In January 2012, the Rappahannock County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) provided the investors owning a B&B a first-time exemption to the long-standing county zoning ordinance requiring a 50-foot right-of-way for roads where B&Bs are located. This exemption was granted for a private 9-foot wide lane with only a 30-foot right-of-way.
This action was approved on a 3-1 vote, against the recommendation to deny of both the county zoning administrator and the county planning commission. Our concern, as expressed in this newspaper at the time, was that this precedent would weaken county zoning and inevitably result in more such actions.
Unfortunately, our concern was justified. This paper reports in its Aug. 1 edition that the BZA has approved an exemption for a B&B that will house up to six guests; it is located on a road with only a 20-foot right-of-way.
In both BZA proceedings, the neighbors urged the board to deny the requests because the neighbors would lose their rights to peace and quiet and road safety. They were ignored. If Rappahannock is to restore the integrity of its zoning and the process by which it is administered, some basic changes are required. We make four recommendations:
First, if a two-thirds majority of adjacent neighbors object to a zoning exemption, the request should be rejected by the BZA.
Second, county residents sitting on both the BZA and the planning commission must exclude real estate agents and developers. Though all decisions made by such persons may not be affected by the source of their livelihood, the conflict of interest of having them serving on these bodies is fundamental and obvious. This conflict compromises impartiality.
Third, the existing practice of allowing a person to serve on both the planning commission and the BZA should be changed so that a person may only serve on one. A person making recommendations from the planning commission to the BZA should not be a judge of the correctness of those recommendations.
Moreover, allowing the same person to sit on both boards improperly expands influence and unfairly disadvantages differing views. Those who oppose such a dual board member’s views are subjected to “double jeopardy.” A local real estate agent and developer now sits on both boards. He should resign from both of them.
Fourth, in both of the cited zoning exemptions, the county’s actions create an increase in commercial traffic on what was a private road. In the case of the last exemption, there can be a potential 600-percent increase in traffic to one dwelling.
When such an exemption is given (which we hope does not recur), either the county should require B&B owners to bring the road up to safe standards and provide for the increased costs of maintenance, or it should accept the responsibility of paying for the costs of upgrading and maintaining what were once private roads that are now essentially county-created public roads. The county has twice converted private roads into commercial ones open to the public, but left the associated costs to the neighbors. This practice must be stopped as soon as possible.
We hope that others will join us in opposing the BZA’s creeping degradation of county zoning standards for the benefit of the few at the expense of the rest of us.