FRONT ROYAL – A campground owner who is challenging the Virginia Department of Transportation over its valuation of her land won a round Thursday in circuit court when a judge nullified an earlier jury verdict that fell short of the compensation she sought from the agency.
The decision by Circuit Judge Ronald Napier opens the way for a retrial if no out of court settlement is reached in the eminent domain case.
The campground owner, 89-year-old Gloria P. Marcon, was brimming with confidence after Napier’s ruling.
“I think it does a service for the people of this community that you don’t have to accept what’s given to you if you think it’s unfair,” Marcon said, referring to the money VDOT gave to her in exchange for the right to build a highway bridge over part of her property.
Marcon’s attorney, Charles M. Lollar of Norfolk, said he was prepared to negotiate with VDOT over a possible settlement but added that the “ball is in their court.”
“We’re fully prepared to try this case again,” Lollar added.
VDOT’s attorney, Mark A. Moorstein of Gainesville, did not return a phone message seeking comment on Napier’s ruling.
Napier’s ruling comes about three months after a jury awarded Marcon a total of $55,000 for property to build a bridge at 7122 Stonewall Jackson Highway about five miles south of Front Royal.
The bridge runs through part of Marcon’s Gooney Creek Campground, a business she contends has been greatly devalued by noise, unsightly construction equipment and supplies, loss of privacy at campsites and diminished access to the campgrounds since the bridge project began.
The campground covers about 13 acres, about 1.2 acres of which VDOT has taken to build a longer and higher bridge on U.S. 340.
VDOT gave Marcon $28,500 for her land; Marcon sought $197,390. The jury delivered a verdict in the early morning hours of April 25 that awarded her a total of $55,500, an amount reflecting the valuation of the property and damages incurred from the bridge project.
Napier’s ruling did not overturn the amount of money awarded by the jury. The judge’s decision granted a motion by Lollar asking him to find that the court had no jurisdiction in April to decide the case under the procedure used by VDOT in assessing and taking the property.
Lollar argued at trial that VDOT failed to include about one-fifth of an acre in its appraisal when the agency staff calculated how much money Marcon should receive for the land she was giving up.
Moorstein said at trial that the error was minor and the agency acted in “good faith” in determining Marcon’s compensation.
Construction on the bridge began in February 2014 and is scheduled for completion in the fall.
VDOT has already deposited the $28,500 it believes it owes for the taking of the campground property. Marcon is legally entitled to spend the money as her own but she said she is refusing to do so out of principle, despite having to pay taxes on it for 2014.
“She was so offended by the process that she wasn’t about to place her hands on that money,” Lollar said.
He added: “Truly she has not been made whole, and she needs to be made whole.”
Marcon said construction traffic has created a hazard for campers trying to enter the site from the highway. She said she couldn’t find the entrance to her own property until some signs were installed a few days ago.
“I talked to the man in charge and said to him ‘first you killed my business, and now you’re trying to kill me,’” Marcon said.