Developers looking to build on lots next to the Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve are hoping the Stafford County Board of Supervisors will erase language they say restricts their options on the land.
The board meets on Tuesday, and that meeting could determine whether the issue winds up in court.
Attorney Clark Leming represents lot owners in Crow’s Nest Harbour, which is adjacent to the 2,872-acre state natural area preserve.
Plats recorded in the 1970s require the subdivision to be served by public water and sewer. But the subdivision, which was approved in 1973, is now more than 2 miles east of the current public utilities service area.
The Board of Supervisors doesn’t want the lines extended to the subdivision and voted down the idea on Sept. 2, even though the lot owners would have covered the approximately $1 million cost of the extension.
“It’s designated as parkland in our Comprehensive Plan and it’s outside the urban services [public utility service] area,” Supervisor Paul Milde, whose district includes Crow’s Nest Harbour, said of why supervisors denied the extension. “It’s not in a designated growth area and it never will be. We still have a lot of work to do to reach our ultimate goal of putting the property under conservation.”
Another Crow’s Nest Harbour lot owner had previously 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.
Not long before the supervisors voted down the extension of public utilities, a Stafford County Circuit Court judge upheld the BZA decision denying private utilities to that lot owner’s land. The judge referenced the plats that require public water and sewer.
With the supervisors’ decision, the stage is nearly set for Leming to argue to a judge that the county is tying the hands of some of the owners and potential developers. Leming says the supervisors’ decision means that Crow’s Nest Harbour lot owners have been denied both private and public utilities.
Supervisors’ went into a closed session to seek legal counsel on the issue before they unanimously voted to affirm the Planning Commission’s decision to deny the extension of public utilities.
Chairman Jack Cavalier didn’t want to comment on the issue because of its legal ramifications.
“There needs to be a solution because right now the owners of those lots can’t do anything with them. And they are residential lots that permit the building of a single-family detached home, but they can’t even get a permit because of those issues involving water and sewer or well and septic,” Leming said.
He added that the Sept. 2 decision by supervisors denying the extension of utilities wasn’t a surprise.
“We don’t really think that the county would entertain extending water and sewer to Crow’s Nest Harbour, something that far away,” he said. “But those plats require those lots to be served by public water and sewer, so that’s the inherent contradiction and issue.”
Before possibly heading to court, Leming said that the lot owners will first try to get supervisors’ approval on Tuesday to erase the language in the subdivision plats requiring the lots to be served by public water and sewer.
“If the board decides not to vacate the plats, then the denial of the water and sewer would be a problem legally,” Leming said.
The owners of three companies represented by Leming own a combined 260 parcels in the 346-lot subdivision that is adjacent to the preserve.
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.
Leming said that the $1 million cost of the extension would be about the amount that the county must spend to make the infrastructure improvements by March 2015.
A transfer of development rights pilot program that was envisioned as a solution to preserving Crow’s Nest Harbour is still in the works. That program would, in theory, allow development to transfer from less developed areas to areas better suited for growth.
In recent talks with those who own a majority of Crow’s Nest Harbour lots, Milde said, the lot owners have expressed interest in moving their development rights to other land they own in the county or other land near or in the public utility service area.