Bedford County leaders address concerns over construction project

BEDFORD, Va. (WDBJ7)-- On one of Bedford's main roads you will find restaurants, a Dairy Queen and James Leftwich’s retirement project.

“This pond right here, this is going to be used to water the plants in the greenhouse,” said Leftwich, sharing the plans for the construction project unfolding in his backyard.

Leftwich cleared all of the trees behind the home he is renting on Longwood Ave. and will one day buy. His plan is to build greenhouses and sell plants.

“Something I can do to stop doing construction. I’m getting too old for it,” said Leftwich.

But Leftwich said the rain and snow have slowed his progress. The project has now garnered a lot of attention from onlookers calling it, “unsightly.”

At one point Leftwich responded with a message painted on his home, “if you don’t like it don’t look.”

“I don’t like it the way it is,” said Leftwich, referring to the site. “But time, you’ve got to have time to do stuff.”

The Town of Bedford and Bedford County both started receiving complaints. According to the county, the complaints picked up in December.

“What is going on? We want to know what’s occurring in our community,” said Gregg Zody, describing the complaints that came in.

Zody is Director of Community Development for the county.

He said there’s only so much the county can do, especially because the property is within the town limits, but they do have control over erosion and sediment.

In late February Zody’s department, along with the Department of Environmental Quality, toured the land and spotted some problems.

“We’re all about property rights, but I’m a big advocate of property owner’s responsibility to the land and to the community,” said Zody. “And this is one of the issues to where his rights have kind of crossed that line.”

Leftwich has a land disturbing permit that he received last year, according to Zody. However, with that kind of permit you are not able to disturb more than an acre of land. Leftwich has exceeded that.

The county, with DEQ’s backing, issued a stop work order Friday March 8th because Leftwich cleared too much land and it has to be stabilized.

Zody said the concern is that run-off could go into the waters of the state and create environmental issues. According to Zody, there is no evidence that has happened at this point.

The county will check Monday the 11th at the latest to make sure Leftwich has put seed and straw down, or they will take legal action.

“It addresses the environmental concerns, the whole purpose for the ordinance, and also it addresses the public concerns because instead of seeing a wasteland...you’re going to see grass growing,” said Zody.

Other than that, Leftwich isn’t technically doing anything wrong.

According to the town, Leftwich has broken ordinances in the past for metal or trash piling up, but his property is zoned General Business so he is within his right to build greenhouses.

Before he starts building he will have to obtain a building permit from the town, which he has not done yet.

“It’s where I want to be. It’s what I like,” said Leftwich. “This is not going to be this way forever.”

For some residents who drive up to look at the work, though, their concerns are over more than just the aesthetic.

“Bedfordites, as I call myself, really don’t like a lot of change and the things that we can hold on to from years gone by, we’d like to,” said Teresa Johnson-Key, a long time Bedford resident.

The Rainbow restaurant next door to Leftwich’s property closed last year after more than 40 years in business.

An online petition claims one of the reasons the space has not reopened is because the construction is blocking the delivery entrance.

“Maybe when this is done it will be nice,” said Johnson-Key, referring to Leftwich’s project. “But the fact that it is affecting something we’ve had our whole lives, is not good.”

The county and town both said they have no control over right of way or a property dispute between neighbors. That has to be dealt with in court between the owners.

“Our only authority is what he does with the land in terms of disturbing the land,” said Zody.

A representative from the old Rainbow building would not comment if they are taking legal action.

Leftwich said he will comply with the county’s stop work order and stabilize the ground. By Thursday, he had already covered a portion of the land in seed and straw.

He plans to have his greenhouses up and running by next spring.

“I’ll deal with it and move on,” said Leftwich. “I just hope everybody understands it takes money and time. This is work in progress.”