Henrico County: a study of zoning applied

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute


This study was undertaken as a beginning of an analysis of "zoning in action." Henrico County, Virginia, has had a rural zoning ordinance in force for over a third of a century. During this period, the County was transformed from a rural locality to an urban-suburban one.

The study had as one of its objectives the tracing of rural zoning in response to population growth in Henrico County. The study sought to probe the types of requests sought, the manner in which they were sought, and whether or not they were granted. The consequences of zoning on real estate values were also probed.

The study has shown how the initial, rather broad Ordinance has evolved in 35 years into a complex, quite restrictive ordinance. In 1933, there were four use districts. Today there are 16. Building regulations have been strengthened by the "beefing up” of older regulations and the addition of many new ones. As new problem uses have appeared, they have been incorporated into the Ordinance. Population pressures and the advent of unforeseen situations were responsible for most changes.

Variance requests have been similar since the inception of the Ordinance. Sideyard and setback requests have predominated. As the Ordinance has become more restrictive, other requests have become more frequent. The vast majority of requests continue to be granted. Public interest in variance requests is for the most part dormant. The granting of variance requests affect assessed real estate values significantly only if the variance renders the property useful, where previously it was not.

Zoning requests, over time, have changed markedly, however. Prior to urbanization of the County, most zoning requests were from an agricultural designation. Today agricultural requests trail business and residential requests in number. Most importantly, the ratio between zoning changes recommended by the advisory board and granted by the Board of Supervisors has changed. As requests have increased in size and in value, and as opposition has become more prevalent, professionals have dominated the presentation of requests. Rezoning of a tract to a more intensive use usually results in a doubling of its assessed value.