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Warrenton holds back 72 homes, lawsuit says

Thursday, Apr. 10 | By Jonathan Hunley
A developer is suing Warrenton because he claims that the town's Planning Commission acted unlawfully when considering his proposal for a subdivision off of Winchester Street.

Jeffrey Rizer wants to build 72 homes in a development called Winchester Chase, and the Warrenton Planning Commission in August voted 5-2 in favor of the project ... eventually.

Commissioners weren't pleased with the design of the project, though. They turned down several preliminary designs for Winchester Chase. The land is zoned for what Rizer wants to do, but commissioners worried where 72 families' worth of vehicles would go.

During the August vote, Commissioner John Kip said, "I cannot accept an entrance on Winchester Street. I think it is a potential hazard. It defaces the existing community on Winchester Street and there are opportunities to interconnect the property in two other directions."

Kip, along with Commissioner Susan Helander, voted against recommending approval.

But an earlier preliminary design featured a road that stretched over the hill, connecting to North Rock subdivision on the other side. The commission expressed misgivings over the connecting road, fearing motorists would use the neighborhood as a shortcut to get to the shopping centers on the other side of the hill.

As for Winchester Street, Rizer commissioned a traffic impact study. The study showed 72 homes worth of families turning in and out of Winchester Street would pass muster, amounting to a service level “B” as reckoned by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

And so the development went from design to design and meeting to meeting. In one meeting, commissioners tabled discussion for another month at the developer's request, when Rizer said the town had submitted their response the night before the meeting – giving his engineers little time to consider a response.

So Rizer filed a lawsuit against the town Nov. 8, though the suit was served only recently. In such an instance, a plaintiff has a year from the filing date to serve the defendant with the paperwork.

"We filed the suit some time ago, and continued to work with the town to see if we could not reach a mutually favorable decision," Rizer's attorney, John Foote, said in an email this week.

But because the two sides couldn't agree on a resolution to their differences, Rizer had to serve the suit, Foote said.

Rizer was unavailable to comment on his action, and Warrenton officials declined to speak about it because of the ongoing nature of the litigation.

The matter has not come before the Warrenton Town Council, and Rizer doesn't need Winchester Chase's 25 acres rezoned to move forward.

He claims in the suit that even though commissioners gave him the OK, they did so "subject to improper and unlawful conditions."

Essentially, the commission's vote was a disapproval "masquerading as an approval," the lawsuit states, because it requires Rizer to take certain steps before moving forward with his project.

And those steps aren't based on valid regulations, the suit says, which makes the commission's decision "unlawful and void."

So Rizer wants the Fauquier County Circuit Court to direct that the commission approve his plans without the design conditions that he argues are illegal.

The town's legal fees will be covered by municipal insurance it has for such instances.

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