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Posted April 21, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

House project stalled by zoning rules worries neighbors

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL -- An unfinished house sits weathered and damaged years after Warren County officials deemed it too close to the road. But almost a year after the Board of Supervisors took action to help the homeowner, the house on Highridge Road in the Lake Front Royal subdivision remains incomplete and, to one neighborhood couple, creates an eyesore.

Long-expired building and land-disturbance permits attached to a board leaning against a tree on the property appear faded. A piece of motorized construction equipment, unused in years, remains parked in the front yard. Several windows of the structure are broken.

Bryan and Jan McCarty, of 465 Highridge Road, have lived in the neighborhood for more than a decade. They said this week they have tried to find out what is going to happen to the property, but to no avail. The couple said they feel "left in the dark" about the situation.

The property is owned by Timothy and Barbara Pearson, and it became the focus of a civil case in Warren County Circuit Court that began in 2009.

Even though a judge issued an order in March 2011, the McCartys say little has happened on the property in the past year, though some people came to the house recently and appeared to survey the land. The McCartys recalled that the people had to move the construction equipment to look at part of the property. A small tree had grown up through the piece of equipment because it had sat idle for so long.

Jan McCarty said the county and homeowners association can't help them, "so we're kind of on our own."

"We moved here hoping you could have a better life, not have to live next to that," she said. The idea is to put our house on the market and I don't see how we could."

The McCartys recalled that construction on the house appeared to move along from November of 2007 to January 2008, but then stopped.

Bryan McCarty said Tim Pearson seemed very conscientious. "He didn't cut any more trees down that he had to. So we thought highly of him."

County Attorney Blair D. Mitchell said Thursday the building was deemed out of compliance with the zoning regulations. The front porch of the house came five feet too close to the road, Mitchell said, referring to the court case files. The Pearsons sought a variance of the setback requirement, but the Board of Zoning Appeals denied the request.

The owners then appealed to the circuit court in 2009.

As Mitchell explained, the Pearsons had three options when the county found the house in violation. They could have sought the variance, taken the more extreme option of demolishing the porch, or lifting and moving the house back far enough on the property to come into compliance with the zoning requirement.

The Pearsons pursued the third option: seeking an ordinance to shift the right-of-way and bring the building and property into compliance, Mitchell said.

Last June, the Board of Supervisors approved a request by Alan and Kimberly Freeman, who own property across the street, to shift the right-of-way five feet to the east, allowing the road to come closer to their property, Mitchell said. Doing so also shifts the right of way five feet further away from the building and porch. Mitchell said the building now appears in compliance with the regulation in question.

Whether the Pearsons plan to resume construction of the house remains uncertain. The Pearsons did not return a call for comment Thursday afternoon.

The McCartys remain worried the building would continue to attract vandals or create a dangerous, liability situation.

Bryan McCarty said he questioned how the situation arose in the first place. "To get this far on a house and find out it's five feet too close to the road, really?"

The McCartys indicated they knew someone took action last year and they pointed to new surveying flags placed on the Pearson property as well as on the land directly across the road. But the couple recalled that this happened only after they went to the Planning and Zoning Department and complained about the situation.

"I don't know what became of it," Bryan McCarty said. "They came out and that was a year ago."

The McCartys said they contacted a representative of the homeowners association and Jan McCarty recalled he said it was none of their concern.

"I said, 'but it's in the community,'" she said.

The halting of the project midstream didn't appear connected to collapse of the housing market that happened around the same time, Bryan McCarty said, adding he suspected the construction stopped when the county found the building violated the zoning ordinance.

He recalled a Planning and Zoning Department official saying that "these houses are all over the county."

"But most of them," McCarty said,"are probably because of the economy."

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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