Questions for authority

Published 2:16 pm Thursday, June 7, 2018

A resident of Prospect is raising questions and seeking answers with regard to the maintenance and appearance of properties belonging to Prospect District Supervisor J. David Emert on Oliver and Hardtimes roads. Emert and County Administrator Wade Bartlett say these properties are in compliance with the law.

Leonard Picotte, a neighbor of Emert’s, is contending that Emert is in violation of Prince Edward County’s zoning ordinance. Picotte notes that Emert, who was elected as a supervisor in November 2017, was issued a letter from Bartlett on Feb. 4, 2015 indicating several zoning violations. Picotte contends that Emert has not brought his properties back into compliance and that Bartlett and the board have not held him accountable for this.

In the letter, Bartlett lists the actions that Emert needs to take in regard to property located at 3421 Hardtimes Road and Tax Map parcels 34-1-2 and 34-1-3. Some of those actions, as described in the letter, are as follows:

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“1. For Tax Map Parcel 34-1-2 you agreed to move all items not used for your farming operations away from State Route 649 (Oliver Road). … You agreed to move the items down the hill behind the trailer you use for storage and next to the boundary of Tax Map Parcel 34-1-3. This will allow the upslope of the hill to serve as a screen. Additionally, you agreed to align the hay bales on the property to provide additional screening.

“2. For Tax Map Parcel 34-1-3 you agreed to move items that are visible from Oliver Road farther into the property. The existing topography and vegetation will provide adequate screening. You need to ensure you move the items far enough into the property that they are not visible from Oliver Road. If in the future you remove or thin the existing vegetation you may again have to relocate any items if they become visible from Oliver Road.

“3. For 3421 Hardtimes Road you agreed to move various items that are adjacent to the road and have agreed to plant Leyland Cypress along Hardtimes Road to serve as a screen. …”

Bartlett indicates in the letter that Emert should space the trees 15 feet apart and plant them no later than March 16, 2015, adding that hay bales at last 6 feet in height should assist in serving as a screen.

A fourth item on the list referred to tires and miscellaneous debris that needed to be removed.

Picotte indicated that a visual inspection seems to reveal properties belonging to Emert on Oliver Road and Hardtimes Road are still in violation as alluded to in the 2015 letter.

He said he has gone to Bartlett to address the issue.

“I said, ‘Wade, this is something that happened four years ago that should have been done,’” Picotte said. “‘You can’t simply ignore it, and it’s getting worse.’”

Picotte also said he went to the members of the board of supervisors with no action coming from it. He described an interaction he had with Farmville 701 District Supervisor Jim Wilck, noting Wilck said the current state of Emert’s properties was not against the law.

“I said, ‘Jim, he’s got a civil violation,’” Picotte said. “I don’t know the authority the board has, but the board should be able to sanction their own people. So, I guess they simply don’t want to because (Emert’s) on the board. The only thing I can keep coming back to is he’s been treated differently now because he’s on the board.”

Emert directly disputed that perspective.

“I think Mr. Picotte thinks that, I think that he thinks that I’m getting by with something, but I’m clearly not,” he said.

Emert noted that he and Picotte have had a contentious history that has involved legal matters dating back to 2014-15. He believes this friction has led Picotte to the current dispute.

“I believe in abiding by the law, and if the ordinance says I’m allowed 20 vehicles, and I have 20, I don’t think that I am any different than the person who is just paying taxes somewhere else, even though I’m an elected official,” Emert said. “I believe we’re all the same. I don’t think I’m above anybody.”

Emert gave a tour of the sites on his property that Picotte highlighted. He affirmed that the myriad of equipment across the street from 1131 Oliver Road was for agricultural use.

Bartlett indicated that equipment used in Emert’s farming operations was exempt from needing to be hidden.

Both Emert and Bartlett indicated that a couple of tires that were visible from the road had some plants in them, which also made them exempt from needing to be hidden.

On Hardtimes Road, Emert pointed out Leyland Cypress trees that, while small, had been planted in 2015.

“There were four more right here that the state, when they cut the right of way, they had a contract crew hired, and they cut them off, and they’re supposed to plant them back,” he said.

Emert concluded by noting his properties were up to code.

“Mr. Picotte doesn’t realize that I had to go before the judge, and they had someone come out and check it and everything else, and it was according to code,” he said.

Reviewing photos of the property opposite 1131 Oliver Road, Bartlett said, “It may not look good, and we’ll give you that, and that tractor that has stuff growing all over it, he can start that tractor.”

Addressing the 2015 violation letter that he wrote to Emert, Bartlett said, “The former issues were taken care of, and we do keep an eye on him and others around there and throughout the county to make sure they’re in compliance. But if you go to any working farm, you’re going to see things like that. It’s just most of them aren’t right by the main road. They are somewhere off behind the barn or something, but his are not. But everything that’s agricultural is exempt. And it is hard to tell what is agricultural and what is not.”

Picotte indicated he is considering selling his property on Brooklyn Plantation Road but had a realtor tell him that the state of some of the properties in the area could impact the process negatively.

Emert disputed that his properties are a reasonable distance from Picotte’s.

“Anybody that would be looking at his property, I would certainly think that they would come in off of (U.S. Route) 460 and go down Brooklyn Plantation Road and not be coming this direction,” he said. “Now, can I make a statement that it would not impact it? No. I can’t make that statement. But I can make the statement that I don’t see how in the world it would. I would make that statement.”

Emert took a moment to respond to a perspective that even if he is in accordance with the law, the appearance of his properties should set a higher standard since he is now a county supervisor.

“I would respond to anybody that has property that I’m a property rights person, and if you own it, I believe that as long as you’re within the law that you ought to be able to do what you want, and that includes everybody, from county supervisors to somebody that doesn’t even live here,” he said. “If someone doesn’t live here and owns a piece of property, and they want to put vehicles on it — it’s your property. I’m a property person. By all means, I’m a property rights person.”