Cappiali: ‘Whether I’ll ever be in compliance is like buying a lottery ticket, you have hope’
It was an unusual gathering for such a frosty Tuesday morning in Rappahannock County, as John and Beth Cappiali and their grown son “Little John” welcomed two distinct groups of people — agreed beforehand to be kept separated — to inspect their frozen property seven miles east of Washington on Highway 211.
One group consisted of Rappahannock County Administrator Garrey Curry, equipped with a camera, accompanied by County Zoning Administrator Michelle Somers, who carried a clipboard.
The other group was Cappiali’s attorney, Sylvia Sevilla, and David Konick, counsel to the Cappiali’s neighbor across the four-lane highway — Jeremiah “Jack” Atkins — who claimed in an earlier court filing the couple had effectively created a junkyard on their property.
On hand to keep the peace was Rappahannock Sheriff Connie Compton, who did her best to keep warm.
Atkins, a part-time Rappahannock County building official, filed a complaint in Circuit Court on October 12 demanding enforcement of the county’s zoning ordinance against the Cappialis, who he claimed had created a dumping ground while operating two contracting businesses.
The lawsuit, filed by Konick, originally named the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors, Zoning Administrator Somers, and County Attorney Art Goff. However, Rappahannock County Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Parker recently sustained a demurrer filed on behalf of the county government and released them from the suit.
That said, the judge allowed a follow-up inspection of the property by both the county and the opposing lawyers, in part to demonstrate whether the numerous vehicles parked on the property were legally licensed and operable.
Atkins, in his suit, claimed the Cappialis and their businesses “moved a variety of construction materials and other debris, used and inoperable construction equipment and motor vehicles, onto the Subject Property in willful and wanton violation of Chapter 143 and 170 of the Rappahannock County Code.”
Furthermore, he contended, the Cappialis expanded their activities despite being served with three letters of violation from the county since October 2016.
Cappiali told the Rappahannock News that in the months since the lawsuit was filed he’s removed “tons” of debris from the property, much of it, he said, previously dumped there by the former landowners going back 70 or more years.
On Tuesday, for example, before the snow started flying, he pointed to the trunks of two large trees that had grown up through tires dumped there decades ago.
Cappiali said he’s been hauling numerous loads of debris to a single recycling center in Culpeper, which provides him with a receipt of the disposed contents for each visit.
“I’ve made 22 trips bringing cars, trucks, scrap metal,” he said, “the lightest trip 1,800 pounds, the heaviest over 7,000 pounds,” including six inoperable cars and three pickup trucks. “So clearly I’ve cleaned up a significant amount.”
During Tuesday’s inspection, Cappiali, 54, personally led Curry and Somers from one large truck, trailer, piece of machinery and storage container to another — equipment of every shape and size, some in working order some not, that are stored throughout the 18 acre property.
In addition, Cappiali climbed behind the wheel of several vehicles and successfully started their engines. Other inoperable vehicles and pieces of equipment he singled out would soon be on their way to the scrap yard.
“Some stuff is just too rough to fix, there’s no argument,” Cappiali told Curry, to which the administrator replied: “All I know is we’ve got an ordinance, we have words in the book, and we try to go by those the best we can.”
Curry took pictures with his camera of license plates, permits and stickers for each vehicle, while Somers took accompanying notes.
Cappiali’s son “Little John,” meanwhile, followed on foot by several hundred yards as he led attorneys Konick and Sevilla on their own inspections of the property.
Cappiali showed Curry and Somers one newly cleared site where he proposes building a 50 x 100 foot Quonset hut — “to store all the little stuff that’s out here” — as well as a 120 x 120 foot repair shop.
Among the more intriguing pieces of equipment parked on the property are two former Rappahannock Regional Solid Waste Management roll off containers purchased from a seller in Manassas, which Cappiali will use to store and haul compost, and a former 1985 Orleans (Va.) Fire Department brush truck, with only 18,000 original miles.
“I own my own fire truck!” an amused Cappiali told the group.
Meanwhile, Cappiali late last week filed the required paperwork with the county government to designate his property a “Contractor’s Yard,” which by code would allow for the storage of designated pieces of equipment on the property.
“To be in compliance, [it’s] one of the things they [the county] asked me to do,” he explained. “Whether I’ll ever be in compliance is like buying a lottery ticket, you have hope.”
The Planning Commission, Somers told this newspaper, will review Cappiali’s application at their next meeting in February.
“If they deem the application complete they have two options at that point: they can hold a public hearing, or they can go ahead and make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors without a public hearing (per RCC 170-55.E). If the Planning Commission holds a public hearing, which would be the following month (March), they would hear from the public and then they would send a recommendation to the BOS with possible conditions for the permit,” Somers explained. “At this point the BOS would then hold their public hearing and make a decision with any conditions they set for the permit.
“When deciding to approve or deny the permit factors to consider would be: compliance with Rappahannock County Code, public input, VDOT comments and/or recommendations.”
Said Cappiali: “I would probably say 80 percent of the contractors that live in this county do not have one of these [permits] nor have they been asked to have them. I’m not going to argue whether or not I’m being singled out, it feels that way a little bit.”
At which point Cappiali revealed that last Wednesday night, while in the process of cleaning up his property, he and his son were burning stumps in a single bonfire.
“At 11 o’clock . . . we had a visit from the sheriff’s office, the state police, and an Amissville fire truck. They said that somebody driving by called on their cell phone to say that a house was on fire,” he recalled. “It was raining . . . and they looked with the big spotlights, and they walked around it, and there’s no tires in it, there’s no furniture, no plastic or anything like that.
“And they said, ‘That’s the way it’s supposed to be done! You cleared everything around it, you’re not burning trash, you’re burning what you’re supposed to burn. And sorry to get you up and out,’” he quoted the emergency respondents as saying. “My first assumption was [it was] Jack Atkins [who called] because he happens to live across the street and he happens to be the head [president] of the Amissville fire department, and that’s who showed up. But I will go with what the police said, and they said it was a random call.”
“I’m trying to be in compliance with the law,” Cappiali concluded. “I see people all the time, in stores, people I’ve met, friends. They all tell me the same thing . . . ‘Why are they bothering you? Why do they care? It’s your property. You can do what you want to do. You’re not doing anything that’s soaking into the ground, and contaminating anything, you’re not pumping chemicals into the ground and burying radioactive waste.”
Bottom line, Cappiali says he’s cleaning up the property, but he has “a lot of stuff.”