Apartment denied, tourist home approved

A tourist-home permit was approved and an efficiency apartment request was rejected at the Rappahannock County Planning Commission’s monthly meeting last Wednesday night (Aug. 21).

Both permits were also to be considered by the board of zoning appeals last night (Wednesday, Aug. 28).

The efficiency apartment was a request by Kim Bealle and Jim Offutt, whose house on Nethers Road was one of two Rappahannock homes that was struck by lightning on July 21 and suffered major damage in the ensuing fire.

Offutt told the commissioners he and Bealle, who are renting a cabin several miles away while their home is repaired, want to turn an existing accessory building into an efficiency apartment where they could live while the work is done. As an added benefit, Offutt said the apartment would allow him to more closely supervise the repairs, which he said are still weeks from starting.

“I’m a very hands-on guy,” Offutt said, adding that he’d done previous upgrades to the house himself. “We’re weeks away from even getting a contractor . . . [and] this [apartment] is not very difficult to build.”

The apartment would be approximately 600 square feet, Offutt said, and the crew and materials necessary for the renovation were already assembled and ready to go. Offutt added that he would like to rent the apartment out after the house is repaired as a potential source of extra income.

Several of the commissioners had concerns with the permit, however, including Hampton district commissioner Alvin F. Henry, who pointed out that a flood plain reduced the property’s useable acreage to just half an acre.

Henry said that allowing the efficiency apartment would give Offutt two dwellings on just that half-acre — a tricky precedent. “We always talk about precedents here,” Henry said. “I think we’re taking a marginal situation and pushing it the other way . . . I know if I wanted to do something like this in the future, I’d certainly remember this one.”

Some commissioners were also worried about the property’s septic system. Henry pointed out that if Offutt rented out the apartment later, there could be as many as six people in the house, and was worried that the septic system couldn’t handle that many people — a fear shared by several other commissioners, including Gary Light.

“It seems like we’re second-guessing the health department’s decision on the drainage field,” countered Alexander Sharp, who said the health department would have to sign off on the drain field before construction on the efficiency apartment could even begin. Sharp suggested that determining the drain field’s suitability should rest entirely with the health department, not the planning commission.

Sharp also proposed a compromise to the situation, suggesting that approval of the permit be tied to the condition that there be no more than three bedrooms on the property, though Offutt and Bealle were free to configure those rooms any way they wanted.

Ultimately, however, Sharp’s compromise was turned down, as was Offutt’s request, by a vote of 4-3. Ron Frazier, Light, Henry and chairman Charles Strittmatter voted against the permit; Sharp, Raymond Brown and Gary Settle voted in favor.

Offutt’s permit still was to go before the zoning board for a final decision last night. As Henry joked at the end of the meeting, “They overturn us all the time.”

The first permit considered by the commission last Wednesday was a request by Washington resident (and zoning appeals board member) Christopher Bird, which would allow him to use his parents’ house on Horseshoe Hollow Lane as a tourist home. Bird said he intended to rent the property out occasionally, and mostly on weekends, and also envisioned it as a place where family and friends could come and stay.

“It’s also a relative good road,” Bird added. “You can access it with a sports car.”

None of the commissioners had any objections to Bird’s permit, agreeing, as one put it, that it was “a nice use of the property.” The commissioners approved the permit unanimously.