LETTER- Height rules aren't 'takings'

I was a member of the Mayor's Downtown Committee that included business, architectural, historical, and citizen interests . The Committee proposed the conditions on height limits in the zoning ordinance discussed in Dave McNair's story ["Downzone Mall: Developers not 'taken' with new plan," January 3].   

Several statements in the article seemed to indicate that there can be no downzoning under Virginia law. In addition, the word "takings" is used loosely in the article to imply that government cannot take actions affecting property rights. This is not true.

Virginia code lays out the factors on which zoning– including rezoning referred to as "downzoning"– must be based.

In the case of Downtown and West Main Street, no development right is reduced or taken; instead, the height limitations at 101 feet are only conditioned on a special use permit whereby the Planning Commission and City Council may establish conditions to prevent an asphalt canyon, conforming street height, and "stepping back" the building height above a certain limit to allow sun on the pedestrian way below.

Currently, the guidelines of the Board of Architectural Review are the only safeguard  to ensure that inappropriate, out-of-scale development won't occur. By enacting the proposed ordinance changes, the Planning Commission and the Council would have additional tools to protect the Downtown streetscape while allowing developers to redevelop creatively. 

Many developers at the hearing focused on recommending a higher height limit for West Main Street, up to approximately 150 feet, the height of the UVA Medical Center. 

I hope that citizens will support the Council and the Planning Commission in seeking to protect and preserve Downtown and West Main Street and giving them the tools to ensure that redevelopment and height limits are appropriate.

Kay Slaughter
Senior Attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center