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Lawsuit divides community

Posted on Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 1:00 am

By Cesca Waterfield

A dispute over boat slips and financial management will sever one of Westmoreland’s oldest civic corporations if two of its members have their way in court on April 22.
Potomac-Westmoreland Shores Civic Corporation (PWSCC), of Colonial Beach, was incorporated by the state of Virginia in 1962 and its trustees took stewardship of community properties including the community center, boat ramp and marina. Those properties, 10 years later, were conveyed to the corporation for the use of residents who paid dues to PWSCC, a voluntary organization for lot owners of the communities. Privileges were later extended to year-round renters.
But on January 25 of this year, Frederick N. Howe III and Lenny Hiter, members of the PWSCC, filed a lawsuit in Westmoreland Circuit Court against the Board of Directors seeking dissolution of the corporation and its assets as well as $200,000 in damages.

Represented by White Stone law firm Dunton, Simmons & Dunton, Howe and Hiter claim in the suit that residents of Potomac Shores increasingly have allowed unauthorized users access to community properties. They say that Potomac has lost much of its beach to erosion and some land area to tax sales, and has continued to mismanage facilities and assets. Last week in Richmond County Circuit Court, the pair sought to obtain a “default judgement” against PWSCC for “avoidance of process.”
Attorney Thomas M. Hendell told Judge Harry T. Taliaferro III that his clients first requested a membership roster from the group’s registered agent at the time, Mayo & Mayo law firm, in August of last year. By October they were still waiting and PWSCC was advised that Virginia law required them to open their membership records.
A few weeks later, they got them, along with a photocopy Bill Hendell says exceeded $600. But many entries lacked lot numbers and local addresses he claims. He says his clients reached a breaking point by Potomac’s “ongoing pattern of delay and obstruction.”
In fact, it wasn’t until February 13 of this year, said Hendell, that the PWSCC Board of Directors acknowledged the suit. Their registered agent had resigned 13 days earlier.
On behalf of PWSCC, attorney James Monroe worked to established a common law precedent of relief from default judgement in similar Virginia cases and emphasized the corporation’s longevity.
Judge Taliaferro agreed, and denied default, saying that to grant it would be extreme, considering that PWSCC has been in place for more than 50 years.
“It is obvious to the court that a lot of the chafing was because of the unresponsiveness on the part of the defendants,” he said. He required that PWSCC provide a membership roster to the plaintiff’s attorney by the hearing. Due to ongoing legal filing, Monroe, who has since been retained by PWSCC, declined to make comment as of press time Tuesday.
On the condition of anonymity, a property owner and resident of Potomac Shores said he has never witnessed unauthorized use of community facilities.
“Absolutely not,” the source said. “Those who use our marina, they either have a boat rental slip that they pay for, or they are members of the community. To use our ramp, members must purchase a key every season. Only those who pay rental for boat slips moor their boats at our dock.”
The hearing is April 22.