Prince Edward supervisors want Circuit Court to hear flagpole case

Published 11:09 pm Wednesday, August 17, 2022

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FARMVILLE – The Prince Edward Board of Supervisors are going back to court in the flagpole case. Attorney Andrew McRoberts filed an appeal on behalf of the board in Prince Edward Circuit Court, requesting a review of the June 21 decision from the county’s board of zoning appeals. 

The county’s argument comes down to three questions. Did the Bowman family follow county ordinances when putting up their 60-ft flagpole? Is the flagpole height legal? Or does it fall under the county’s rules for accessory structures, which calls for a much shorter version? 

How did we get here? 

The flagpole in question stands on Carolyn and Corbett Bowman’s property. In April, Prince Edward County officials sent a violation notice to the couple, claiming the flagpole didn’t meet height requirements. The county claimed the flagpole was an “accessory structure” and pointed to their ordinances, which say such structures can’t be higher than 25 feet. 

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The Bowman family appealed, pointing out they received a building permit for the flagpole, signed by a building official employed by Prince Edward County. They also argued there was a 60 day limit to recall an approved building permit unless it was obtained by malfeasance or fraud. That date had long since passed. Also, they claimed the county’s argument violated their First Amendment rights. 

The Board of Zoning Appeals agreed with the Bowman family. By a 3-0 vote, with two board members abstaining, they agreed to leave the flagpole up. Any mistakes made by the county staff should have been caught within the 60 day window, the majority said. 

Prince Edward County moves forward

The discussion of the flagpole continued on to a special July 15 meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

During the closed session of the special meeting supervisors consulted with the county administrator and attorney regarding pending litigation, according to the minutes of the meeting. The board returned to regular session shortly after and made a motion for legal counsel to file and pursue an appeal to the Prince Edward County Circuit Court. All were in favor of this motion.

In McRobert’s new appeal, he asks the circuit court to consider several things. First, he claims the Bowmans didn’t get a zoning permit before building, only a building permit. You need both, he claims. 

Prince Edward County’s laws, McRoberts argued, require a zoning permit “for the erection of any structure, construction, restruction, moving, adding to, or alteration of any structure, or the establishment of any land use.” That’s in the Prince Edward County Code, Section 5-104. 

And yes, McRoberts argued, the zoning ordinance does define a flagpole as a structure. He pointed to Prince Edward County Code Section 6-100. That ordinance says a structure is “anything that is constructed or erected with a fixed location on the ground, or attached to something having a fixed location on the ground.” 

What about the permit?

And yet, as the zoning board pointed out, the family had an authorized building permit. County officials are challenging that as well. In the appeal, McRoberts also claims the building permit obtained by the Bowman family hadn’t been issued by anyone authorized to do so. 

“At the time of issuance of the documents in question, only Doug Stanley, Zoning Administrator, and Robert Love, Assistant Zoning Administrator, were authorized to issue a valid order, requirement, decision or determination regarding the Prince Edward County Zoning Ordinance,” McRoberts wrote. 

Permits given out by anyone else, McRoberts argued, were not valid. 

Finally, McRoberts argued that the Bowman family didn’t provide details on the specific site to the building office. They also didn’t include the proposed height or other information, McRoberts claimed. All of that would have been needed, he said, before receiving approval.

The Herald reached out to attorneys for both sides and both declined to speak on the record. While the Prince Edward Circuit Court acknowledged receipt of the appeal, no court date has been set at this time.