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Lawsuit over yard clutter threatens owner with loss of property

By Joe Beck

FRONT ROYAL -- The years long legal battle between Warren County and resident Julia Souter churns on with Souter's neighbors teaming up with the county to threaten her with loss of her property over money they contend she owes them.

Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp has set a bench trial for Oct. 27 at which the county and the Apple Mountain Lake South Property Owner's Association will seek to force the sale of Souter's house and 3 acres of land at 471 Apple Jack Circle near Linden.

The impending trial is the latest phase in a five-year duel over yard clutter on Souter's property that county officials have deemed an eyesore and ordinance violation. Souter has gone to jail twice for failing to heed court orders to remove the debris, which has included appliances and inoperable vehicles.

Assistant county attorney Dan Whitten said the lawsuit filed by the neighborhood association and the county is based on a total of $37,000 to $40,000 Souter owes from unpaid neighborhood association dues and past county efforts to remove debris from her property.

The unpaid money has led to liens being placed on her property, Whitten said.

"The way it works is Judge Hupp will look to see if she can rent out the property for two years to cover the liens," Whitten said. "Most likely that will not be the case, and the property will go to be sold on the courthouse steps, and the liens will be paid off at that point."

The county and the neighborhood association are being represented by J. Daniel Pond III of Front Royal. Pond was out of his office Thursday and did not return a message seeking comment about the case.

Souter filed several motions responding to the lawsuit, one of them seeking a dismissal of the case and another asking Hupp to recuse himself. Hupp rejected all of her motions at a hearing on June 16.

Another motion called the sums of money listed in the lawsuit complaint "a general misleading demand" and declared, "I am entitled to an exact accounting before this case goes to trial."

Souter's motion to dismiss denounced the liens imposed by the county on her property as "a result of illegal actions by the zoning administrators" of Warren County.

Souter claimed the cleanups cited by the county in the lawsuit "were performed without proper authorization" and "the charges properly are the responsibility of the county of Warren as well as the liability therefore for my losses."

Whitten said there is still time for Souter to lift the threat to her future ownership of the property, but she must pay the money she owes.

"If she gets the money to pay off the liens, it will never be auctioned off on the courthouse steps," Whitten said.

He added that any new owner of the property may have to initiate eviction proceedings against Souter if she continues living on the property after an auction.

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

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