How to Play the Land Use Game
Board of Supervisors Closed Session (Executive) Sessions
Virginia's Freedom of Information Act authorizes closed session meetings held by public bodies only for certain limited purposes. These are clearly defined in the Act, which limits closed meeting discussions to items involving actual or probable litigation*, contract negotiation and personnel matters. Click here to read the list of items covered in the Act.
Before a public body can close a meeting to the public, a motion that identifies (1) the meeting's subject matter; (2) the meeting's purpose; and (3) the specific exemption under §2.2-3711(A) that applies must be approved. Discussion in the closed session meeting is limited to the items that were included in the approving resolution.
A public body cannot take action in a closed session meeting, but must reconvene in public, certify that only items included in the resolution approving the closed session were discussed and must then complete a formal vote.
Section 2.2-3711(A)(7) further details what situations involving legal counsel permit closing a meeting to the public. The subdivision still allows a public body to close a meeting for discussions of "actual or probable litigation." The 1999 amendments clarified that closed-door discussions are limited to discussions that may jeopardize the public body's negotiating or litigating posture. The subdivision goes on to define what is meant by "probable litigation": "litigation which has been specifically threatened or on which the public body or its legal counsel has a reasonable basis to believe will be commenced by or against a known party." Finally, the section codifies a Supreme Court of Virginia ruling that the legal exemption cannot be invoked just because the public body's attorney is at the meeting or has been consulted on a matter up for discussion.
Processes used to Approve, Defer, Deny or Withdraw Development Applications Within the past two months, between May 16 and July 17 2006, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors(BOS) approved last minute requests for deferrals submitted by the applicant for three development proposals:
What do these development proposals have in common?
In addition, each of these development proposals were the only scheduled public hearing on the BOS agenda and, when the BOS accepted the applicant's last minute request for a deferral, the BOS also cancelled the entire meeting.As a result, there has been considerable confusion regarding the public hearing process, citizen participation in development proposals and the transparency of government processes. This web page is intended to provide community members with available information that is relevant to those issues.
- Significant community opposition;
- Recommendation of denial from the Planning Commission;
- Deferred by the Board of Supervisors at the last minute request of the applicant and without a public vote. Two of these proposals (Brentswood and the Davis Ford Road school) were deferred after the public hearing was advertised: Brentswood was deferred only hours before the advertised BOS public hearing was scheduled to open and the school proposal was deferred one day before the advertised public hearing.
According to the County Code Article II, Rules of Procedure for the Board of County Supervisors (BOS), the Board of Supervisor's repealed most of their rules of procedure included in the Prince William County Code on January 6 2004 and the County Code now states that the Board proceedings are governed by Robert's Rules of Order. Click here to view a copy of the resolution repealing the BOS Rules of Procedure.
However, the Prince William County web page provides a different set of information on the BOS Rules of Procedure. The web page does not include references to the ordinance that authorizes these procedures, thus the underlying authorities associated with these procedures is unclear. Click here to view the online version of the BOS Rules of Procedure or click here to download a PDF copy.
According to the information provided on the Board of Supervors web page, the Board of Supervisors Rules of Procedure Section A(5) states that "once a public hearing has been advertised on any matter, including a rezoning or special use permit application, the public hearing shall then be held to avoid inconvenience to the public."
After the public hearing is held, the Chairman may:
- Close the public hearing and the Board may take action or defer action on the matter, including referring the matter back to the Planning Commission of any land use issue within its jurisdiction
- Hold the hearing open for further public comment and Board action at a later date.
This rule ensures that citizens are provided with an opportunity to express their views about land use decisions and requires a public vote by the BOS in order to defer a development application.
In cases where the BOS approves a deferral, the application remains active and can be returned to the BOS for a vote at any time. No information on how long Prince William County will allow the application to remain active under this scenario has been made available.
However, it is worth noting that, according to the Virginia Code 15.2-2226, the Board "shall act within ninety days of the local planning commission's recommending resolution".
The online BOS Rules of Procedure Section A(5) also cover the process in cases where an applicant withdraws their application. When the applicant requests a withdrawal in writing any time prior to BOS action, the public hearing would not be held.
According to Sec. 32-700.70 of the Prince William County Zoning Ordinance, if an application is withdrawn after the public hearing has been advertised, no
application for substantially the same development plan on all or any part of the same
property may be filed within six months of the withdrawal date.
According to Robert's Rules, in order for the Board of Supervisors to change the date for a scheduled public hearing, a motion must be made and seconded. A simple majority vote on the motion carries the motion. In cases where the Chairman rules the motion out of order, the Chairmans ruling may be appealed. The appeal requires a second. The Chairman then asks if his decision shall be sustained. This requires an immediate vote without debate. The Chairman's decision will stand if there is a tie vote or a simple majority vote sustaining the decision of the Chair.
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