Prince William Board of County Supervisors unanimously decided Tuesday that it wants a Circuit Court judge to settle a dispute among the owner of a mobile home park, the county’s zoning appeals board and county officials.
Holly Acres Mobile Home Park in Woodbridge was one of the hardest hit communities after Tropical Storm Lee pummeled Northern Virginia in September. Residents were evacuated, and county emergency crews had to rescue several people who were trapped in rising waters.
In the wake of the storm, county officials decided that anything sitting in a federally defined floodway near Marumsco Creek had to be demolished and that nothing could be rebuilt there.
The Board of Zoning Appeals, a county panel appointed by a local Circuit Court, ruled that county officials had erred and said that mobile homes could be rebuilt. But in the latest twist, county officials told the Board of County Supervisors that failure to appeal BZA’s decision could result in the county losing its place in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood insurance program.
The Board of County Supervisors voted unanimously to appeal to the Circuit Court and to ask the court to issue an injunction against building in the mobile home park. At the same time, it asked county officials to try to work with Holly Acres before the issue becomes a courtroom battle. Holly Acres’ attorneys plan to petition the court to join the case, because the BZA ruling echoes the mobile home park’s position.
The legal dispute began last month, when Holly Acres’ owner petitioned the BZA to rule on the county’s decision that prevents him from rebuilding.
The BZA unanimously ruled late last month that county officials had originally erred: Zoning appeals board members said that state law overrode the county’s rules regarding the rights of a property owner to rebuild after a flood and that the county used the wrong guidelines to make the decision that he couldn’t build.
But the concerns brought to supervisors Tuesday went well beyond a zoning decision.
Several issues are at play. County officials described the consequences of being potentially kicked out of the FEMA flood insurance program. Homeowners with flood insurance would be hit with a $50 charge and face an increase of 10 percent in premiums, and residents would have difficulty obtaining a mortgage without flood insurance, officials said.
But, perhaps most severely, county officials said they were warned by the state that their ability to apply for FEMA disaster relief could be imperiled if they are kicked out of the program. Prince William is applying for about $200,000 at minimum in relief from the federal government for Tropical Storm Lee, and county officials said they worry that the county would not be able to apply for funds when a disaster was declared in the future.
“The costs of not appealing this are way too large,” Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) said before the vote.
Holly Acres owner Henry Ridge said he was “thrilled” that a court would decide the issue. He said county officials had misled the Board of County Supervisors on federal and state flood regulations, among other issues. Ridge said he would like to negotiate with officials but said there has been little progress.
Ridge said county officials had spent two weeks since the BZA decision trying “to protect the status quo” rather than delivering an impartial report to the Board of County Supervisors.
Holly Acres’ attorney Mark Moorstein said that before the vote, he was incredulous about the county’s position. If Old Town Alexandria flooded, he said, the city would probably not try to clear out residents without compensation.
“The law is so clear on this thing,” said Moorstein, who has argued that if the county wants to take the land for safety reasons that it needs to condemn it and compensate Ridge at fair market value. “If you take somebody’s property, you pay for it.”
He said the case stands more than a good chance in court “unless you’ve got a judge . . . out of the former Soviet Union.”
A Circuit Court would need to set a court schedule after agreeing to hear the case, county officials said.