Ivor man suing Isle of Wight over property rights

Published 10:31 am Friday, January 10, 2014

IVOR—An Ivor man concerned about his property rights is bringing suit against Isle of Wight County, and he’s not alone. Joseph Ferguson Jr. has enlisted legal help to defend his right to allow friends to camp on his property.

In response to emailed questions, Ferguson replied, “I am not personally speaking to the media at this time,” and he directed all inquires to Nisha Whitehead of The Rutherford Institute, a non-profit organization concerned with Americans’ personal freedoms.

That organization, in turn, has enlisted the help of Fred Taylor, an attorney with Stallings, Bush and Randall.

Taylor informed The Tidewater News on Thursday that he’s filed the suit “regarding a county zoning ordinance that I believe to be misinterpreted. In a nutshell, my client (Joseph Ferguson) allowed a friend of his to stay overnight in a camper (so that he could hunt) on his property/farm. Unfortunately, Isle of Wight County officials deemed this use of the camper would constitute an unauthorized ‘campground’ in violation of local zoning ordinances – a violation that carries the potential of criminal prosecution, to include 30 days in jail and/or up to a $1,000 fine.”

Taylor continued, “…what I have filed is a declaratory judgment action, requesting of the Court to determine that the infrequent use of the property by an RV does not constitute a ‘campground,’ and that any application of the county’s code in this regard restricting my client’s use of his property is arbitrary and an unreasonable restriction to my client’s property rights.”

More specifically, Ferguson gave permission in the summer of 2011 for a friend to stay in a camper on his 86 acres, which is located on the 12000 block of Dews Plantation Road. This was used periodically for hunting. Pre-existing hookups for electricity, water and sewer enabled the friend to stay out of the home and not disrupt the family.

On Oct. 6, Ferguson was informed in a letter from the county’s codes enforcement officer that in response to an anonymous complaint, Ferguson was in violation of ordinances because the trailer didn’t have a current inspection, registration and vehicle stickers, and that RVs shouldn’t be used as living quarters.

The issue went back and forth with the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, but not to Ferguson’s satisfaction.

Speaking for the county on the issue is Don Robertson, county spokesman.

“We are aware of this matter, but to date, we have not been served,” Robertson said. “On the ‘assumption’ that we will be served at some point, this would be a litigation matter and we would not have any comment on it.”

The issue of personal property rights is not a new one to John Whitehead, president and founder of The Rutherford Institute.

“We’re getting cases like this across the country,” he said. “Mr. Ferguson approached us about a month and half-ago. We work through pro bono lawyers. Fred [Taylor] is an affiliate and we pay all his expenses.”