distinction, arguing from Reed that an ordinance was unconstitutional if you have to read the sign to apply the ordinance – even if you need just a cursory examination. This became known as the “pillar of salt” theory, after the Biblical story that Lot’s wife got turned into a pillar of salt as punishment for looking back despite being commanded not to look.

Although Justice Alito’s concurring opinion in Reed said that on-premises/off-premises distinctions were still permitted, the failure of the majority opinion to agree with him cast doubt on whether a majority of the Supreme Court would agree. The lack of clarity in the Reed majority opinion left room for the “pillar of salt” theory to persuade some judges. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of local governments had sign ordinances that distinguished between on-premises and off-premises signs.

On April 21, 2022, the Supreme Court finally answered the on-premises/off-premises question, in a case (Austin v. Reagan National Advertising of Austin) brought by two advertising companies who wanted to digitize some grandfathered billboards. Austin’s sign code prohibited that, so the advertising companies sued. The case made its way up the Federal appellate court system to the top, where Justice Sotomayor  delivered the opinion of the Court, rejecting the “pillar of salt” rule as “too extreme an interpretation.”

Instead, the Supreme Court has now allowed sign regulations to distinguish between on-premises and off-premises signs as long as the regulations meet so-called “intermediate scrutiny” (i.e., requiring more justification than the “rational basis” test but not as much as the “strict scrutiny” test). For that reason, the Supreme Court remanded the Austin case for the lower courts to determine whether the Austin sign code had an “impermissible purpose or justification” and whether it was “narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest.”

When I worked on the model sign ordinance for the Local Government Attorneys of Virginia in 2016, we retained the on-premises/off-premises distinction, generally prohibiting all new off-premises signs. (Grandfathered signs have to be allowed as a matter of property law.) We held our breath at the time, and now we can breathe a sigh of relief.

If you have a question about whether a given sign ordinance is still constitutional – either in the abstract or in relation to an existing or proposed sign – I’d be pleased to consult with you and, if appropriate, to represent you in relation to that question.

Martin Crim is a shareholder at Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian, and has been practicing law for over thirty years, primarily for cities, towns, and other local governments. If you have additional questions or concerns contact Martin Crim at mcrim@vfnlaw.com or call us at 703-36-4738.

This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of legal counsel with respect to specific facts and situations. See disclaimer[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

14
Mar
2022

DON’T RISK YOUR BUSINESS BY IGNORING VIOLATION NOTICES.

Written by: Guy Jeffress

In a January 2022 unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeals of Virginia upheld the immediate revocation of a certificate of occupancy for a hospitality venue located in Fairfax County, effectively closing the business. The revocation was based in part on a single notice of violation issued by Fairfax County almost nine years prior in 2013.

In June 2012 the operator of the establishment obtained a non-residential use permit to open a restaurant located in Fairfax County. In March 2013, the Fairfax County Department of Code Enforcement cited the operator for violating the Uniform Statewide Building Code by constructing unpermitted additions. In May 2013, because the violations remained unresolved, the Department issued a notice of violation and two criminal summonses to the operator. The summonses were subsequently resolved by order of nolle prosequi (a dismissal without prejudice) to allow operator time to submit a “minor site plan,” which was necessary for obtaining the required permits. The operator initially attempted to obtain the minor site plan but ultimately abandoned the effort.

Between April 2014 and October 2019, no inspections were made on the property. However, in October 2019, the county received a complaint about a new structure on the property. A county official researched various records pertaining to, and visually examined, the property. The official observed various violations, including a newly constructed enclosure with a deck, bar, new plumbing and electrical fixtures, and gas fired heaters. The official determined that all of the alterations and additions were completed without appropriate permits.

In early November 2019 the official, accompanied by the fire marshal, returned to the property during business hours. They observed over one hundred people on the premises, which had a certificate of occupancy for a maximum of forty-nine. Shortly thereafter, the Building Official issued a revocation notice for appellant’s certificate of occupancy, effectively closing the business. The revocation notice identified various code violations dating back to the original 2013 notice/citation, and listed safety hazards created by the conditions on the property specified the corrective actions required, and contained information concerning appellant’s right to appeal. The operator appealed the revocation to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development State Building Code Technical Review Board (“TRB”). The TRB upheld the county’s finding and the operator appealed to the county circuit court which affirmed the TRB ruling.

The operator then appealed to the Court of Appeals of Virginia arguing that the revocation of the certificate of occupancy was improper on a number of grounds including: (i) that there was no evidence of repeated violations since the only notice of violation was issued in 2013; (ii) the TRB was required to issue a corrective work order and a notice of violation before revoking the certificate of occupancy; (iii) and operator should have been given a reasonable time for compliance before the revocation.

The Court of Appeals dispatched these arguments and affirmed the decision of the circuit court finding that: (i) no applicable law required the county official to provide a notice of violation before revoking a certificate of occupancy, and repeated violations were implied by the improvements to the property constructed between 2013 and 2019, all without the required permits; (ii) nothing in the building code required a notice of violation or a corrective work order before revoking the certificate of occupancy; and (iii) enforcement of the building code is a legitimate use of state power necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens.

Ignoring or shrugging off a single zoning or building code violation, even one made years prior, could jeopardize your business. Don’t wait until it’s too late, call one of the attorneys at Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian, P.C., or email and let us see if we can assist you.

This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of legal counsel with respect to specific facts and situations. See disclaimer

12
Mar
2022

VF&N is pleased to announce that four of its senior associates have been named as partners!

VF&N is pleased to announce that four of its senior associates, consisting of Brett Callahan, Olaun Simmons, Guy Jeffress, and Bradley Marshall, have been named as partners effective March 1, 2022.“Each of our new partners have demonstrated superior legal ability, work ethic and commitment to our clients and our communities,” said Rick Nishanian, the VF&N Managing Partner. “We are lucky and honored to have such talented lawyers practicing at VF&N.”

This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of legal counsel with respect to specific facts and situations. See disclaimer

12
Mar
2022

March Fun Friday Employee events

Every second Friday of the month VFN host a fun event for their employees.

This month’s Fun Friday did not disappoint. Murlarkey Distilled Spirits set up a tasting and a few mixed drinks at our office. Thank you MurLarkey Distilled Spirits for creating a memorable event for our staff.

This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of legal counsel with respect to specific facts and situations. See disclaimer

24
Jan
2022

Labor Reforms Targeted as Virginia Prepares for a Change in Administration

Written by: Monica Munin, Esq.

Republican governor Glenn Youngkin assumed office on January 15, 2022, enacting 11 executive orders including orders that; end mandatory masking for children in grade K-12; ban critical race theory from state classrooms; promise to “investigate wrongdoing” in Loudoun County Public Schools; and, promise to cut workplace regulations.  Consequently, the fate of recent labor reforms in Virginia, including a scheduled increase to the State’s minimum wage, domestic workers bill of rights, and the COVID-19 emergency standard, remains uncertain.  Republicans swept the State’s elections this year, claiming the governor’s office, lieutenant governor’s office, attorney general’s office, and a majority in the House of Delegates. Youngkin cast himself as an employer-friendly candidate who would eliminate “job-killing regulations” and oppose government lead vaccination mandates.

While it is not yet clear how far Republican can or will go to stem or otherwise reverse the policies implemented during the Governor Northam’s administration, Youngkin has wasted no time preparing for a change in priorities.  In addition to the 11 executive orders signed on his first day in office, Youngkin delivered an address outlining his plan for education and tax reform.  Prior to his swearing in, Youngkin had also announced that he intends to appoint George “Bryan” Slater, as state labor secretary.  Slater was a former U/S/ Labor Department official under the Trump administration and served as White House liaison to the Labor Department under President George W. Bush as well. Democrats currently retain control of the State Chamber, which is not up for reelection until 2023.

Nonetheless, incoming Republicans in the State legislature are hoping to capitalize on Youngkin’s win and pass a number of bills, including a freeze on the scheduled increase to the state’s minimum wage which would keep the minimum wage at $11, bills limiting domestic worker protections, and bills intended to prevent cities and counties from using government contracts to ensure wage rates and employee benefits beyond what is currently required by state or federal law.

Worried about what the change in administration means for your business? Confused about how to proceed? Please feel free to reach out by way of phone or email Monica Munin for guidance.

This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of legal counsel with respect to specific facts and situations. See disclaimer