Why Confirmation Letters May Not Be the Last Word in Cluster Subdivision Developments

by Isaac Benmergui, Esq on March 11, 2014

As if a rupture in the space-time continuum swallowed up every building into a big black hole, for the first time (possibly) in the history of real estate law, a legal document (supposedly) did not constitute a “binding governmental agreement,” so to speak. I’m, of course, talking about the most recent case between the Board of Supervisors of Prince George County andlegal document McQueen. The landowner, McQueen, wanted to begin plans for development of his property as a cluster subdivision, but by law needed the approval from the county zoning administrator.

Guess what: the administer approved. So where’s the problem? Keep reading. Apparently, after the issuance of the ‘compliance letter,’ – which can be considered to be a “confirmation” letter – the county’s board of supervisors actually repealed the ordinance, stating that it was not allowed. In essence, the county – at least by the hand of the zoning administrator – said it was okay, only to “change their mind shortly thereafter.”

This seemed to be a problem, apparently, to McQueen, who then filed an action against the county for his vested right in developing the cluster subdivision as stated in the ordinance. He even had the document to prove that it should be allowed: the compliance letter.

This might amaze some people, how a written document can actually not constitute a favorable decision in this matter. That’s exactly how it turned out, though. While the circuit court did, in fact, rule in favor of McQueen, the Supreme Court actually reversed the opinion, stating that the zoning administrator’s issuance of the letter was not a direct agreement leading to any governmental action vesting such a right to the landowner. It’s a bit of a shocker, actually.

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