Patio Problems

County mistakes cause year-long headache for Virginia man trying to build patio

Dreams of grilling with family and friends have gone up in smoke for Chris Fleming.

"I'm angry. I’m angry because I did what was asked of me," says Fleming.

Fleming saved $5,000 to build a patio behind his Woodbridge town home. A day after construction started, his Homeowners Association told him he needed a zoning permit. So, he says he got one from the county the next day.

"I got a letter roughly three weeks after the process was completed that said we messed up," says Fleming.

Prince William County revoked his permit, saying zoning officials miscalculated how big the patio could be.

Fleming spent more than $500 to appeal, but lost, meaning he would have to tear some of it out.

To make sure his patio was legal this time, he personally sat down with the county zoning administrator.

"They had rulers out. They were going over my plat. I submitted all the official paperwork that they asked me to submit," explains Fleming.

With new measurements approved, Fleming shelled out another $800 to make the changes.

He filled the holes with river rock hoping that was the end of it.

"Nov. 13 I get a new letter from the county saying, Look, we basically messed up again," says Fleming.

Fleming had two options: Rip out even more at his own expense or appeal again for another $560.

Prince William County Planning Director Chris Price admits mistakes were made.

"To make a mistake multiple times on one property, on one project, clearly it just does not happen very often," says Price.

But Price says the county was within its right to revoke the permits.

"The state law gives the zoning administrator 60 days from the day of a determination to correct any errors or interpretations."

That's why Price recommends waiting to start on any project until 60 days after your permit is approved.

Also, make sure plats are up to date. And check with your HOA for any additional requirements.

"The likelihood of this happening is very, very small," says Price.

Prince William County is now creating a new "tracking system" to alert other agencies about properties with a history of problems.

But for Fleming, his patio dreams continue to shrink.  He wonders, "At 170 square feet, why bother with concrete at all?"

In the end, the pavement will likely not even cover the ground under his deck.

"I think now as it gets smaller and smaller my friends better be smaller and smaller I guess," says Fleming.

Fleming heads back to the appeals board later this month and estimates he's already spent more than $2,000 extra on the project. He could have faced criminal charges had he not fixed the patio. The county told us they do not actively go out looking for these kinds of violations. As in this case, they're usually alerted by an upset neighbor.

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