Planners OK Maazels’ tourist plan

The Rappahannock County Planning Commission recommended approval of four special-use permits last week for tourist homes in and around Lorin and Dietlinde Maazel’s more than 550-acre Castleton Farms estate – primarily for rentals during the months when the homes are not being used to house many of the young musicians and singers who come to perform and study at the Maazels’ annual summer Castleton Festival.

Represented at the commission’s regular meeting last Wednesday (Oct. 17) by attorney Doug Baumgardner, the Maazels had applied for permits for four separate properties they own. Baumgardner described the homes as “concepts like a beach house,” noting that each property could house six to 10 people, and that the Maazels also owned the surrounding properties, which would limit the impact on neighbors.

(The tourist homes are part of a restructuring of Castleton Farms, according to Dietlinde Maazel, reached by email earlier this week, as well as part of an effort by the Maazels and the Chateauville Foundation to ensure the fiscal future of the Castleton Festival, whose organizers are now planning a fifth season of opera and classical music performances for next June and July. Maazel had been contacted to comment on reports that some of the farm’s full-time, year-round staff were being let go. “We respect our staff and their privacy, and as such our relationship with Farm staff is confidential,” she wrote, noting that Castleton’s restructuring had indeed led to recent “changes of full-time positions. These changes were mutually agreed to and we are still finalizing the details . . . Because of our long relationship with some of the staff members, this has been a difficult decision.”)

Only one Castleton resident spoke at the planning commission’s hearing on the tourist home permits, saying he wasn’t opposed to the permits but wondered whether guests would complain about the noises that naturally accompany life in a rural community such as Rappahannock.

“This isn’t a Marriott in New York City,” said Steven Hensley. “There’s going to be tractors, cows, the sounds of hunting and shooting . . . how is the existing life here going to mesh with tourist homes?”

County Administrator John McCarthy answered Hensley’s question by pointing out that weekend guests in Rappahannock are never the ones who file complaints about the noises.

“Most of those type of complaints come from new arrivals who might not have initially realized that these sort of things happen naturally in the country. The people who vacation here come here specifically for that kind of experience.”

“The county is the net gainer in all this,” said Alvin F. Henry, Jr., the commission’s Hampton district representative.

“I think it’s a very good use of an existing property,” said Piedmont district commissioner Gary Settle.

The commission unanimously approved the four permits; the matter was passed on to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), which was to meet Wednesday night (Oct. 24).

The last permit to come before the commission was for the Auchter Tourist Home. Owners Thorne and Barbara Auchter are seeking a special-use permit to turn their four-bedroom house on 21 acres into a tourist home for up to 12 guests. Tuesday night (Oct. 16), the commission received a single letter of disapproval from neighbor Carolyn Beahm, who said she was worried the lights and sounds from the proposed tourist home would disturb the area’s usual peace and quiet.

Henry said he believed having 12 people in the home at once was “kind of pushing it,” and asked the Auchters if they intended to be present while the house was being rented.

Thorne Auchter said they intended to leave the home when guests were over, and stay elsewhere, regardless of the number of renters. “It’s still our home though,” he said. “We’re not going to let people run rampant.”

Furthermore, Auchter said there wouldn’t be any mixing of groups of renters; if a group of four rented the house, they wouldn’t rent the house out again until those renters had left.

Ron Frazier, the commission’s board of supervisors’ representative, also questioned the large number of guests, suggesting that a review period might be necessary. BZA representative Alex Sharp recommended a five-year review period be attached to the commission’s approval.

“We have more than 12 people over routinely,” said Auchter. “We’ve had parties of more than that over before, and renting out to a full 12 people would be unusual.”

The commission ultimately approved the special-use permit with a 5-0 vote, after adding a five-year review stipulation. The matter was also to be heard by the BZA Wednesday night.

Meeting at the Castleton Community fire hall as part of its series of around-the-county hearings on five-year revisions to the county’s comprehensive plan. McCarthy said hearings on any possible changes to the plan would continue into next spring.

Flint Hill resident Phil Irwin stood (as he has at recent commission hearings at fire halls in Chester Gap, Sperryville and Washington) and suggested several matters he thinks the county should consider in the comprehensive plan’s next draft, including regulating ridge-top development, measures to help preserve historic structures and improve lighting and noise ordinances, and development on the county’s borders.