One new tourist home was approved by the Rappahannock County Board of Zoning Appeals in a very brief meeting last Wednesday night (Aug. 28).
Christopher Bird, a member of the BZA who recused himself from the vote, sought approval of a special-use permit allowing 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.
Bird added that he had no intention of cooking for any of his potential guests, and would act as the property manager. Bird also said that the house, built in 1972, contains three bedrooms, and would only provide lodging for a maximum of six people.
Previously unanimously approved by the planning commission at their Aug. 21 meeting without objection or discussion, Bird’s permit was again unanimously approved, this time by a vote of 4-0.
A second special-use permit — an efficiency apartment request from Jim Offutt and Kim Bealle, whose home on Nethers Road was damaged by lightning strikes and an ensuing fire — was slated to come before the BZA Wednesday night, but was withdrawn prior to the meeting.
The planning commission recommended that the permit be denied at their Aug. 21 meeting by a vote of 4-3. The planners were worried about the small acreage the apartment would be built on, the floodplain on the property and the potential impact on the septic system, and recommended to the BZA that the permit be denied, though the BZA is not bound to follow that recommendation and has overturned the planning commission in the past.
“It was the most ‘no’ votes I’ve seen in a long time,” said County Administrator John McCarthy in recapping the planning commission meeting for the BZA.
McCarthy said that he received an email notification from the applicants prior to the meeting, asking that the permit request be withdrawn while they considered the financial implications of building an efficiency apartment.
Because the permit was completely withdrawn, McCarthy said Offutt and Bealle could reapply and re-submit their application with no wait; the permit would once again go before the planning commission and the process would begin anew.
“It seems like there’s a general consensus that there are issues with the efficiency apartment and the way the ordinance is written,” said BZA member Alexander Sharp, who also serves on the planning commission and voted to approve Offutt’s request.
This was the second efficiency apartment in two months to spark debate at the planning commission’s meeting, said McCarthy, though the reasons were different for each. The first apartment to raise objection was a request from Susan Fitzgerald at the commission’s June 17 meeting. Fitzgerald sought permission to use the single-family home currently on her Flint Hill property as an efficiency dwelling while a new, larger home is being built.
That “controversy,” McCarthy said, dealt with the size of the apartment (and was approved, 4-2). This one concerned the property’s flood plain and the effect the expanding drainfield might have had.
McCarthy said he was considering potential changes to the ordinance in light of the issues raised by the planning commission, including potentially creating two different levels of efficiency apartments. McCarthy said he was considering an amendment which would allow any efficiency apartment smaller than 800 square feet “by right” to the property owner; anything larger would require a permit, but would, McCarthy suggested, decrease the number of requests, as most apartments weren’t bigger than 800 feet.
No decisions, McCarthy stressed, had been made yet. Any possible changes to the ordinance would have to be covered in the comprehensive plan, which is currently under its five-year revision and will be revisited by the commission, likely at its October meeting, and finalized later this year.
“I just have to lock myself away somewhere and get it done,” McCarthy said.
“If you had an efficiency apartment, you could hide,” grinned Sharp.