Town’s legal tangle leads to some friction
by Tom Chillemi
Two Urbanna council members, the mayor and town administrator voiced concern over comments made by some members of the Urbanna Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) at the BZA’s August 3 meeting.
Councilman Lee Chewning started the discussion during council’s August 7 work session by saying he was “speechless” when told of the comments made by some BZA members.
On Aug. 3, the Urbanna BZA upheld a decision by town zoning administrator Lewis Filling that stopped Potomac Timber from rebuilding its marina at Urbanna Yachting Center. (See related article: BZA votes 3-1 to block marina repairs)
Potomac Timber also plans to build 14 condominiums on the same 1.5-acre parcel on Urbanna Creek. The condo project is also on hold, mired in a court appeal by the developer who filed a $4 million lawsuit after council withdrew a special use permit (SUP) for the condos.
During Friday’s work session, Chewning said he was angered by a comment from a BZA member indicating council needed some different members.
“That’s just about as low as low gets,” said Chewning, who did not attend the BZA meeting.
“We’ve got enough problems in this town and for people who are participating in a BZA meeting to sit there and basically point fingers at other people and say, ‘It’s too bad there is not another election right now so we can get rid of some of these people’ was just absolutely inexcusable. That’s almost like somebody from your family kicking you in the teeth,” Chewning continued.
“I know where it comes from. They (BZA) didn’t want to do something, so they basically passed the buck over to us, without even knowing what we’re trying to do,” Chewning added.
The Urbanna BZA is an arm of the Middlesex Circuit Court and members are appointed by a judge. Its decisions can be appealed to the circuit court.
Council member Janet Smith commented, “You have unqualified people [on the BZA] making decisions about things they don’t know how to make decisions about. They are giving opinions rather than operating within guidelines that they have to operate in.” Smith was not specific in her remarks.
Chewning agreed, “It really makes me mad . . . we all need to work together, not spread this divisive stuff.”
Urbanna Mayor Beatrice Taylor said the BZA members were “criticizing people for something that they don’t really know about. They didn’t have all the information, that’s the thing that gets me.”
Smith said the BZA did not stick to the main issues. “They didn’t have the authority to discuss what they discussed. None!”
Taylor added, “Even with that, they should have more respect.”
Chewning said, “That’s exactly what it’s all about, respect. It’s a distinct lack of respect.”
Smith added, “It was outside the scope of their responsibility, what they discussed. And that’s the violation. They said they didn’t have any business discussing it, and yet went ahead and did it. All they were to rule on was what was in front of them.”
Taylor noted some BZA members “did not talk very nicely” to Filling.
Filling suggested to council they stop discussing the comments. “What they (BZA) said about me was immaterial,” he said. “Certainly, the way they handled it was not very professional.”
The BZA voted 3-1 in favor of Filling’s denial to grant Potomac Timber a permit to rebuild the marina at Urbanna Yachting Center. “In the end, I got what I wanted, and I would do the same thing again,” said Filling.
In reference to his letter of denial to Potomac Timber, Filling noted that due “to the fact we are in litigation, my correspondence was approved by the town attorneys.”
Filling has been involved in Urbanna government for 20 years as councilman, mayor and town administrator. He said disagreements come with a public service job. “Whether I liked it (what was said) or not, I’ve moved on from that. You have to get over that. You’re not going to please everyone.”
BZA chairman J.D. Magness and members Martha Lowe and Bill Hight declined to comment about remarks made at the BZA and council meetings.
At the August 3 meeting, BZA chairman J.D. Magness indicated that Filling’s letter denying Potomac Timber permission to upgrade its marina had some weak points and said Filling’s “arithmetic is bad.”
Lowe said she was “disappointed as a taxpayer and a BZA member” that a settlement had not been reached between the town and Potomac Timber. “The town needs to figure this out.”
Lowe added, ”We are not on council. I’m very angry. I am livid that this has not been settled.”
Hight agreed, “I don’t see it from a business standpoint as being that hard [to settle].”
Magness noted the developer and council had tried to reach a settlement for more than 60 days while the BZA tabled the appeal. “They want to throw it back on us. We don’t have the ability to cure the site plan,” he said.
Hight contended there were “holes” in Filling’s letter denying the marina project.
Magness agreed, but said going through the letter point by point wouldn’t cure the “double use” of the property as far as having two site plans, one for condos and another for marina improvements.
“I am disappointed,” said Magness. “I worked with Lewis Filling a long time and have been down through the checklist that he gives people to go through when turning in applications. I wish that had been done on this one. I don’t know that it should have ever gotten to this point.”
Hight asked how Potomac Timber would get a permit to improve the marina property if the BZA “kicked it back to square one.”
Lowe responded, “First of all, we hope they would get smarter this go round, on council, and apply a little more logic than they have in previous sessions.”
Lowe said an election could take place before the marina issue comes back to council, indicating some members might be replaced.
Magness, Lowe and Lewis Smith voted to uphold Filling’s letter of denying the marina project. Hight voted against the motion.