Disturbing Their Peace

My husband and I bought a charming older home in Nokesville just over two years ago. We love our home and Nokesville.

Our home is in a quiet, reasonably private, 40-year-old development of about 30 homes on one-acre lots. We wave to our neighbors, talk over the fence and laugh at the donkeys braying next door. We consider ourselves fortunate that our houses are far enough apart that we can't hear our neighbors. We have a lovely little stream through our neighborhood that eventually runs into the Accokeek watershed.

Unfortunately, it seems that Prince William County will go to any lengths to make certain that hometown developers are allowed to ruin our peaceful little neighborhood.

The home next to us was originally built on a two-acre lot. But because one-acre lots in the neighborhood were grandfathered, the original owner was able to sell the two-acre lot as two one-acre lots -- one with a home and the other without -- even though housing is zoned agricultural. The empty lot was then sold to a man whose real estate agent, after doing some research, found that the county classified the lot as non-buildable. This buyer sold the non-buildable property as soon as he could.

The empty, non-buildable lot was quickly snatched up by a developer. The developer bought the lot on a Tuesday and by Thursday he was clearing the land, without any permits.

Even without permits, the developer put in three, four-foot culverts that we figured would flood out our front yard and our next door neighbor's. I called the county to ask why this developer was allowed to put in three culverts when those of us downstream had only one. The county said the three culverts would not let any more water through than what our one culvert would. Then it rained. We were correct.

Even though the three culverts were partially obstructed by debris, the flooding reached the bed of our neighbor's truck, which was parked in their driveway, flooded their yard and ours and washed away soil along the stream bank. We took pictures of the flooding and the damage to send to the county. My neighbor wrote the county and enclosed the pictures. We've heard nothing back from the county.

The homes on our street have wells and septic systems.

Somehow, even after the health department assured us this developer would not get a permit for a septic system, the developer managed to obtain a permit for an "experimental" alternative septic system. The holding tank for this system sits approximately four feet from our neighbor's property line and within a foot of drainage that runs into our stream. The "mound" for this experimental system sits above the foundation of the new house and has what are called "stink tubes" sticking out of the top of it.

Stink tubes are aptly named. They stink.

Because this piece of property is only 84 feet wide, all the neighbors are going to be subjected to the stench released from these tubes. The health department employee who signed off on this system stressed to us that she didn't want to approve this system and that, in her professional opinion, it would break down within two years (three years at most).

Unfortunately, her hands were tied and she was unable to stop the approval of this experimental system. (Developers in North Carolina sued the state to allow them to put in experimental systems. Because the North Carolina builders won the suit against the state, Virginia has adopted the same laws regarding these systems as North Carolina.)

Of all the bureaucrats my neighbor and I have spoken to, the health department was the most helpful. In mid-September, I wrote to the health commissioner asking for him to reconsider this experimental system; we've heard nothing.

After our complaints to the county regarding the lack of permits, a stop-work order was posted on the lot. Unfortunately, the footers had already been poured. (We found out later that the health department, not the county, had issued the stop-work orders.) My neighbor and I were allowed to state our case to the county.

Of the many county employees we spoke with, only one was the least bit effective. Zoning wouldn't help us; building development wouldn't help us; our county supervisor's assistant said that she was satisfied and that the building could continue. I've been unable to speak directly to our county supervisor.

The homes in our neighborhood are quaint, stick-built places that fit the surroundings. There are small brick houses, houses with siding and a couple of wooden houses. Imagine our horror when the builder had a double-wide delivered. We can only wonder just who got paid for signing off on that and if our neighborhood has now been rezoned to allow trailers. The builder told the county the home was a "pre-constructed modular home."

We find that to be a misnomer; no matter how you look at this building, it's a double-wide.

After a nine-month stop-work order, the building began again over Labor Day weekend. Again, permits were not posted. The house is being built on land that had been considered non-buildable by the county on a foundation that was set on top of footers that were poured without a permit or, to our knowledge, even an inspection.

Even though construction is not allowed to begin before 9 a.m. on weekends and holidays, he "forgets" and begins running his equipment at 7 a.m. His drivers careen down our quiet street at all hours; they park on both sides of our street and don't allow enough room for a firetruck or ambulance to get through in an emergency.

Obviously, if you're a good ol' boy developer, you can get away with anything in Prince William County.

Barbara Jean McAtlin