House Approves Bill To Unravel Ownership Questions Surrounding Waterford’s Alleys - Leesburg Today Online—Daily News Coverage of Loudoun County, Leesburg, Ashburn: News

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House Approves Bill To Unravel Ownership Questions Surrounding Waterford’s Alleys

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Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013 1:33 pm

Following a 99-0 vote in the House of Delegates Wednesday, 76 years of uncertainty concerning the legal ownership of roads and alleys in historic Waterford is moving toward resolution.

The “alleys issue” has deep roots, dating back to the Civil War, but also has modern ramifications—including the possibility of prompting the county’s oldest business to find a new home.

After Virginia was re-admitted into the Union in 1870, the General Assembly required each municipality to make surveys. Surveyor James Odin’s 1875 map of Waterford depicts the many alleys located in what was then known as the “New Town” section of the sprawling town, lots owned by Mahlon Janney.

Waterford de-incorporated in 1936 and over the ensuing decades alley rights of way were absorbed into the community—some have garages built on them, some have trees growing in their midst, some have been used as driveways or incorporated into gardens and almost all have not been used by the public for half a century or more. Most villagers are unaware of exactly where the former alleys were located, or who owns them.

The General Assembly bill, sponsored by Del. Joe T. May (R-33), resulted from the efforts of Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) to clear up the uncertainty. After meeting with residents, he suggested the county take ownership of the alleys.

The bill, which now heads to the Senate for review, would vest ownership of the former town’s alleys, streets and other public rights of way in the county government.

Community leaders were quick to express their satisfaction Wednesday over the measure’s passage in the House.

Waterford Citizens Association President Ed Good said he believed the conveyance of the rights of way to the county would put an end to the uncertainty. During the WCA’s monthly meeting last week, members unanimously adopted a resolution of support for the bill.

“For years and years, no one has known who owned the alleys,” he said. Legally, the alleys belong either to the Janney heirs, adjoining landowners, or the County of Loudoun, according to the WCA president. The county government would be the best owner and would have the ability to more clearly define lot lines for properties adjoining the alleys, Good said.

Higgins told the WCA during its Jan. 24 meeting, the board of supervisors would seek to preserve the current land usage status quo. If an alley is not being used, the county intends to deed the land to the adjoining landowners. If an encroachment, such as a garage or a tree, sits in a right of way, the county would authorize its retention. Likewise if an alley were in use as a public way or as a driveway, the county would preserve that use.

Yesterday, Higgins said he was pleased with the unified support the bill received in the House.

“It sailed through and I’m very happy about that,” Higgins said, attributing the bill’s success largely to the work of May and his staff. Higgins and his own staff contributed by sending photographs and documentary materials as support materials for the subcommittee to review.

As to how the bill will fare in the Senate, Higgins said, “I don’t see any problem there.” Sen. Dick Black (R-13), whose district includes Waterford, is working on it and Sen. Mark Herring (D-33) has also expressed interest in sponsoring the bill so there would be a bipartisan approach, according to Higgins.

Higgins also said it was important that village residents continue to support the proposal.

The alleys ownership became the subject of a legal battle between Waterford homeowner Milari Madison, whose Janney Street lot is bounded by two alleys, and a group of neighbors, including Loudoun Mutual Insurance, whose property also includes alleys shown on the Odin Map. That litigation ended with a ruling that Madison owned the land within her current lot boundaries and not the alley ways. The larger question of alley ownership throughout the village was not adjudicated in the case.

More recently, the alley ownership question was raised as Loudoun Mutual Insurance—the county’s oldest continuing business, founded in 1849—prepared plans to expand its Waterford headquarters.

The original portion of the company’s High Street building—its third location in the village—was modeled after Gunston Hall. After the company outgrew that space, an addition was built on its western flank in 1993. LMI President Chris Shipe says the company is planning now for another expansion. “We’re out of room, we’re out of space,” he said.

Whether the company expands on the site, or moves to a new location—likely outside of Waterford and possibly outside Loudoun—depends in part on the resolution of the alley issue.

On survey maps, the company’s lots have three alleys crossing them, but Shipe said the rights of way have not been used for public access for more than 50 years. If the company were to expand, one of the alleys “would go through our mail room,” Shipe said.

Because of the ownership uncertainty, a clear title ruling could not be obtained from a surveyor. “We need to get this cloud off people’s properties,” Shipe said in December.

While Shipe said LMI wants to stay in Waterford, the company has grown into a regional insurance company, extending its presence significantly down the I-81 corridor. Once, all of the company directors were local residents; now only two of the 10 regional representatives are from Loudoun. Moving the headquarters to Berryville or Winchester has been suggested as an alternative to expanding in Waterford.

The loss of Loudoun Mutual to the village would be significant—not just in the prestige of having the county’s oldest business located there—but its contributions to the village itself. LMI’s postage bill alone helps keep the village’s small post office off the closure list and the company’s charitable contributions to the village, to the Waterford Foundation and the Citizens Association are considerable.

“We want to be a good neighbor and find common ground,” Shipe said.

Today, a relieved Shipe said he was thankful the General Assembly had supported resolution, not just for his company but also for the community at large.

Welcome to the discussion.


  • Thief in the Night posted at 9:35 pm on Wed, Feb 6, 2013.

    Thief in the Night Posts: 3

    I look forward to the day when the morally reprehensible and/or illegal behavior of the citizens of Waterford is exposed to the remainder of the citizens of Loudoun County. My heart goes out to the silent minority that exists within the confines of the village. How these poor individuals must blanch with horror at this latest fiasco. The nefarious activities continue unchecked because they operate in virtual secrecy. The remainder of Loudoun County is oblivious because local newspapers won't publish anything regarding their shameless behavior. As horrendous as the county's records are (how else to you explain the county NOT knowing who owns the land or why it has not been taxed in decades?) they contain the proof needed to level the playing field; so to speak. It's all a matter of public record Loudoun County so search, become enlightened, stand up and speak out. I wonder how many people would attend the Waterford Fair were they to know the truth.

  • Mark J posted at 6:07 pm on Wed, Feb 6, 2013.

    Mark J Posts: 72

    It was not until 1940 that the Virginia General Assembly enacted a statute to establish a procedure for the consolidation of smaller units of government into larger ones; therefore, Va. Code § 15.2-3520, and its predecessor statutes governing consolidation in Titles 15 and 15.1 of the Code of Virginia would not have been applicable to the Town of Waterford’s reversion to unincorporated status in 1936. In addition, there remains some question as to whether a county and a town within the county’s jurisdiction can even consolidate. A recent attempt at consolidation was denied by the courts.

  • Catherine posted at 5:49 pm on Tue, Feb 5, 2013.

    Catherine Posts: 63

    If the town owned the streets and alley, where are the deeds? The underlying owner needed to convey the underlying fee to the town by a deed. If a street is being offerred for a public right of way, it does not transfer title to the underling land, and the right of way is limited to a certain purpose, such as to use for carriages (not unlimited uses). Mr. Shipe is quoted: "One of the alleys “goes through our mail room,” built as part of the 1993 expansion". It sound like they built the mailroom on someone's property. The real owner exists, as Mr. Goode provides options. Now, the court needs to remove any cloud and determine the owner.

  • 1849 posted at 5:15 pm on Tue, Feb 5, 2013.

    1849 Posts: 1

    First, just to clarify, Loudoun Mutual's mail room is NOT on an alley, it adjoins one but is not encroaching on any of the alleys. Second, simply put, there is no taking being suggested here, the town of Waterford owned the alleys, the town does not exist as an entity, so the ownership reverts to the Commonwealth, this bill is to give that ownership to the county who is better able to resolve the issues on a local basis.

  • Buffacuse posted at 2:38 pm on Tue, Feb 5, 2013.

    Buffacuse Posts: 576

    There is no more litigious corner of Loudoun County than Waterford. Neighbors sue neighbors, neighbors sue the county, neighbors sue the state, the Historical Preservation nuts sue everyone. I don't know if I support Catoctin secession--but if Waterford ever wants to go its own way--they've got my vote.

    Just throw your overpriced festival every year and leave the rest of us alone.

    Looking forward to being sued over this post...

  • Catherine posted at 9:15 am on Tue, Feb 5, 2013.

    Catherine Posts: 63

    Senator Jill Vogel sits on the board for Loudoun Mutual Insurance.

  • Disgusted with Waterford posted at 7:21 pm on Mon, Feb 4, 2013.

    Disgusted with Waterford Posts: 4

    Sounds like "mas954" is one of the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) control freaks that wants to take away all of our property rights and put everything in to a "view shed" and "historic" classification. This "clear title" BS is an eminent domain takings and the people have the right to stop such illegal activity and recover damages from the county. I would file an injunction immediately and personally sue each member of the county so they are individually held liable as well.

    This is OUTRAGEOUS!

  • Catherine posted at 12:31 pm on Mon, Feb 4, 2013.

    Catherine Posts: 63

    If they are trying to clear title, that's what the court is for. If they are trying to grab land away from the underlying land owner, that's an illegal taking. If they built a mailroom on land without clear title, too bad for you, it does not make it yours. Sign me up for some of those free bits the county wants to give away. I'll rent out parking spaces.

  • Catherine posted at 10:51 am on Mon, Feb 4, 2013.

    Catherine Posts: 63

    "On survey maps, the company’s lots have three alleys crossing them, but Shipe said the rights of way have not been used for public access for more than 50 years. One of the alleys “goes through our mail room,” built as part of the 1993 expansion, Shipe said."

  • mas954 posted at 10:26 am on Mon, Feb 4, 2013.

    mas954 Posts: 352

    They're not 'giving' the land. They are trying to clear the title. It's not as if everything was well documented back then. The insurance company could always claim constructive possession. How does Catherine know the mailroom was illegally constructed? Is there an actual roadway, or is it just some old trail that was never properly delineated? Get some actual answers before you get your knickers all twisted.

  • Disgusted with Waterford posted at 10:23 am on Mon, Feb 4, 2013.

    Disgusted with Waterford Posts: 4

    My vested interest is in the constitution. Officers of the court, and our elected officials, need to uphold the law and not pass unlawful bills, HB 1983, to circumvent a necessary legal determination, by the court, of the actual owner. Waterford is not entitled to free land just because the residents encumbered it with a mailroom, house, or garage.

  • Disgusted with Waterford posted at 10:22 am on Mon, Feb 4, 2013.

    Disgusted with Waterford Posts: 4

    No vested interest here Buffacuse.... however, I am a Virginian and would do anything to protect the property rights of our citizens. Furthermore, Why shouldn't an elected official be voted out of office for stripping a citizen of their property rights? Elected officials are supposed to be our servants, not dicators taking away our property rights!!!! They will be held accountable for voting for this Soviet Bill.

    Stop HB 1983. It is an illegal taking. The Commonwealth cannot give an interest in land to the county that is without title or deed, such a determination needs to be made by a court. No "survey and plan" have been authenticated as required by Chapter 161, the Act of the Assembly 1875 (referenced in HB 1983).

  • Buffacuse posted at 8:43 am on Mon, Feb 4, 2013.

    Buffacuse Posts: 576

    Uh, Disgusted, I honestly don't think anyone should be voted out of office over the issue of alleys in Waterford. Something tells me you have a vested interest here...

  • Catherine posted at 8:32 am on Mon, Feb 4, 2013.

    Catherine Posts: 63

    We passed a recent amendment to the VA Constitution to stop eminent domain. Just because someone illegal built a mailroom on the roadway, does not seem that the G.A. needs to pass a bill, to give away the land. In my day, we would be told to "slide it on over" or a bulldozer would do it for you.

  • Disgusted with Waterford posted at 1:20 am on Mon, Feb 4, 2013.

    Disgusted with Waterford Posts: 4

    Stop HB 1983. It is an illegal taking. The Commonwealth cannot give an interest in land to the county that is without title or deed, such a determination needs to be made by a court. No "survey and plan" have been authenticated as required by Chapter 161, the Act of the Assembly 1875 (referenced in HB 1983).

    This is outrageous. 75% of Virginians voted for the eminent domain amendment in the last election. Property Rights are bipartisan and Virginians take property rights very seriously.

    This is government stealing the property of others and IT MUST NOT PASS!

    Please call the elected officials on the committee and tell them you do not want this bill to pass and that they will NOT be in office for long if they suppor the passage of this horrible bill!

  • Thief in the Night posted at 4:05 pm on Sat, Feb 2, 2013.

    Thief in the Night Posts: 3

    I am not sure if the state can or should be allowed to determine the ownership of property. As Ed Good of the WCA so astutely stated, there are three possible owners. Use of the term owner implies it belongs to someone and to "acquire" it and "give" it to the county would be tantamount to theft. BTW - if the county is reclaiming the alleyways will they plow them in the winter? While they are at it, Loudoun County could maintain and/or repair the sidewalks in order to keep the residents out of the streets.