VIRGINIA BEACH — A 64-year-old Virginia Beach property owner who used his access to Witchduck Lake to help disabled people water ski was found guilty of two misdemeanor zoning violations on Tuesday and fined $500.
Witchduck Lake Enterprises Inc. owner Dallas Norman was found guilty of illegally hosting recreational events on the lake and having accessory structures — like a dock and a shed — on his property at 400 Baker Road without a principal structure.
He was found not guilty of a third charge: having a noncommercial marina on his property.
The ruling means that Norman can no longer host events for Virginia Beach Adaptive Watersports, or VBAW, a nonprofit organization that helped disabled people water ski on Witchduck Lake via specialized sporting gear.
Virginia Beach General District Court Judge Daniel R. Lahne fined Norman $2,000 with $1,500 suspended under the conditions that he cease holding events on the lake immediately and tear down the accessory structures by March 1, unless he gets a conditional use permit.
If he doesn’t comply, he could be charged with another misdemeanor crime, Lahne said.
Norman was issued summonses on the charges in August — about one year after the Virginia Beach Zoning Administration received the first complaint against him for events he was hosting on Witchduck Lake, city zoning inspector Lynn Draper-Davis testified on Tuesday.
Norman owns land in the area and says he’s spent recreational time on Witchduck Lake since 1988 without issue. He is a founding member of VBAW, which helped 211 disabled people enjoy water sports on Witchduck Lake this summer.
Draper-Davis said she first visited Norman’s property on Sept. 20, 2016 and noticed a pier and deck without a principal structure on the land, which is a zoning violation. For the next several months she received multiple complaints from residents and continued to keep an eye on the property.
On Jan. 24, Draper-Davis sent Norman a letter addressing the violations she saw because of the area’s residential zoning classification.
During a September interview with Southside Daily, Norman said that he attempted to apply for a conditional use permit earlier this year because he wanted to host a day camp for disabled children at the lake. When he attempted to get surrounding residents to support the camp, some signed a petition against it, he said.
Through conversations with the city’s zoning department, Norman said he realized the regulations he’d have to meet in order to have the day camp — like building a parking lot — would be too costly, so he decided to forgo the expansion and focus on his regularly scheduled VBAW activities.
In May, around the same time the water skiing season was to begin, the city’s zoning administrator told Norman he’d have to file for a conditional use permit in order to continue hosting VBAW activities on the lake, city spokeswoman Julie Hill wrote in an email.
People applying for conditional use permits must present their ideas and projects to the city’s planning commission; in turn, the planning commission decides whether or not to allow those people to move forward to city council.
Norman was also told that he could appeal the necessity of a conditional use permit with the city’s board of zoning appeals, Hill said. That hearing was set for Sept. 6, but Norman said that after chatting with his lawyer he decided to withdraw his appeal in the hopes that he could bring the issue before a judge instead.
Despite not having a conditional use permit, Norman hosted the VBAW water skiers throughout the summer, as well as a three-day event for military members and their families.
Draper-Davis said she visited the lake again on Aug. 19, after she was tipped off about a VBAW event. She noticed that there were people on boats in the water and cars entering the property from Baker Road.
That’s when she issued Norman the misdemeanor summonses.
Witchduck Lake resident Cathleen Hawkins testified against Norman, saying that she’s seen a lot of activity on the lake throughout the seven years she’s lived there, but she noticed it increased in the last few years. She noted that she’s often seen people wakeboarding, water skiing and using recreational tubes on the lake.
Another Witchduck Lake resident, Connie Hartz, said that in the past she’s seen large parties of 30 to 60 people and heard noise through loudspeakers. She said that most of the activity happened during the weekends.
Norman said that while he’s very disappointed by Lahne’s decision, he’s going to see if he can get a conditional use permit approved. Based on his preliminary discussions with the city, he thinks it might be too expensive and that he may need to find funding.
He said he’ll no longer host VBAW events on the lake, but that doesn’t mean he’ll stop using Witchduck Lake to ski.
“I thought I was doing the right thing. I know we were doing a good thing,” he told Southside Daily in September.
About a dozen people came to the court hearing to support Norman. Many of them were VBAW participants and their families who said that Norman has made a difference in their lives.
VBAW volunteer Drew Newman, 58, said that Witchduck Lake is the perfect place for an organization like VBAW, which requires low wake for disabled people who are using sit skis to enjoy the water.
“It’s a shame because it’s a private place. It’s a safe place. It’s perfect,” Newman said.
Peter Adamczak, 32, said that he’s been water skiing on Witchduck Lake through VBAW a few times. Adamczak uses a wheelchair because he was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that occurs when a baby’s spinal column doesn’t close completely.
Adamczak said his experience with VBAW has been important because for the first time in his life he was able to water ski using special equipment made for people with his type of physical challenges.
“It’s really changed my life because it’s something I’ve never had access to,” he said. “We’re just trying to have a good time like anyone else.”
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