In a busy meeting July 17 at the courthouse, the Rappahannock County Planning Commission approved two efficiency apartment permits, two new bed and breakfasts and one cottage industry request. All five permits were scheduled to go before the board of zoning appeals (BZA) last night (Wednesday, July 24) for final approval.
The first of the two efficiency apartments was an application by Susan Fitzgerald, allowing her to use the single-family home currently on her Flint Hill property as an efficiency dwelling while a new, larger home is being built.
Though BZA representative Alex Sharp said he felt the permit was “consistent with the ordinance,” other commissioners disagreed, insisting that the size of the existing structure made it a second house on the same parcel of land, not an efficiency dwelling.
“I think we’re off base on this one,” said Stonewall-Hawthorne commissioner Gary Light. “This is not an efficiency apartment . . . This isn’t an acceptable interpretation of the ordinance.”
“We’ve never classified a structure like this as an efficiency apartment [before],” agreed Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier. “I think we’re trying to make the ordinance fit everybody’s needs.”
Nonetheless, the commission voted 4-2 to accept the permit, on the condition that there be no expansion to the existing structure. (Light and Frazier voted against the recommendation, while chairman Charles Strittmatter was absent.)
The second efficiency apartment application came from Amissville resident Patricia Sher, who wanted to use her existing garage, which is currently an office space, as an efficiency dwelling. “My husband died in 2012 and I need some help,” explained Sher, who said people had stayed in the garage temporarily before, but she now wanted full-time live-in help.
“I’ll vote for this one, lest someone think I’m morally opposed to all efficiency apartments,” joked Light. The commission unanimously approved her request, 6-0.
The first B&B application came from Slate Mills resident Jeanne Wall, who said she and her husband, Joseph Pipik, wanted to use their three extra bedrooms to operate a B&B. “We’re looking for a small business we can do from home that keeps us in the county,” said Wall.
The Walls added that their house had easy access to Shenandoah National Park and that they intended to continue living in and managing the house. Pipik said they didn’t intend to open for business until at least next spring, citing repairs and renovations as the reason for the delay.
Two of the Walls’ neighbors, Sharon Kilpatrick and Kathryn Sumpter, wrote letters to the commissioners voicing their approval of the potential B&B: “Jeanne and Joe have been good neighbors, and I am sure they will continue as such with a B&B,” read Kilpatrick’s letter.
“I believe [the Wall] B&B will not be a traffic problem or adversely affect the area in any way,” read the letter from Sumpter, who pointed out that the Walls’ location “will offer a different ambiance and not duplicate existing B&Bs in the area.”
The commissioners approved the Walls’ request unanimously.
The second B&B request involved Flint Hill resident Beth Hall, whose permit was originally classified as tourist home. Hall was unable to attend the July 17 meeting, but was represented by attorney Michael Brown, and sought to to use her home as a tourist home for a maximum of six people.
Brown said that Hall intended to act as a live-in manager of the facility, which thereby reclassifies the permit as a B&B, despite the fact that Brown said Hall had no intention of serving meals to guests. “Ms. Hall intends this to be a place solely where someone can rest their head at night,” Brown said.
Several of Hall’s neighbors, however, had written the commission and expressed their concern over the potential B&B. Susan and Joseph Claffy submitted a letter voicing their concerns, citing the narrow right-of-way (only 20 feet wide) that leads to the house and a few instances where Castleton Festival participants — whom Hall regularly provides boarding for — had sped down the driveway and “drove through the field past [the Claffys’] barn . . . trying to find their way back to the road.”
The Claffys’ letter ended with signatures from seven of Hall’s neighbors who also opposed the opening of a tourist home/B&B on the property. “We are concerned . . . if a tourist home is allowed . . . our right to peace and quiet will end,” read the letter.
The main concern for the commissioners, however, was the size of the right-of-way leading to Hall’s house. The county’s zoning ordinance calls for a right-of-way that’s at least 50 feet wide; Hall’s is only 20 feet. It’s the BZA’s responsibility, County Administrator John McCarthy said, to determine whether that distance is too narrow.
“We’re usually hesitant on the 50-foot requirement, but this [road] is a straight shot,” pointed out Frazier. The commission voted to approve Hall’s permit, 6-0, despite the voiced concerns.
The final application of the night was a cottage industry permit from Cynthia and Arthur DeVore, owners of Valley Green Naturals, which produces natural health and beauty products, allowing them to run their business from their house in Amissville.
Cynthia DeVore told the commissioners that their business didn’t require customer trips out to the property, thus eliminating the potential for increased traffic, and that the DeVores would be growing some of the products’ plants on the property.
DeVore also said it was her intention to prepare the products in the kitchen and bottle them in the garage space. She added that she’d have one of several part-time employees help her for four hours a day.
Hampton district commissioner Alvin Henry wondered if the oils the DeVores used in their products could cause problems with the plumbing, pointing out the sheer volume they could potentially be washing down the drain.
“They’re basically cooking oils,” DeVore replied, “and they break down very easily.”
The commissioners unanimously approved the request.