More Ethics in Land Use (Not Less)

Citizens in Fairfax County are cynical about land use proceedings.  You can’t blame them.  There is hardly any citizen or public official who is not somehow involved with the omnipresent real estate industry.

The best medicine for cynicism is sunshine.

When a developer petitions for a land use change in Fairfax, our Zoning Ordinance requires a sworn oath disclosing whether anyone on the Planning Commission or Board has a financial interest in the applicant or in the project.

This oath is permitted under Virginia law, Section 15.2-2287, to make sure that public servants are kept honest.  It is critical in today’s day and age where accusations regarding Supervisor conflicts of interest can lead to criminal indictments (hello Loudoun!)

Senate Bill 838, as passed by the Assembly, eviscerates these protections.

It does so by eliminating “contract purchaser” from the class of applicants who need to file oaths under Section 2287.  This elimination makes the entire law useless.

Real estate developers are nearly always contract purchasers.  It’s simple.  A developer will not take title on land until its zoning application has been approved.  Only then will the actual sale close.

By eliminating contract purchasers from required disclosures, Senate Bill 838 removes any accountability from those that stand to make millions on a successful rezoning or plan amendment.  Does that make any sense?

The Governor has not yet signed Senate Bill 838.  He shouldn’t.  We need more sunshine in land use, not less.

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