Bay Creek Property Owners Get Tax Scare

Northampton County legal notice threatens sale of Bay Creek private roads for back taxes.

Northampton County legal notice threatens sale of Bay Creek private roads for back taxes.

By GEORGE SOUTHERN
Cape Charles Wave

September 22, 2014

It took a few months, but an obscure legal notice published June 6 in the Eastern Shore Post finally attracted the attention of Bay Creek property owners when they heard that the private roads they drive on might be sold for back taxes.

The legal notice listed 47 properties owned by Bay Creek LLC, the company owned by Richard “Dickie” Foster. Most of Foster’s former holdings have been sold to Keyser-Sinclair, operating as Bay Creek South LLC. Another portion – the former Bay Creek Marina, Shops, and Aqua Restaurant – was foreclosed and sold to Robert Occhifinto in December 2012.

More than half the properties listed in the legal notice are lots on Stone Road coming into town that have nothing to do with Bay Creek other than that Foster owns them. Those lots have now been conveyed to another entity, “HJ Rail LLC,” also wholly owned by Foster — but the tax is still overdue.

Before the Stone Road lots were listed to be sold for back taxes, Foster offered six other Stone Road lots to the Town of Cape Charles for $100,000, and the town bought them for the asking price. The terms of sale required the $100,000 to be applied against Foster’s delinquent tax bill, both to the town and the county.

Blue-green lines indicate Bay Creek roads that Northampton County has threatened to sell for back taxes.

But what largely escaped notice until recently is that other properties in the legal notice include Bay Creek Parkway – the principal private road running through Bay Creek, and other common holdings. The blue-green outline on the map at left indicates portions of Bay Creek Parkway and other private roads listed in the legal notice.

When taxes become delinquent for several years, the Northampton County Treasurer’s office employs Yorktown tax attorney James W. Elliott to handle legal proceedings. It is Elliott who announced that “proceedings will be commenced” on July 7 to sell the properties. That does not mean a tax auction would have occurred on that date — only that a lengthy “proceeding” was to have begun at that time.

Some two months later, an alarmed Bay Creek property owner, Andrew Follmer, sent a letter to Dickie Foster and Gary Dorsch (president of Keyser Capital) stating that “both the County Treasurer’s Office and the Law Offices of James Elliott confirmed that taxes from 2011, 2012, and 2013 remain unpaid on these parcels — along with interest, penalties, and attorney’s fees — as published in a public notice in the Eastern Shore Post on June 6, 2014. According to Mr. Elliott’s office, the latest instructions from the county were to file suit to proceed with sale if the taxes were unpaid by Sept. 15, 2014.” The letter was copied to Bay Creek property owners and subsequently passed to the Wave. [Read more...]

Residents Respond to ‘Urban Chicken’ Survey

These hens had to leave town while officials deliberate whether they can come home. (Photo: Stefanie Hadden)

CAPE CHARLES WAVE

September 22, 2014

Results are in for the Town of Cape Charles “Urban Chicken Survey,” which asked residents their opinion on whether hens should be allowed in town. Town Council and the Planning Commission will hold a work session to discuss the results Thursday, September 25, at 6 p.m. at the Civic Center (Old Library). The public may attend but not speak.

Responses were tabulated from 75 property owners, 20 of whom own in Bay Creek, which has its own rules prohibiting chickens that cannot be overridden by Town Council. Bay Creek responses are not shown separately from Historic District responses. Of the 75 responses, 39 oppose backyard chickens in town, 35 support them, and 7 want more information before making a decision.

Here are the respondents’ comments:

SUPPORT

1. As the dollar is increasingly undermined, raising food will become paramount.

2. I have concerns about the portion of the population that is allergic or highly allergic to chicken feathers, but this is balanced by my support of vegetable gardening and other sustainable homesteading practices.

3. 3-4 chickens [maximum].  NO ROOSTERS. Must be housed in a clean, movable, at least partially covered coop.

4. We have worse eyesores in this town than clean, egg-producing chickens.

5. At this point a fairly large number of urban communities throughout Virginia and the United States allow residents to keep a few hens. They have done this for a number of good reasons. It’s great to know where your food is coming from. Chickens provide natural fertilizer. Chickens eat insects. I encourage Cape Charles to allow owners to raise a few chickens. On a separate note, there seem to be a number of folks in Cape Charles that just let their dog wander around the city. Dogs should be with their owner when they are outside, unless they are in a fenced yard.

6. I feel that chickens are fine but a limit to 6 per lot should be enforced. Chickens have proven to be a great way to control bugs and ticks. Chickens are very interesting and make great pets while providing a variety of benefits.

7. There is no harm in keeping a few chickens as pets or whatever you prefer to call them, or rabbits as long as they have enough room and do not disturb the immediate neighbors.

8. Having observed “up close and personal” chicken keeping in a fenced residential setting I wholeheartedly support the idea and the practice as long as the guidelines set by the town are followed. I built my little “granny cottage” on the rear of my daughter’s home and was interested to learn about and interact with her six hens. My grandsons helped care for the chickens, helping to build and paint their very artistic chicken coop, changing their bedding every day, helping to feed and water them every day and gathering the daily fresh eggs. The chickens naturally went into their coop at sundown every day and were in general very quiet. They did come to “visit” me as I sat on my swing in good weather. They got along well with my two cats — the kitties did not chase the hens. I observed the hens pecking at and eating bugs out of my garden and would settle under a bush to rest. Occasionally they would hop up on my swing to say hello and to softly talk with gentle clucks, and study, this human creature, which I enjoyed. The hens were definitely good pets and educational for the boys. And, the very fresh eggs they provided every day were delicious! We did not keep our hens for slaughter, only for the companionship and education they provided. At 74 years of age, my only prior interaction with chickens was when I was a child, observing my grandmother running after one of her chickens with a cleaver in her hand. So I was entranced by our fascinating chicken pets, their place in our family and in our fenced yard, and would recommend the practice of keeping a few hens to anyone. [Read more...]

Mayor Proto Flip-Flops on County Sewage Issue

Mayor Proto takes oath of office. (Wave photo)

Mayor Proto takes oath of office. As president of the Cape Charles Business Association he opposed treating wastewater from commercial users on Route 13. But as mayor he has bought on to the idea. (Wave photo)

By GEORGE SOUTHERN
Cape Charles Wave

September 15, 2014

What a difference being mayor makes. Just seven months ago when George Proto was president of the Cape Charles Business Association he wrote a hard-hitting letter to then-Mayor Dora Sullivan, chastising her for failure to answer his questions about processing county sewage at the town’s new treatment plant. “My original questions have yet to be answered after almost 6 months,” he wrote.

Proto and the Business Association were concerned that running a sewer line to Route 13 would promote commercial competition on the highway. “There does not appear to be any significant benefit to the Town of Cape Charles from the proposed connection,” Proto wrote to Mayor Sullivan.

Now Proto is mayor, and acting Town Manager Bob Panek has convinced him, along with all other members of Town Council except Frank Wendell, that piping commercial sewage from Route 13 into town is a good idea. Panek’s argument is that (1) the income received will reduce town utility bills, and (2) if the town doesn’t take the sewage, the county will eventually build a plant elsewhere – perhaps on the Webster property in Cheriton — and the town will have forever lost the opportunity to operate a regional treatment plant.

Panek oversaw planning of the town’s new sewer plant, which with some modifications is large enough to treat all the wastewater in the lower part of the county, were there some means to get it there. Meanwhile, the fixed costs of the plant are eating the town and its ratepayers alive.

Town Council agreed September 11 (Wendell dissenting) to negotiate an agreement with the County’s Public Service Authority to accept wastewater for 1.5 cents per gallon. All Council members agreed that PSA customers must also pay the town a substantial facility hookup fee, even though Panek has opposed such a fee, fearing it would drive away potential customers.

As Business Association president, Proto had urged that the sewer line project be put on hold “until certain significant questions” were answered. The first question was, “What is the projected benefit to the town from the Route 13 sewer line?” [Read more...]

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Consultant Declares Town Staff Underpaid, Overworked

CAPE CHARLES WAVE

September 8, 2014

A consultant hired by the Town of Cape Charles has reported that town staff salary ranges are “significantly lower” than in comparable regional organizations. The consultant warned that because salaries are “below average market rates,” Cape Charles may experience difficulty hiring and retaining employees in the future.

The town paid Richmond consultant Springsted Inc. $8,400 to conduct the salary study, which entailed comparing Cape Charles town salaries with those in other municipalities. However, Springsted Senior Vice President John Anzivino said they were unable to obtain information from any other town on the Eastern Shore, including Onancock and Chincoteague. Most of the comparisons are with towns closer to Hampton Roads and Richmond, although both Northampton County and Accomack County salary schedules were obtained.

Springsted’s proposed salary schedule recommends increases for every town position surveyed, with more than half the town’s workforce currently earning less than even the minimum proposed salary for their grade.

The report recommends a maximum salary of $87,900 (not including benefits) for the Chief of Police, the Director of Public Works, the Treasurer, the Harbor Master, and the Code Official. Anzivino emphasized that the actual salary earned by a town employee was not considered — instead it is the salary range of the position that matters. That’s because a new, inexperienced employee will be paid much less than a long-time, seasoned staffer doing the same work.

The report suggests a maximum salary of $72,300 plus benefits for the Assistant Town Manager, the Town Clerk, the Town Planner, and the Librarian.

Maximum salary for the Wastewater Plant Operator in Charge would be $68,900.

The Recreation Coordinator could earn up to $65,600, while the Public Works Supervisor would see a maximum salary of $62,500.

Springsted also recommended that the town hire additional support staff in order to free up department heads for other duties. A “lack of internal support” has caused inefficiencies, with department heads forced to prepare their own reports, conduct research, answer phones, and conduct administrative support functions, Springsted found. [Read more...]

9 Comments

TIGER BEETLE HABITAT
Bay Creek Beaches Must Be ‘Left to Nature’

CAPE CHARLES WAVE

September 2, 2014

The lowly Northeastern beach tiger beetle, a threatened species, has won out over Bay Creek beach goers — with the help of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The Bay Creek Homeowners Association used to rake the Bay Creek beaches to remove whatever washed up with the tide, such as seaweed, grasses, and the like — just as Cape Charles does at the town’s public beach. But the raking, especially with a tractor, is highly damaging to the Northeastern beach tiger beetle, whose habitat has been reduced to two areas: Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and some relatively undisturbed beaches on the Chesapeake Bay.

That counts out the town public beach, where the tiger beetle gave up long ago. But the Bay Creek beaches, having become frequented by people only in recent times, still host the tiger beetle. So the beaches at Bayside Village and at The Colony/Kings Bay have been designated by the F&WS as tiger beetle habitat and may not be disturbed. 

“This means that the beach must be left to nature with the exception that human pedestrian traffic is permitted, as well as the hand removal of glass, metal, plastic, etc. In years past the beach at Bay Creek was mechanically raked and maintained. This practice was suspended when the F&WS Enforcement branch placed the management of the Home Owners Association on notice that cleaning the beach is a violation of law subject to criminal prosecution and heavy daily fines for continued violations,” the Bay Creek HOA reported to its members in August. [Read more...]

6 Comments

Town Again Postpones Decision on County Sewage Rate

Assistant Town Manager Bob Panek has yet to convince Town Council to subsidize out-of-town sewage collection. (Wave photo)

Assistant Town Manager Bob Panek has yet to convince Town Council to subsidize out-of-town sewage collection. (Wave photo)

By GEORGE SOUTHERN
Cape Charles Wave

August 25, 2014

Despite Assistant Town Manager Bob Panek’s best efforts, Cape Charles Town Council once again has sidestepped any decision on how much to charge to accept sewage from out-of-town commercial properties on and near Route 13. Panek recommended providing the county with “updated cost estimates” to process sewage, but Town Council balked at their August 21 meeting, voting instead to hold a work session to further consider the matter.

The “update” would be to an earlier cost estimate that Panek provided the County Public Service Authority without authorization from Town Council. That was when Panek was also chairman of the PSA, a position he lost following complaints of conflict of interest. But he remains the town’s representative to the PSA.

Almost a year has passed since Town Council last wrestled with the question of how much to charge for sewage coming from the highway. Since then, one strong opponent of subsidizing out-of-town businesses – Mike Sullivan — has left the council. That leaves Frank Wendell as adamantly opposed, with Joan Natali and Chris Bannon on Panek’s side. Mayor George Proto and Councilman Steve Bennett also expressed reservations at last Thursday’s meeting, which prevented Panek from getting his wish.

Newly elected Councilman Sambo Brown said he believed the county simply wanted to know whether the town was willing to accept sewage, to which Panek responded “That’s right.” Panek did not explain to the new councilman that Town Council had already twice indicated a willingness to accept county sewage, first informally at a June 24, 2010, work session, and later, at Panek’s insistence, on August 9, 2012, with a formal motion. All council members approved that motion with the exception of Wendell. [Read more...]

3 Comments

Zoning Showdown: Baldwin vs Schwarzchild & Ordeman

CAPE CHARLES WAVE

August 12, 2014

Tonight (Tuesday) three speakers are scheduled to address the Northampton County Board of Supervisors on proposed zoning changes — specifically the proposed removal of the Waterfront Village zones of Oyster and Willis Wharf.

Eyre Baldwin, who owns property in Oyster, addressed the Planning Commission last week, and is expected to make the same points tonight. Baldwin has restored an old Oyster structure, moved it to the waterfront, and now wants to use it as a “waterfront Mom and Pop general store where locals, boaters, and traveling tourists can stop in to purchase gasoline, ice, drinks, and snacks for their boat ride out on the seaside.” He also wants to rent out kayaks, open a raw bar, and use the upstairs as a vacation rental. His complaint is that under the current zoning ordinance none of those things can be done “by right.”

“We are urging the Planning Commission to help ease the current restrictions that are preventing us from moving forward with a potentially great waterfront village business,” Baldwin said August 5.

Baldwin also again raised the concept of a regional water and wastewater system at the Webster property he owns in Cheriton. He called attention to the study by the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission and quoted it as stating that water quality in Cape Charles is “getting worse.” (CLICK for the Wave’s report.) “The wells in Cheriton at the Webster site are not affected by the water issues that plague Cape Charles. Studies have shown that the Webster site is sitting on top of the deepest part of the aquifer that runs under this county,” he said. [Read more...]

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EXTRA
County Planning Commissioner Coker Quits in Disgust

CAPE CHARLES WAVE

August 7, 2014

Stating that “I can no longer serve in good conscience given the flawed processes we are working under,” Northampton County Planning Commission Vice-Chair Martina Coker submitted her resignation August 5 effective immediately. Coker was the District 1 representative, which includes the Cape Charles area.

“I continue to be dismayed at the manner in which the Zoning Ordinance was developed and proposed, without any public input or analysis of data which could support proposed changes,” she wrote, adding that there could be a “significant detrimental effect on residential property values” as a result.

Coker did not attend the August 5 Planning Commission meeting, but submitted her statement to be read at the meeting. Economic Development Director Charles McSwain reportedly suggested that Coker’s statement be included in the record but not read out loud. But after it was pointed out  that Coker had so requested, the letter was read.

Coker’s frustration comes from the County Board of Supervisors’ refusal to give the Planning Commission more than 100 days to review what amounts to a whole new zoning code for the county. She wrote: “The proposed ordinance strips property owners of their rights to maintain their property value by eliminating Special Use Process for virtually all uses, many of which could decimate property values.” [Read more...]

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