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Defining “Valid Government Approval”

April 8, 2011

In order to establish a common law vested right, a party must have made substantial expenditures in good faith reliance on a valid government approval and show that it would be harmed by a change in requirements.  What constitutes a “valid government approval” is an evolving area of the common law and can create some uncertainty for both local governments and developers/businesses.

Although it didn’t reach the CLVR issue raised by petitioner in S.T. Wooten Corporation v. Board of Adjustment of the Town of Zebulon, COA10-515, the NCCOA did contribute to a better understanding of the threshold for establishing a valid government approval.  Such approvals are easy to identify when they come in permit form, but when can a property owner (or a person/entity with a right to use a certain property) rely on communications with a zoning administrator?  The Court in Wooten provides an excellent discussion of criteria (e.g. final decision, binding force or effect, appealable) that I believe will be instructive for courts considering the valid government approval element of CLVR in the future.

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