Planners table controversial Darden Point Road vote

Published 10:41 am Saturday, June 19, 2010

COURTLAND—When Bill and Pat Johnson moved to the Darden Mill Estates subdivision in 2008 to enjoy the peace of the country, they were told a maximum of six additional houses could be built on their street.

So when the Johnsons found out a developer wanted to extend Darden Point Road and build about 15 homes on the property behind their home, they vowed to fight.

“It’s going to destroy that neighborhood,” Bill Johnson said.

The issue recently came before Southampton County Planning Commission, and after hearing from neighbors, including the Johnsons, the vote was tabled.

However, County Attorney Richard Railey Jr. said the commission really has no choice but to approve a preliminary subdivision plat because of a court order.

“At this point, as much as I hate to say it, and as hard as I want to fight it…the rule of law has to prevail,” Railey said. “We have no choice.”

The proposed extension of the road has been a source of contention for neighbors for years.

The county denied a request by development company Cheverly Ltd. to extend the road so more homes could be built. The plan would turn the road, which is a cul-de-sac, into a “loop street,” exempting it from county restrictions on the length of cul-de-sacs.

According to Virginia Department of Transportation, a loop street is a street whose two outlets are to the same street, while a cul-de-sac is a street with only one outlet and an appropriate turnaround for a safe and convenient reverse traffic movement.

Cheverly Ltd. appealed the county’s decision to Southampton County Circuit Court, where Judge Rodham T. Delk Jr. ordered the county to approve the preliminary plat because a loop street wouldn’t violate county code.

The approval of subdivision plats is a ministerial function, meaning that as long as the plat meets all of the published requirements it must be approved—unlike zoning decisions, where planners and supervisors can use discretion when making decisions.

The court’s ruling, however, isn’t sitting well with residents who have been fighting the road extension for years.

Bill Johnson, along with other neighbors, told the planning commission they plan to do everything they can to stop the plan. Johnson even said lawsuits could be coming.

The Johnsons are working on a petition and also said the development could endanger wildlife and wetlands. They also said the subdivision’s water system and roads couldn’t handle the demands of that many new homes.

Residents at the Planning Commission meeting also voiced disappointment because they weren’t notified that the case was in court.

“I felt like our civil rights were violated,” Bill Johnson said.

Planning Commission Chairman Alan Edwards, who made the motion to postpone the vote until the commission’s next meeting, said he wasn’t aware of the court proceedings either.

“I don’t know what the problem was with not telling people about it,” he said.

After preliminary plat approval, the developer must submit detailed plans for final approval.