Fairfax County yesterday won a major victory in its effort to regulate growth when the Virginia Supreme Court upheld the county's efforts to control 7-Eleven and other convenience food stores through special zoning laws and use permits.
The court rebuffed arguments of Southland Corp., operators of the 7-Eleven chain, and ruled that the small food stores differ sufficiently from other businesses and therefore are subject to the county's special zoning laws.
Fairfax County Attorney David Stitt called the decision a "very significant" victory and said it rejects what he called "a frontal assault" on the county's authority to require special permits for certain potentially objectionable businesses. "It would have put an intolerable burden on the supervisors" had the county lost, Stitt said.
Southland had argued, and a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge agreed, that "there are no substantial differences" between a convenience food store, which needs a special county permit, and a conventional supermarket, which doesn't. Circuit Judge Lewis Hall Griffith ruled the county's laws were both unconstitutional and in violation of a Virginia statute requiring uniform application of zoning laws within zoning districts.
The state court disagreed yesterday and overturned Griffith's 1980 decision. It noted that Fairfax County had shown that the traffic patterns around convenience food stores were markedly different from those around other neighborhood businesses. One county study showed that a neighborhood shopping center produces 65 car trips per 1,000 square feet of store space, while a 7-Eleven produced 506 trips.
"There's also some places you might not want a 7-Eleven, like right next door to an elementary school," Stitt said. "The county board isn't trying to prohibit 7-Elevens by a long shot," he said. "They're just trying to find an appropriate place to put them."
Stitt declined to compare the decision to past land use cases, which the county has frequently lost before the high state court.