Virginia county transfers vacant land to disabled veteran

Associated Press
June 22, 2020 - 11:34 am
Fredreicksburg

Stafford County

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By James Scott Baron, The Free-Lance Star

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Stafford County officials gave 8,000 square feet of vacant land to a disabled Stafford veteran so he can build an accessible bathroom and shower onto his home.

“You don’t know how happy I am,” said George Woodall, 74. “I feel like it’s been a lifetime, not getting anywhere with the county and the Veteran’s Administration.”

On June 2, county supervisors voted unanimously to grant a partial transfer of a 16,000-square-foot unimproved southern Stafford right of way to Woodall. Almost two years ago, Woodall, a Vietnam veteran, began planning to build an extension onto his home that would provide a bathroom that could accommodate his scooter. The planned upgrade also includes a special ventilation system to extract steam from the room.

Steam is debilitating to Woodall. In July 2008, Woodall was rated 100 percent service-connected disabled by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs after being diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. 

Woodall, who lives in the 600 block of Jett Street, needed an additional 5 feet added onto his existing lot to accommodate the builders’ plans. But those few precious feet the builders needed encroached on an adjacent lot—known as Woodland Drive—owned by the county.

Over 50 years ago, the right of way connected Culpeper to Jett streets, but as additional homes and roads were built in the neighborhood, the county stopped maintaining the road and blocked its use as a connector. The vacant lot runs adjacent to both Woodall’s lot and neighbor Chris MacArthur’s property, and has sat vacant since the 1960s. For the last three decades, MacArthur has used a portion of the old road as a driveway to access his property.

At first, county officials thought an easy solution would be to divide a portion of the old roadway evenly between the two adjacent property owners. Although MacArthur supported his neighbors’ desire to build the home extension, he showed up for a January public hearing to object to additional property being transferred to him and his wife as a result of Woodalls’ request. 

MacArthur told supervisors one of his concerns was a higher real estate tax bill that might come as a result of the property transfer. He also expressed concerns with mature trees on his side of the lot, which he said would create a liability for him and his wife. MacArthur, who lives in the 600 block of Culpeper Street, also had issues with standing water over a nearby clogged storm drain.

MacArthur, also a Vietnam veteran, told supervisors he didn’t want the property unless the county agreed to trim or remove several of the large trees and repair the waterlogged drainage ditch.

“The county didn’t want to do anything about it,” said MacArthur. “Why should I accept liability and responsibility for this?”

On June 2, Jason Towery, Stafford County’s public works director, told county supervisors the original proposal that called for the county to vacate the whole section of right of way “as-is,” giving Woodall and MacArthur equal portions, could be modified to transfer only half of the vacant lot to Woodall for his use. The county would retain ownership of the remainder of the lot. Stafford supervisors voted unanimously to transfer half the right of way to Woodall.

“I might have considered taking it if they took care of the storm drain,” said MacArthur. “For me, I’m OK everything’s staying the same.”

Woodall expects construction on his bathroom addition to begin as soon as possible. He said once construction begins, the whole project will take about two months to complete. 

“The contractors are ready, and as soon as the county gets me the deed and I get the building permit, I’m ready to get started,” said Woodall.

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