The Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors approved two zoning permits at its regular monthly meeting Monday (Oct. 1), accepted the gift of a skateboard park and the reality of pending courthouse building repairs, and postponed action on health-care benefits changes for county and school employees in Rappahannock County.
The first permit applicant, Greg Williams, owner of Williams Tree Service at Route 729 and U.S. 211 in Ben Venue, was granted a special-exception permit in 2007 that allowed him to build a storage shed to house materials and vehicles on his original property (farther north on 729) and regulated the number of vehicles and employees he could have there.
For the permit’s built-in five-year review, Williams sought to forfeit the rights to build that storage shed (which he says consolidation of his businesses at the Lee Highway site has made unnecessary) as well as reduce the required setback distance, from 50 to 25 feet, of the large piles of firewood along Route 729. According to County (and Zoning) Administrator John McCarthy, that setback distance was originally agreed upon “only for aesthetic reasons.”
“Mr. Williams is a true Rappahannock County success story,” said his attorney Franklin Reynolds at a Sept. 19 meeting of the Planning Commission, which voted unanimously to recommend the supervisors approve Williams’ plans. “Instead of taking his business and skills elsewhere, he’s stayed here and helped the community.”
Williams said he has followed everything laid out in the initial permit, and has significantly reduced the flow of traffic coming into his business. Williams also pointed out that there hasn’t been a single accident at his business, something which was a major concern when the permit was initially issued.
During the supervisors’ public comment period, Bill Freitag of Flint Hill said that while he was impressed by Williams’ enterprise, he felt that it was a commercial (rather than agricultural) business and should be treated as such.
“Mr. Williams essentially started a business in his garage,” Freitag said. “It’s now outgrown his garage . . . and should be moved to a proper business facility.”
Stonewall-Hawthorne district representative Chris Parrish pointed out that increasing the setback distance for the stacks of firewood might actually make them more visible from the road.
“The way that property is set up, there’s a hill that the piles might come to rest on, making them even more visible,” said Parrish.
The board members voted unanimously to approve Williams’ requests, though they did attach a second five-year review clause to the new permit.
The second permit, issued to Glen Gordon Manor for its hosting of outdoor events, originally specified that the Huntly B&B would end all outdoor events by 11 p.m. Dayn Smith, who owns the inn with his wife, Nancy Moon, spoke at the Sept. 19 Planning Commission session, saying that they haven’t hosted many outdoor events and therefore didn’t have a problem with the 11 p.m. deadline.
“The only things I’ve heard about the inn have all been positive,” said Wakefield district representative and Planning Commission chair Charles Strittmatter on Sept. 19. The supervisors voted unanimously to follow the planners’ recommendation to approve the Glen Gordon Manor permit; neither Smith nor Moon was at the supervisors’ session.
During public comment, Amissville resident Jan Makela petitioned the supervisors to consider taking a stand on high-speed pursuits in the county. “I can’t imagine any of you think it’s okay to drive 140 miles per hour through our county,” said Makela, whose father was killed in a collision with a speeding state trooper 11 years ago, referring to two recent cases of high-speed chases heard in local courts. Makela asked the board to consider banning high-speed pursuits in the county, unless there was a clear life-or-death situation.
The board voted to table until its November session a resolution to approve the recommendations by the Joint Benefits Study Group, which was formed earlier this year to analyze the county’s employee health-care benefits and make recommendations to manage rising costs. Along with other changes, the committee had recommended that both the county and school division continue to subsidize single-subscriber coverage but cut back on dependent-care coverage subsidies.
Shannon Grimsley, instructional coordinator for Rappahannock County public schools, spoke at the supervisors’ meeting to criticize the proposed changes, calling the new plan an “anti-family plan.” She also cautioned the board that the county would lose numerous families if these changes are made. [See related letter, page 4].
Grimsley petitioned the board to table the health-care decision until the board’s November meeting, which would provide Grimsley and other public school officials time to meet and discuss alternatives. “Rappahannock County needs families,” Grimsley said. “And right now the message that’s being heard is, ‘You’re not welcome in Rappahannock County if you have a family.’ ”
The board members agreed, and voted to schedule a public hearing on the matter for 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 5, an hour before the supervisors’ regularly scheduled session at 7. The board may make a final decision on the new plan afterward, though McCarthy said afterwards that a final decision likely won’t happen until December.
The board also heard a report on the skatepark under construction at the park. The $60,000 renovations are serving as an Eagle Scout project, and is funded entirely by donations. Project lead Walt Longyear spoke to the board, and said the park should be finished by the end of the year.
McCarthy presented a brief report on the status of several of the county’s 19th-century brick buildings that have suffered water damage over the years. Though no solutions were yet offered, the report established that the home-kiln bricks comprising many of the county’s buildings were porous, and allowed water to seep in over time.
This was further compounded by past county renovations, including handicapped-accessible sidewalks installed at the courthouse several years ago. In addition to trapping water closer to the buildings (thus allowing more of it to be absorbed), McCarthy pointed out, salt put down in winter to help prevent icing is also being absorbed by the bricks, exacerbating the damage.
“We have to be serious stewards of these buildings,” said McCarthy, who stressed that any solution would involve a multi-year process which would also need to be approved by the town of Washington’s Architectural Review Board. The board members agreed to continue looking for ways to halt the degradation of county buildings while preserving their historic appearance.