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Condo owners lose bid for compensation over bay access

Chesapeake Bay BeachThe City of Virginia Beach owes nothing to a condominium association for impairing owners’ access to the Chesapeake Bay, a jury decided last week.

A 2009 city beach replenishment project created an artificial strip of land – owned by the state – that impedes the condo community’s connection to the bay. The Supreme Court of Virginia determined last year that Lynnhaven Dunes Condominium Association would have to be compensated for the loss of its riparian rights.

The high court remanded the case for a “just compensation hearing” to determine the value of the riparian rights.

A Virginia Beach Circuit Court jury Oct. 15 decided those rights were worth zero.

“A travesty happened,” said Henry E. Howell III of Norfolk, lawyer for the condo association.

Howell said he put on experts who testified the value of the riparian rights were worth more than $1.5 million.

The beach property is accreting, the condo’s experts said. The size of the property is growing as natural forces steadily deposit more sand each year.

Eventually, the condo association could have built on the newly created land, Howell said.

“As the primary dunes move out, developable land is created,” he said. The strip of state property now blocks development, he argued.

Howell questioned whether “just compensation” for a government taking of private property can ever reach the point of no value whatsoever.

“Can you have a taking of property with zero owed?” Howell said, promising to challenge trial procedures that permitted the jury to consider a value of zero.

Howell’s experts were countered by a cluster of experts from the city who testified that the value of the riparian rights was, indeed, zero.

The experts pointed to a pre-existing public beach easement for the condo property, other development restrictions and the erosional nature of the beach, according to Christopher S. Boynton, Virginia Beach deputy city attorney.

“We believe people should be paid every dime that they’re entitled to for the value of their property, but this is a court of law, not a lottery ticket,” Boydton told the jury, according to an account in The Virginian-Pilot.

A five-person jury of Virginia Beach property owners decided the case after a four-day trial that included a trip to the condo site, the lawyers said. None of the jurors was a condo owner, Howell said.


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