OWNERS OF PARCELS IN SUBDIVISION ADJACENT TO PRESERVE FILE AGAINST COUNTY, SUPERVISORS
DEC 17, 2014
Lot owners’ efforts to make their land ripe for development recently collided with Stafford Board of Supervisors’ efforts to discourage development near protected land.
Now the issue has ended up in court.
Several lot owners in the now-defunct Crow’s Nest Harbour subdivision are suing Stafford and its Board of Supervisors.
The lot owners who are plaintiffs own about 260 parcels in the 346-lot subdivision. The subdivision, which was approved in 1973, now sits adjacent to the Crows Nest Natural Area Preserve.
Supervisor Paul Milde has said that it is the board’s goal to conserve the land adjacent to the preserve. The land is designated as park land in the county’s Comprehensive Plan.
Supervisors declined to extend public utilities to the lots in early September and canceled a scheduled public hearing later that month. The public hearing had to do with the lot owners’ request to remove language in the subdivision plats that require their lots be served by public utilities. The subdivision is now more than two miles east of the county’s public utilities service area.
In the lawsuit, the landowners are asking, among other things, that the court declare the board’s cancellation of the public hearing and refusal to change the plat’s language arbitrary and capricious, and also to determine that supervisors have a legal duty to hold a public hearing.
Clark Leming, the attorney representing the lot owners, argued that supervisors have deprived the lots from being served by both private and public utilities.
Part of Leming’s argument depends on the efforts of one of the landowners to have his property served by private utilities. That lot owner, who is suing the county along with the other lot owners, approached the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals for permission to put wells and septic systems on his land, but that request was denied because the plats require public water and sewer.
The BZA’s decision was upheld by a Stafford County Circuit Court judge, who referenced the public water and sewer requirement in the subdivision plats.
By canceling the public hearing, Leming said, supervisors violated state law that requires Stafford to hold a meeting where changing the language in the plats could be voted on. He also argued that attempting to change the language in the plats to pave the way for private utilities was the last available resort to the lot owners since other efforts to obtain private utilities weren’t successful.
The plaintiffs have thus been denied the beneficial use of their lots, Leming said.
Stafford’s legal representation countered by saying that the lot owners’ application to erase the language in the subdivision plats wasn’t complete, and couldn’t have even been approved if a public hearing was held. Supervisors also didn’t refuse to hold another public hearing, the county’s representation said, but simply didn’t respond to a letter sent to the county attorney requesting that another hearing be held.
Supervisors were justified in canceling the public hearing given the fact that the same lot owners are pursuing another lawsuit claiming a right to public utilities because of the language in the subdivision plats, the county’s lawyer said.
In addition, the landowners’ haven’t exhausted all possible avenues and haven’t been deprived of their property for several reasons, the county’s lawyers said. The lot owners could resubdivide their land or get all the lot owners’ approval to change the subdivision plats, which would still require approval by the county.
Original plans for the development called for a 4,500-acre community that included golf courses, marinas, an airport, a convention center and schools. The development included multiple zoning districts allowing single-family homes, townhouses and the other amenities.
But after a developer filed for bankruptcy in 1975, the county downzoned the property to A–2, rural residential, and dropped plans for public water and sewer service there.
The county has until next year to deal with another legal issue stemming from plans for that previous development.
The county is required to make infrastructure improvements to the subdivision by March 2015 to follow a 1995 court order.
At the time, that order settled what should be done with more than $1 million in bonds that were issued by Safeco Insurance Co. to ensure completion of water, sewer and roads for the development. The funds ended up being placed in an escrow account now held by the county. The balance of that account is now more than $2 million with the interest it has accumulated.
If the county doesn’t complete the infrastructure improvements by March 2015, the board must contract to complete as much of the work as possible within 12 months using those funds.