Developer threatens to continue litigation
by Tom Chillemi
Developer Ray Watson delivered a scathing attack on a recent letter from Urbanna Town Administrator Lewis Filling during Monday’s Urbanna Town Council meeting—and he threatened more litigation against the town.
“How high do you want your real estate taxes to go in this town?” Watson asked, indicating that litigation will cost taxpayers.
The town’s 2008-09 budget added $88,000 to fight a lawsuit filed by Potomac Timber LLC, which owns 1.47 acres at Urbanna Yachting Center on Urbanna Creek. Watson is a partner in Potomac Timber.
In September 2008, Potomac Timber filed suit against the Town of Urbanna in Middlesex Circuit Court asking the court to clear the way to build 14 proposed condos. The suit also asks the court to award $4.5 million in damages claiming “Potomac Timber’s Constitutional rights have been violated under color of law.”
Arguments have been made on the condo lawsuit before Judge William Shaw III, who is scheduled to retire April 30.
At Monday’s meeting, Watson claimed the town is now preventing Potomac Timber from building 104 docks at the proposed condo site. Potomac Timber has received state and federal permits to construct 98 new docks and repair 6 that exist, for a total of 104 docks.
“We’ve had an unfortunate incident with regard to the condominiums, but, it (the lawsuit) has nothing to do with me replacing these docks,” Watson told council.
However, Potomac Timber lacks a permit from the town to build the docks. The town claims jurisdiction to the center of Urbanna Creek.
In a March 4 letter, Middlesex County Building Official David Selph “revoked” permits to demolish the existing boathouse and construct new docks since Potomac Timber lacks the necessary town permit.
On Monday, Watson let loose a tirade during council’s meeting, claiming that an April 14 letter from Filling contained incorrect zoning interpretations.
On March 27, Potomac Timber applied for a town zoning permit to replace the docks. The firm already has the necessary permits from VMRC, the Middlesex Wetlands Board and the Army Corps of Engineers.
After receiving the April 14 letter, Watson said he called Filling for clarification asking why he needed a soil disturbance permit. “I’m replacing docks over the water . . . a permitted use ‘by right,’ ” said Watson.
Filling’s letter of April 14 concludes by saying, “Your application is for a property that is presently the subject matter of litigation. As such the Town of Urbanna will not consider any further applications on this site until the Circuit Court of Middlesex County has entered a final Order adjudicating all of the issues in this case.”
On Monday, Watson told council, “I busted out laughing when I read that. My attorney is John Easter of Williams Mullen. My attorney advised me today to tell you this evening that Mr. Filling’s statements are an out-and-out violation of Virginia State Law. How high do you want your real estate taxes to go in this town? You are going to pay for frivolous lawsuits.”
Watson said he is building 104 slips (98 new and repairing 6 existing) and needs 52 parking spaces, according to an April 22, 2008 letter from the town.
Filling’s latest letter, however, states that the town code requires “one parking space per 300 square feet” for commercial or business uses. “The marina slips as shown comprise 69,904 square feet requiring 233 parking spaces,” states Filling’s letter, “and your drawings reflect a total of 52 spaces, which I consider grossly inadequate.”
Watson handed council members the April 22, 2008 letter from Filling that said Potomac Timber needed only one parking space per two boat slips. “We have constructively relied on this,” said Watson.
Watson pointed out the one space per two slips agreement was negotiated after the court told the Town of Urbanna and Potomac Timber to try to work out a solution.
“I’m here for one reason,” Watson continued. “To go on record specifically and clearly. All Mr. Filling was requested to do is certify yes or no, do I meet the requirements of B-2 [zoning]? I clearly do to replace my docks.”
Filling’s letter also notes Potomac Timber needs approval of Urbanna’s Historic and Architectural Review Board to demolish the boathouse closest to the bridge.
Watson replied, “The boathouse is not in the historic district and neither is it a historic building. It’s not listed in your code book.”
Watson said that Filling asked him not to make applications until the circuit court judge makes his ruling. “He (Filling) thinks this is going to get decided by Judge Shaw’s ruling. That is not the case. That (lawsuit) is about the condos; that (court ruling) will be a preliminary decision by the judge and then we’re going off to the boxing ring. I predict we will still be fighting in 2011 because I don’t see any reasonableness here. All I see is more and more litigation. And, I’m going on with my life, but I’m not leaving. And the bad news for you people is I’m not (leaving), I guess.”
Watson told council he assumed the members were aware of Filling’s letter, because the council holds work sessions. “I suggest to you we are headed in the wrong direction.”
Following Watson’s remarks, Andy Bury, the attorney who represents the town council, commented, “Mr. Watson has been advised many times that Mr. Filling is the zoning administrator and Mr. Filling interprets the town code in a manner that he deems appropriate.
“Mr. Watson has been advised many times, as his attorney has been advised, that there are procedures that need to be followed, and that means he has an absolute right to appeal (zoning decisions) within 30 days to the BZA,” said Bury.
The town council does not have jurisdiction to consider Watson’s BZA appeal, noted Bury. BZA members are appointed by a circuit court judge and the BZA is an arm of the court.
On Tuesday, April 21, Watson appealed Filling’s decision to the Urbanna Board of Zoning Appeals.