Neighbors at odds over problematic pier

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) – A problematic pier has neighbors in Western Branch at odds with each other.

The man who built it had approval from the authorities, but the neighbors say it cuts off their access to the river. They also say it makes it difficult to get out and they can’t even enjoy the river at high tide, but despite their complaints, regulating authorities say it’s unlikely the pier can be shortened or removed.

The affected families live in the Joseph’s Gardens neighborhood along Parkway Road, South Road and Branch Drive. Their neighbors, Kenneth and Lisa Campbell, built the pier in 2008.

Document: July 2, 2008 Petition

Document: July 31, 2008 Petition

Gail Gibson lives on Branch Drive and talked about her ability to get to the river prior to the construction of the Campbells’ pier, the second at the mouth of their inlet. “It was awesome, we had a wonderful 17 foot boat, it had a 75 HP motor on it,” she said. “We would throw that thing in gear and take off! We fished, we skied.”

Parkway Road resident Craig Groman showed 10 On Your Side a video of how he and his wife have to work their way around the pier to get to the river in their 14-foot john boat. The Gromans bought their home on the cove last year. “It’s frustrating that we cannot just freely use our boats like most people would anticipate when they buy a house on the water,” Groman said.

When someone applies for a pier to be built in Chesapeake that extends into a navigable river, they must get authorization from the Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps says Campbell began construction in October 2008 prior to authorization, was issued a stop work order, and then received authorization about two months later.

Document: Chesapeake Permit

After the pier had undergone design and location changes, the Army Corps reviewed it for navigational access for upstream boats trying to access the river. George Janek of the Army Corps says he granted approval because the cove is a tidal creek, and ebbs to a mud flat at low tide. As a result people who live on it can not expect to have constant navigational access.

“I will not say that it’s not tight,” Janek said, describing the pathway at high tide for cove residents around the Campbell pier. “But again we took a look at the constraining factors of adjacent property owners’ access, and that’s the fact that is a mud flat at low tide.”

Google Images show Parkway Road before and after the pier was built. The Campbells built the angled pier. The straight pier was built about a year earlier and belongs to another homeowner.
Google Images show Parkway Road before and after the pier was built. The Campbells built the angled pier. The straight pier was built about a year earlier and belongs to another homeowner.

Further complicating the approval process for the pier was an error made by the city granting the Campbells’ first construction permit. Chesapeake Zoning regulations require that a pier can be built on private land only as a secondary structure, meaning the parcel must first have a home.

“The primary issue that was overlooked was verifying that the pier was going to be constructed on a property that already had an existing home,” said Jay Tate, Director of Development and Permits. Tate said once the error was discovered, the city worked with Campbell and reached an agreement: The city would grant approval for Campbell to resume construction, but he would have to build a home on the lot within two years.

Document: 2008 License Agreement

The pier extends more than 260 feet from the Campbell property on Parkway Road into the deep water of the Western Branch. Campbell told the Chesapeake Planning Commission in August that he had received reassurance over the summer from both the Army Corps and the Virginia Marine Resource Commission that he had no navigational infraction.

About half of the pier is built on underwater city property – the extension of right of way for Parkway Road. This is another aspect of the pier that is upsetting to neighbors.

“I would like to see the city be held accountable for their actions in allowing this to be built to begin with,” says Michael Cardoza, whose mother bought a home on the cove.  He said the pier has been especially upsetting to his 74-year-old mother.

“It’s become absolutely devastating to her,” Cardoza said. “That’s why I’m speaking for her because when I bring it up, she literally breaks down, and it’s too much for her.”

Photos: Pier causes neighborhood controversy

Chesapeake City Council will consider the matter of the pier being built on the underwater right of way as early as September 23, but more likely in October. Council will rule on whether to abandon the right of way and split the underwater parcel between Campbell and his neighbor across the street. Regardless of its decision, both the city and the Army Corps say it’s unlikely the pier would be removed or shortened.

The Campbells did build a house on the lot, and Tate says the procedural error in granting the building permit without the home being built first was not enough to have changed the outcome. “Doing things out of sequence with the building permit really didn’t affect the ultimate location of the pier.”

Neighbors will continue to vent their frustrations.

“My property is still waterfront property. It is when I bought it, and it should be today,” said Gail Gibson.

Additional documentation:

August 2014 closure request hearing

July 31, 2014 Road Closure Petition

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