Art dealer Robert E. Crawford, who built the yard-high wooden fence on his 8-acre property at 7751 Riverside Drive, says he's within his rights and has heard no other complaints. "We're not trying to be ugly to anybody," he says. A sturdy fence is needed, he maintains, to prevent cars from parking on the bank and trespassers from venturing onto his land. A short, dilapidated cable-and-post barrier stood on the site before.
Crawford knows the area is a popular spot for recreation, but he says he's tired of bad behavior. People have thrown beer cans and bottles on his property, he says, stolen a small boat of his and blocked with their cars the driveway winding up to his imposing house above the river.
Still, Wolf counters, "it seems like just a horrendous abuse of private property." She says the real issue is what restrictions are placed on landowners along the river. The chest-high fence Crawford built could just as easily have been an impenetrable 6-foot privacy wall, she says, as there are no zoning restrictions that dictate the public's right to a view.
Public use of private property is an issue perpetually confronting Ralph White, manager of the James River Park system. White says he understands why Crawford would want to discourage park users from going in the water and possibly getting hurt.
But a Virginia statute takes legal liability off the shoulders of private landowners when they allow the public to use their property, he says. Hence, "If you stub your toe, it's your fault."
The fence on the riverbank, which White calls "a cattle chute for people," took White by surprise. "It is a detriment to public use of this beautiful area," he says, "and it pushes people into traffic, which is most unfortunate."
Crawford says there's enough space for people to stroll on the shoulder. He's considering extending the fence to enclose the bank entirely, he says, but hasn't yet decided. MELISSA SCOTT SINCLAIR