VIRGINIA BEACH — After three years of fighting in and out of court over a sand dune that allegedly prohibits disabled homeowners in a Lynnhaven Shores neighborhood from accessing the beach, four people are suing a Virginia Beach condominium association and its property manager in federal court on the basis of discrimination.
The involved homeowners — 91-year-old Harry Seipel and his wife Andrea Boyce, 63-year-old Randolyn Halterman and 83-year-old Betty J. Carder — say that a sand dune that formed over a private path meant for Bays Edge Condominium residents has impeded their access to the Chesapeake Bay, according to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia in Norfolk.
According to the complaint, the dune has created a drop off that is between three and six feet depending on the weather, making it impassable to disabled homeowners. Seipel, Halterman and Carder suffer from disabilities that limit their mobility. In 2015 Halterman fell while trying to access the beach using the private path and sustained “severe” injuries.
The Bays Edge Condominium Association and its manager, Hutcheson Realty Inc., are responsible for maintaining the area, including the walkway to the beach. From 2014 to 2015, the four homeowners asked the agencies to clear the beach access point, but they were ignored, the complaint alleges.
In May 2015, the homeowners paid a contractor $600 to have a portion of the sand dune removed, but when the association found out they reported them to the Virginia Beach Wetland’s Board. Siepel and Boyce were issued citations for unlawfully moving a sand dune; however, those hearings actually resulted in a $400 fine for the Bays Edge association, who in turn hired a lawyer to sue the homeowners in Virginia Beach General District Court for $25,000 in legal fees, the complaint states.
After that suit was filed, Halterman asked about the status of clearing the beach path and was told to “piss off” by one of the association’s leaders, the complaint says.
Boyce asked the same member about the status of the beach path and was told in an email, “If you are too decrepit to live in a three-story condo, with no elevator, and walk over a little sand, then move, and take your nasty friend [Halterman] with you,” the complaint alleges.
In November 2015, Seipel, Boyce and Carder filed a federal lawsuit against the association under the Virginia Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disability Act. After about two weeks in court, the group was able to settle for a “confidential sum of money.” The association said that they would take steps to provide and maintain beach access for all residents, according to the complaint.
As a result of the federal lawsuit, the Virginia Beach General District Court suit was dismissed against all of the residents, except Halterman in which case it was “nonsuited.” When a lawsuit is nonsuited, it means that the legal matter is terminated without either side proving their case.
In April 2017, the homeowner’s lawyer asked Hutcheson Realty about what the association planned to do to clear the pathway, which was still blocked six months after the settlement. Until the pathway was permanently unblocked, the residents asked for the association to rent a golf cart that they could use between May and September, but the association didn’t respond, according to the complaint.
The association did hold meetings to discuss beach access, and they said they would vote on two proposals to build a beach dune walkover so the homeowners could access the space; however, instead the association purchased a “Mobi-mat” to lay over the dune. The slip-resistant walkway allows wheelchairs, walkers and strollers to go over sand, the complaint states.
While the Mobi-mat is helpful on flat sand, the homeowners say it didn’t fix the fact that the dune dropped off between three and six feet. They believe a better fix for their access and the health of the environment would be a walkover, according to the complaint.
The homeowners are asking for compensation for their financial and emotional suffering, as well as for the association to fix the access. They are asking for a jury to determine the outcome.
The Bays Edge Condominium Association and Hutcheson Realty Inc. did not respond to numerous requests for comment from Southside Daily.
Defense Attorney Todd Gaynor, who one of the attorneys representing the homeowners, declined to comment on the case.
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