Judge allows case against board to move forward

Published 9:45 pm Wednesday, August 25, 2021

A lawsuit asking for a preliminary injunction against a zoning decision by the Cumberland County Board of Supervisors remains alive despite a motion by Cumberland County to have the case dismissed Tuesday, Aug. 24, in Cumberland County’s Circuit Court.

The case, filed by Darin and Phyllis Justus against the Cumberland County Board of Supervisors, makes the claim that the decision to rezone a 20-acre parcel of land owned by Harold Collins from general agricultural to large-scale industrial for the purpose of a meat processing plant was improperly approved.

The case against the supervisors presented by South Hill attorney John Janson makes the claim the public was not properly notified of the proceedings. It also claims conflict of interest on the part of members of the Board of Supervisors and that the county’s comprehensive plan was not valid at the time of the approval of the project.

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“This was spot zoning,” Janson told Judge Margaret Poles Spencer. “This was rushed through in order to basically stifle public input in the zoning and planning process.”

County Attorney Brian Butler stressed to the court that the decision by the supervisors was a legislative and political decision, arguing that many of the petitioner’s claims in the lawsuit had no relevance to the court.

“It is not up to the court to overturn the actions of a local legislative public body when it has been made according to the law,” Butler said.

Butler also stressed the community interest in the meat processing plant to not only the landowner but to farmers in Cumberland County and beyond.

“The farmers in this community, the people who depend upon agriculture for their livelihood, are suffering,” Butler told the court while saying Virginia was down to eight or nine locations that can process meat in the state. “This is crucial, not only for the livelihood of the farmers of the this community but for the benefit of the general public.”

Judge Margaret Poles Spencer ruled the case could continue due to claims of conflict of interest, the validity of the comprehensive plan and a disagreement concerning whether affected property owners were properly notified of the hearing by mail. She dismissed claims that public hearings were not properly held and legal advertisements concerning the hearings were not published properly in The Farmville Herald.

Spencer also quashed subpoenas by the petitioners seeking information from the Cumberland County Economic Development Authority and Cumberland County Building Inspector Leland Leeds. Spencer also limited the petitioner’s request for 10 years of records from the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission to only items from 2019 forward.