BZA overturns zoning administrator determination allowing American Legion 270 to continue operations in McLean

The Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) overturned a determination by the zoning administrator’s office that stated American Legion 270 was allowing its post in McLean to be used as a banquet or reception hall and was in violation of zoning ordinances. 

The decision was made in a 4-1 vote on April 27 meaning that American Legion is allowed to continue operations at its property in the Dranesville District in McLean. 

The zoning administrator’s office issued a notice of violation to American Legion after an investigation concluded that the American Legion was renting out its property “multiple times a week” for private parties and similar events. According to the staff report released by the BZA, these events would start between 9 a.m. and noon and stretch until 1-3 a.m. the following day. 

The American Legion operates on a “special exception” that was granted to them in 1949 by the Board of Supervisors that allowed the post to use the property as a “clubs and grounds for games or sports, provided any such use is not primarily for gain.”

Michelle Rosati, a zoning attorney at Holland & Knight law firm who represented American Legion at the appeal, disagreed with the zoning administrator’s office determination that the Legion’s property was being used as a banquet hall or a reception hall -- and therefore primarily for gain. 

Rosati stated that the property owned by American Legion is used for other events than the rentals that occur on the property including the legion baseball league, boy scout meetings, regular discussion forums with coffee, and citrus sales.

The zoning administrators’ office argued that the special exception the American Legion was granted did not include the ability to rent the property for events. 

However, Rosati argued that the special exception did allow for just that. 

“We have a really old, really simple approval. It doesn’t have a limit on the events. It doesn’t have hours of operation. What it does have is a definition that says that the club cannot be used ‘primarily’ for gain,” said Rosati. “It’s not unlimited. It may be less limited than the county in 2022 would like it to be. That doesn’t mean it’s not valid.”

Multiple residents of the surrounding neighborhood where the post resides came to the appeal to voice complaints they have about the noise of the events at the post with many saying that loud music can be heard even while inside their homes. 

However, Jason Seewar, a resident of the McLean neighborhood where the Legion resides spoke to the BZA saying that his experiences with the post were similar to what was found in the staff report compiled by the zoning administrators. 

“I’m quite taken aback to be hearing about there being any events outside of parties occurring there on the weekends,” said Seewar. “I have a dog. I’ve walked by there every day for three years. There’s no cars there ever. There’s nobody there.”

He continued, “I don’t see anything happening at the post outside of these parties.”

This was not the first time that American Legion 270 found itself in front of the BZA. In 2018, the post filed two appeals for notice of violation for the same reason. In both previous cases, the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) ruled in favor of the post as well. 

BZA member Rebeccah Ballo made the motion to overturn the zoning administrator’s decision. “I do not find based on the evidence presented by the county that what is operating out there is either the principal use or even an additional principal use,” said Ballo.

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