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Town Legislation Passes

Legislation to increase civil penalties for zoning violations proposed by town passes General Assembly review, waits for governor's signature.

Town Council is one step closer to being able to enforce harsher penalties for violators of the town's zoning ordinance.

At the start of this year's General Assembly session the town requested Del. Tom Rust (R-86) and Sen. Janet Howell (D-32) carry legislation that would increase civil and criminal penalties for repeat violators of area zoning ordinances. Fairfax County submitted similar legislation regarding criminal penalties, although it requested jail time for repeat offenders of criminal violations. The town combined its criminal penalty legislation with the county to make the review process easier, Richard Kaufman, town attorney said.

Through the General Assembly review process, legislators separated the proposed criminal and civil penalty increase bills. The civil penalties — proposed only by the town — moved forward through the House of Delegates and Senate, but the assembly requested further review of the criminal penalties. Legislators raised questions about the proposed jail time and who would be held accountable if a tenant was violating the ordinance in a residence that was owned by an absent landlord, among other things, Kaufman said.

On Tuesday, Feb. 21, the Senate approved the civil penalty legislation 40 to 0. The next step is for Gov. Tim Kaine (D) to sign the bill into law, allowing it to take effect July 1, 2006.

"This is only enabling legislation," said Kaufman. "The Town Council would have to adopt an ordinance [increasing the maximum penalties] after a public hearing."

Kaufman anticipates the council would adopt the proposed ordinance because it was the body requesting the increase in penalties.

The recently passed legislation increases the maximum fine a person could be given for repeat violations of any zoning ordinance requirement. The council's main purpose of the legislation was to further deter people from violating the town's overcrowding ordinance that forbids multiple un-related people from living in one home, Kaufman said.

The proposed monetary increase for a first offense would change from the current $100 fee, to a maximum fine up to $200. If the situation is not remedied, or if the person repeats the same violation, the proposed increase for the second and subsequent violations is a maximum fine up to $500. The existing maximum fine is $250, Kaufman said.

"This will not have any effect on the normal, law-abiding citizen who might by accident violate the civil penalty," he said. "But, it will have an effect on the determined, intentional law-breaker who pays the penalties and continues the violations."