AGENDA TITLE:  ZTA 2006-002 Public Hearing to Amend the Zoning Ordinance Relating to Civil Penalties




SUBJECT/PROPOSAL/REQUESTAmend Zoning Ordinance § 37.2 to increase the civil penalties for zoning violations as allowed by Virginia Code § 15.2-2209







Louise Wyatt, Greg Kamptner


Planning Commission:  May 30, 2006

Board of Supervisors:   July 5, 2006



ACTION:                             INFORMATION:




     ACTION:                               INFORMATION:










Use of civil penalties for most zoning violations has been an effective enforcement tool in numerous zoning cases as both a deterrent and as a consequence for noncompliance.  In March 2005 as authorized by amendments to the Virginia Code in 2004, the Board of Supervisors approved amendments to the Zoning Ordinance to increase the civil penalties for each violation subsequent to the first violation from $150 to $250, and to increase the civil penalties cap from $3,000 to $5,000.  A recent amendment to the Virginia Code will allow for higher civil penalties for both initial and subsequent violations as of July 1, 2006.  This Code amendment does not raise the cap or maximum on civil penalties.   



Staff recommends that this amendment to the Zoning Ordinance will improve the County’s ability to address zoning violations and therefore its ability to continue to work as stewards of Albemarle County’s natural resources and built environment. 



Over the past three years, the County has had an annual average of 290 zoning enforcement cases.  Many of these cases require pursuit of civil penalties before the violation is abated.  Currently, the County is pursuing civil penalties in 45% of the unresolved violation cases.  


Consistent with the amended Virginia Code, the proposed ordinance would increase the civil penalties for an initial violation from $50 and $100 (depending on the nature of the violation) to $200.  Also consistent with this revised state law, the proposed ordinance would increase civil penalties for each subsequent violation from $250 to $500. 


Currently, the ordinance has two schedules for civil penalties for different types of zoning violations.  These two schedules are broad in scope, and have covered every zoning violation since civil penalties were adopted by the Board in 2000.  One schedule allows $50 for the initial civil penalty, and the other allows $100; both allow $250 for subsequent violations.  Because both schedules impose the same fine for subsequent penalties for the same violation, this differential only relates to the initial fine.  The original intent of the ordinance was that violations with the lesser initial $50 penalty (listed in 37.2B) were relatively insignificant violations that could have been unintentional, and therefore a lower initial civil penalty would be imposed.  However, Community Development’s current procedure ensures that a violator has received a Notice of Violation and has been given adequate time (usually at least five months) to come into voluntary compliance before civil penalties are sought.  If the County seeks civil penalties, the violator has not been cooperating and has not made significant progress towards coming into compliance.      


The two schedules of violations have proven to be all-encompassing and only a handful of cases have fallen under the schedule of violations subject to the initial $50 penalty in recent years.  Therefore, eliminating the two separate schedules and having all violations of the Zoning Ordinance (with only a limited number of statutorily required exceptions, which would be enforced by criminal penalty or injunction) be enforced by civil penalties will only impact the small number of cases that currently are subject to the initial $50 penalty.  It is staff’s recommendation that the significance of the violation and whether it was unintentional should no longer be relevant to the civil penalty amount allowed. 


Raising the civil penalties for initial and subsequent violations will assist the County to address zoning violations.  Many violators do not cooperate with the County until a warrant in debt for the civil penalty is served on them.  It is a powerful tool that encourages the violator to bring his or her property into compliance.  These higher civil penalties will get the attention (and ideally the cooperation) of the violators much more quickly.  This will also allow Community Development to come closer towards recouping some of the zoning enforcement costs incurred by both Community Development and the County Attorney’s Office. 


Staff will address the three (3) criteria that the Board has previously asked staff to discuss with zoning text amendments.


Administration/Review Process:  Combining the two schedules of violations will improve the administration of civil penalties and therefore will improve zoning enforcement.   


Housing Affordability:  The proposed amendment will not affect housing affordability.


Implications to Staffing/Staffing Costs:  The proposed amendment has the potential to reduce staff workload if it results in more timely abatement of zoning violations.  Increased civil penalties will not increase the workload and will further recoup actual staff costs for enforcement. 



Staff hereby recommends adoption of the draft ordinance dated 5/22/06 found in Attachment B. 



A          Resolution of Intent

B          Draft Ordinance dated 5/22/06

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