By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Dozens of homeowners from a waterfront community in King George County, Virginia, are protesting a real estate investment company’s plan to change the nature of their planned community.
The waterfront neighborhood of Potomac Landing is small and exclusive, with spacious homes located near the Potomac River, not far from Fredericksburg. Recent home sales in the community range from $330,000 to $500,000.
Virgina Department of Transportation maintains Potomac Landing’s roads and streets, and King George County provides water and sewer utility services.
The Potomac Landing Overlook Property Owners’ Association enforces restrictive covenants (CC&Rs) and architectural standards for the community.
The POA also maintains common amenities, which include a private beach, a small fresh water lake, a boat launch, and Marina, as well as a tennis court.
Does new plan violate CC&Rs?
Current homeowners in Sections 1 through 3 of Potomac Landing purchased their waterfront homes on the banks of the Potomac River, subject to CC&Rs. Their original governing documents specified future development of 18 lots on 222 acres in Section 4.
Covenants and Restrictions for Potomac Landing prohibit owners from subdividing their lots.
The new development plan, as proposed by Virginia Real Estate Investment Holding (VREIH), would divide the 222 acre parcel into 87 lots of at least 2 acres each. Currently, the plan for section 4 of Potomac Landing calls for 18 lots at 10 acres apiece.
As of the date of this post, a sales website for the Potomac Landing Development Corporation advertises 8 vacant lots for available sale in Section 3.
The Free Lance Star reports that Section 4 was sold by Potomac Landing Development Corporation (PLDC) to VREIH in 2016.
Prior to the sale, PLDC’s owner reportedly made Section 4 subject to Covenants of Section 3.
After VREIH obtained the land, it sought approval from King George County to change the zoning of section 4, to allow 87 homes rather than 18 homes.
The Planning Commission approved the VREIH request, because it complies with the King George County’s development Ordinances.
It’s common for Planning Commissions to approve a land owner’s request for zoning changes, as long as the request adheres to current Ordinances and development requirements.
The matter now goes before King George County Board of Supervisors, who have delayed voting on the developer’s rezoning request until December 18.
County Supervisors insist that they cannot get involved in the homeowners’ dispute involving alleged violations of the CC&Rs. That, they say, is a “civil matter” that can be pursued by the POA or private property owners in court, if they so choose.
Developer vs. homeowner property rights
The controversy at Potomac Landing highlights a common source of property rights conflict between developers and homeowners.
Without review or approval, County government allows landowners to create legally binding restrictions on land use. However, at a future date, that same County government can enact development plans and Ordinances directly contradicting those CC&Rs.
County governments have an incentive to increase the number of buildable lots on undeveloped land, among them, the potential to increase the property tax base.
That’s most likely the basis for King George County’s Ordinances allowing additional homes to be built on smaller lots — even lots on the boggy lands adjacent to the Chesapeake Bay.
At the same time, Developers and investment companies often hold substantially greater rights under the terms of CC&Rs, including weighted voting rights for each undeveloped and unsold parcel.
That power imbalance allows a developer to amend CC&Rs and modify development plans to their benefit, regardless of any so-called promises made to home buyers in the past.
In this case PLDC changed the rules of the game to make its undeveloped land more attractive to investors such as VREIH. Unfortunately, homeowners who expected to reside in a small and exclusive rural community are sorely disappointed.
And if County Supervisors approve the VREIH plan, the investor and future developer will hold voting interests for 69 additional lots in Potomac Landing Association.
Homeowner concerns: storm water management and more
The land of section 4 sits uphill from Sections 1, 2, and 3. Homeowners say that storm water drainage from the undeveloped parcel of land is already substantial.
In heavy rain, storm water streams accumulate in back yards of several property owners. And, over time, those rushing waters have eroded the POA’s private beach area.
The HOA has documented the problem, and recently presented photos at a public hearing in October. (View photos here.)
Homeowners fear that, if the developer is allowed to build 87 homes instead of 18, it will destroy upstream wetland and forested areas.
Plus, they say, additional hard surfaces will result in more storm water runoff, increasing the volume of water flowing downhill. The water runs through existing properties in Potomac Landing, on its way to the river.
Related: Ravine erosion threatens property, homeowners file lawsuit
Other concerns of homeowners include increased road traffic, additional burdens on the public water and sewer utility, and owners of 69 additional homes sharing recreational areas that were not designed for a much larger community.
No wonder homeowners in Potomac Landings feel like victims of a “bait and switch.”
King George again defers action on controversial Potomac Landing plan
By CATHY DYSON THE FREE LANCE–STAR Nov 16, 2018
Waiting has become the watchword for those on both sides of the proposal to turn 18 lots at Potomac Landing subdivision in King George County into 87 lots for single-family homes.
The latest round of waiting happened Tuesday, when more than 100 people piled into the Board of Supervisors meeting room. More chairs were set up, but some people still stood along the side and back walls.
The Potomac Landing parties waited for more than two hours as county officials handled other matters.
Then, those gathered waited for the supervisors to make a decision—but the wait would not be over Tuesday night.
Supervisor Ruby Brabo moved to defer the matter until Dec. 18, and it was approved 4-1. Supervisor Jeff Bueche, whose district includes Potomac Landing, voted against the deferral because he wanted a vote Tuesday.
Potomac Landing proposal would turn 18 lots into 87 homes
By CATHY DYSON THE FREE LANCE–STAR Nov 9, 2018
A month before a subdivision proposal—a request to turn 18 lots into 87 single-family homes—came before the King George County Board of Supervisors, neighbors asked board members to deny the request, citing concerns that ranged from additional traffic to stormwater runoff.
“The development company is going to increase their profit, and that’s all they’re concerned about,” Richard McDonald told the supervisors. “They’re doing it at the cost to homeowners in the area.”
Supervisors thanked McDonald and seven other residents who commented in October and said they’d consider their concerns when it came time to make a decision.
The time has come—at least for a public hearing on the matter.
On Tuesday, supervisors will consider the request from Virginia Real Estate Holding to develop Section 4 of Potomac Landing, off State Route 218 near Fairview Beach. The investment company wants to build 87 homes on 2-acre lots, spread across 222 acres.
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