Why I Went to Court over the Park Bathrooms

Site of future Central Park bathrooms. Due to flooding conditions, bathroom floor will be elevated to height of wooden crossmember behind yellow tape. (Wave photo)

Site of future Central Park bathrooms. Due to flooding conditions, bathroom floor will be elevated to height of wooden crossmember behind yellow tape. Access will be via a 60-foot winding ramp. (Wave photo)


April 10, 2013

Do the people of Cape Charles want a bathroom in the park that mirrors a 1980s sewer pump station?

Do we want a bathroom that is closed in the winter? Does no one live in Cape Charles in the winter?

Do we want bathrooms with two stalls on each side? Are there safety concerns about that?

Those are some questions Citizens for Central Park might have considered when they decided to construct a bathroom in Central Park. They might have polled the residents of Cape Charles to learn their thoughts.

The location also could have been the subject of community input. Do we want the bathroom at the east end of the park, far from the children’s playground in what becomes a lake when it rains? The floor of the bathroom house will be three feet above the ground in order to avoid flooding. Do we want that kind of towering bathroom?


Last December 3, I took off for my daily walk through town. It turned out to be unlike any other walk I had taken. As I began down Monroe Avenue toward the park I noticed some work going on. I asked the crew what they were doing, and they said they were going to build a bathroom on that spot.

I was immediately concerned because a building in that spot would block the view of the park from Monroe Avenue.

Views are part of the character of Cape Charles. We have views of the Bay at the beach, views of boats at the marinas, and views of the charming old houses as we traverse the town.

The view of the pergola and the gazebo would be blocked by a bathroom. Worse, I then learned that the plan was to make the bathroom the same size, shape, and design as the nearby sewage pump house.

My initial question was, how come no one told us this was coming? I hiked straight over to Mayor Dora Sullivan’s store. She was sympathetic and said she would check with town staff.

She contacted Assistant Town Manager Bob Panek and encouraged me to go see him. I met with him the next day at the prospective site of the new bathroom. Mr. Panek is also the president of Citizens for Central Park, the organization that obtained the grant to build the bathroom.

I was surprised to learn that no members of Citizens for Central Park whom I spoke with knew of the design of the bathroom.

After checking the cost of changing the location of the bathroom, Mr. Panek said it would be too expensive. It seems that the location and design of the park bathroom was driven by the location of sewer pipes. But how can that be? Doesn’t every house in town have running water and sewer service? They don’t have to be close to a sewer pump station.

The location of the bathroom should be driven by the needs of the community, not by the location of the sewer lines.

After raising my concerns with the mayor and town staff, and getting nowhere, I mustered an online petition for town residents to sign to express their concern about the bathroom location and design. Then I appealed the decision of the Historic District Review Board to approve the bathroom design.

The Historic District Guidelines state that the building should be in the character of the historic properties in the town (not a 1980’s pump station). On page 21 of the Guidelines it says, “Look at the surrounding buildings to determine their style, age, and the elements that help define the neighborhood’s special character.  . . .”

The character of the park would be defined by the gazebo, not by a sewage pumping station that should never have been built there. Both the Historic Review Board and Town Council ignored those guidelines. And my appeal was denied.

The Historic District Guidelines provide for an appeal to the circuit court, and that is what I have done. My day in court will be April 15 at 1:15 p.m.

Everyone who lives in the Cape Charles Historic District has a vested interest in seeing this decision returned for reconsideration. The people of Cape Charles own the park, and they should have some say about the placement and design of restrooms that will be in the park for many years to come.

Submissions to COMMENTARY are welcome on any subject relevant to Cape Charles. Shorter articles will be published as a Letter to the Editor.



7 Responses to “COMMENTARY:
Why I Went to Court over the Park Bathrooms”

  1. Deborah Bender on April 10th, 2013 9:52 am

    Thank goodness someone with a brain in his head realizes that the location and design of the bathrooms in the park is all wrong. When it rains it will be next to impossible to even get into the bathrooms ! What in the world are the “powers that be” thinking ???
    The bathrooms need to be closer to the playground and the tennis courts…PERIOD !

  2. Sandy Mayer on April 10th, 2013 9:53 am

    All your concerns were taken into consideration long before you decided to make a complaint. All you succeeded in doing is seriously delaying construction and costing the town and taxpayers a bunch of money to take this to court.

  3. A.J. Ewell on April 10th, 2013 4:05 pm

    Whenever government does things without consulting people, it’s usually stupid. Popular liberal viewpoints notwithstanding.

  4. Sandy Mayer on April 11th, 2013 10:19 am

    Citizens of Central Park is responsible for restoring a wasted piece of land into the beautiful park we have today. They are hard working volunteers, NOT government. The work is all done by concerned citizens, volunteers and any one can join and help out.

  5. Jim Blanchard on April 11th, 2013 3:24 pm

    Sandy – My family and I greatly appreciate the work you and the other volunteers have done to make that park great. We live on Monroe and use the park frequently. Thank you for taking the time to volunteer!

  6. Bruce Lindeman on April 12th, 2013 9:11 am

    I second Jim’s comments above. We’ve been frequent patrons of the Park for years. My son and I were up there just this past Sunday tossing the frisbee around and enjoying the space and everything about it. Thanks to the Citizens of Central Park for all of their efforts and work to make it a treasure that we all enjoy!

  7. Karen Gay on April 15th, 2013 7:19 pm

    This is a reply to Ms. Mayer’s comments above. She states with certainty that “all your concerns were taken into consideration long before you decided to make a complaint.” Rather than just cutting Ms. Bender off, I wish she would explain all of the concerns that were taken into account and when and with whom they were shared.

    My concern with this project and that of the Old School is that there was no solicitation of public opinion before these decisions were made. Yes, it might have been mentioned in the Gazette or in the Council meeting agenda, but I don’t see that as solicitation. I count myself guilty of the same behavior, because I was a member of the Citizens for Central Park (CCP) and raised no objection to the style of the building. Nor did I even think to talk to my neighbors about it. At that time though, the building was going to be in another part of the park and not right in the faces of those on the east side of Monroe Avenue. Now that I think about it, of course a design like the bathrooms at the beach would have been much nicer, used a smaller footprint, and would have been more secure. I agree with the viewpoint of Mr. Riley!

    The change I would like to see in Cape Charles is for our Mayor and Town Council to seek the opinion of the town before committing to such significant projects as selling the Old School to Echelon and committing to bathrooms in the park. We can all have a rousing discussion of the topic, and then the Council can make a decision based on the merits of the arguments it has heard.

    The CCP has done a spectacular job with the park. Someone voicing a negative opinion on one aspect of their accomplishments does not negate all that they have achieved.