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Judge dismisses landowner's challenge to county zoning

By Joe Beck

A lawsuit described by a federal magistrate judge as a "five-year struggle by Warren County to effect a clean up" of a landowner's property has ended in the county's favor.

U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski scrapped the lawsuit by Julia Souter against the county, declaring in a written opinion that her objections to an earlier ruling, "do not provide any grounds" for allowing the case to continue.

Urbanski's ruling upheld an earlier recommendation by U.S. Magistrate Judge James G. Welsh that the case be scrapped.

Urbanski wrote that much of a 16-page brief filed by Souter, who represented herself in the case, was made up of "diatribes against perceived slights from various officials -- including Judge Welsh himself -- or simply restates arguments made time and time again in various pleadings and hearings in the long saga regarding her property and the county's effort to ensure it be cleaned of refuse."

Souter, 51, of 471 Apple Jack Circle, Linden, has gone to jail twice for several months at a time in her courtroom battles against county zoning standards that began in 2008 when the county obtained a court order against her.

Assistant County Attorney Dan Whitten said Wednesday he was pleased by the outcome of the case, although he was uncertain about the current condition of Souter's yard.

If it remains cluttered with debris, inoperable vehicles, refrigerators and other appliances, the county is ready to take further action, Whitten said.

"In the next few months, we'll go out there and see whether she's cleaned up the property," Whitten said.

If the property remains in unsatisfactory condition, the county will hire a subcontractor to clean up the property, store items seized and auction them off, Whitten said.

Whitten said he hoped Urbanski's opinion will end Souter's legal challenges to the county zoning ordinance.

"It's a lot of work on her end, and she's not getting anywhere with them," Whitten said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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