Supreme Court of Virginia in Richmond, Va. Parker Michels-Boyce for The Virginia Mercury
The Supreme Court of Virginia turned down a request by Wegmans to reconsider a February decision that found neighbors had a right to challenge local approvals of the grocery giant’s plans to build a massive distribution center in Hanover County.
The denial, issued May 11, was terse and offered no explanation of the reasoning of the judges, whose earlier decision in Morgan v. Board of Supervisors of Hanover County was unanimously in favor of the neighbors.
“We are gratified that once again the Court has unanimously declared that Wegmans is wrong,” Brian Buniva, the attorney for Roderick Morgan and four other Hanover residents, said in a text message.
What practical implications the ruling will have for the Hanover project are unclear. The distribution center is nearly complete and expected to begin operations this summer, even as the Supreme Court of Virginia decision sends the case back to a lower court for further review.
“There are no approvals from the County contingent upon resolution of this case at the Circuit Court,” said Hanover spokeswoman Kristin Smith Dunlop in an email. “As there are no court orders directing the County to withhold permits, inspections, or approvals — such as the issuance of a certificate of occupancy for this facility — the County will continue to process these requests as they would for any applicant or property owner.”
Wegmans did not respond to a request for comment.
Chris French, a Hanover resident who has been involved with a separate lawsuit over the project, said Thursday’s decision “again affirmed citizens should have reasonable access to courts when challenging a zoning case.”
“Local governments throughout Virginia were overstepping when they sought to dismiss cases solely on legal standing when the required criteria was obviously met,” he said in a statement.
The Wegmans distribution center in Hanover has been beset by legal challenges since the local Board of Supervisors approved it in May 2020. Expected to create 700 jobs, the project garnered tax credits and $2.35 million in state incentives under former Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration.
However, many neighbors, including the Brown Grove community founded by freedpeople after the Civil War, have staunchly opposed the development on the grounds that it will destroy wetlands and cause major traffic and noise and light pollution.
The Morgan case ended up at the state Supreme Court after Hanover Circuit Court found five residents whose property lay within 1,000 feet of the new facility had no standing to challenge the county’s approval of the project because they hadn’t demonstrated they would suffer “particularized harm” from it. The neighbors, who had argued the board violated multiple local ordinances and state laws in its approval, appealed that decision.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the property owners this February and sent the case back to Hanover Circuit.
“We have no difficulty concluding that the allegations of particularized harm made by the homeowners are fairly traceable to the Board’s 2020 decision,” wrote Justice D. Arthur Kelsey.
Wegmans’ petition for the court to reconsider that ruling was supported by 21 major real estate, housing, local government and business groups, who in an amicus brief had contended the court’s February ruling “will have disastrous consequences for all types of development in Virginia.”
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