Planners OK Narmada expansion

The Rappahannock County Planning Commission recommended approval of both plans before it last Wednesday (June 18) — including a 2,800-square-foot conference and wedding center at Narmada Winery.

Architect Dick Manuel explained that the structure would adjoin the Amissville winery’s existing main storage and tasting-room building, and serve primarily to host weddings, which owners Pandit and Sudha Patil said they hoped to hold every other week from summer to fall.

Manuel also noted that a Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) inspection had already determined that a 200-foot merge area would need to be added to the vineyard’s current 90-degree entrance on U.S. 211. The winery’s current drain field, he said, would suffice, as the restrooms the complex will house would be the only additional strain. Lastly, Manual said the Patils wouldn’t be installing anymore parking, as they already had room for approximately 200 cars.

Several of Narmada’s neighbors, however, spoke against the conference center, particularly as it related to increased lighting and traffic in an otherwise primarily agricultural zone (where wineries and vineyards are a permitted use throughout Virginia). Stonewall-Hawthorne supervisor Chris Parrish, who owns a rental property near the vineyard, said he’d “had better neighbors,” and was worried about parking-lot lighting.

“Darkness should be a part of the Rappahannock viewshed,” Parrish said. “Sooner or later [Narmada] is going to outsize Amissville. We might as well just move the post office there . . . It’s invasive, and I’d love to see it stop somewhere.”

Parrish said later he would likely recuse himself from the supervisors’ vote on the special exception permit when it comes before the board at its July 7 meeting.

“We are not in favor of such a center without strong, enforceable restrictions concerning outdoor lighting and noise,” read a letter from neighbors Eric and Joyce Hermansen. “Perhaps if Narmada is to operate an intrusive, disruptive commercial business in an agricultural neighborhood, then all affected bordering property owners should be rezoned commercial, so that we too can enjoy the same financial rewards.”

Manuel responded to the lighting complaints by saying that the Patils planned to install lighting that would have “as low an impact as possible.” Furthermore, the Patils said the reason they want the conference center is to help reduce their noise and light footprint by moving most events now held outdoors into the new facility.

“We have abided by the county rules since day one,” said Pandit Patil. “We are here to serve the community and do right by them.”

“The ordinance of the county has been met,” said Hampton district commissioner Alvin Henry, “even if other people don’t like it. It’s already a very safe property, and an appropriate place for this kind of use.” Henry added he thought the events Narmada hosted would help add to the county’s tax base.

After getting sidetracked by public comments about the Patils’ use of a deer cannon to protect their grapes, the rest of the commissioners agreed with Henry, and approved the conference center unanimously, 6-0. (Stonewall-Hawthorne commissioner Gary Light was absent.)

There were, however, several stipulations attached to the approval, including a ban on outdoor amplified music; an 11 p.m. event curfew; a 200-patron limit; a setback requirement of 50 feet from the adjoining properties; health department approval of the septic system; meeting all VDOT standards; and lighting poles no more than 20 feet high.

The second application the commissioners considered was a request from Cameron Schriver to use his 12.7-acre Amissville property as a three-bedroom bed and breakfast.

The house, which Schriver said currently had five bedrooms — “And arguably six,” he laughed — would provide a room for handicapped guests “and cater to them. It would be another place for patrons of places like Narmada to spend their evening.”

Schriver added that he was in the process of excavating the property’s septic system — at the health department’s request — to ensure it’s sufficient for a five-bedroom house. “I doubt very seriously that you have a five-bedroom septic system,” Henry said. “That’s a big drain field.”

Many of Schriver’s neighbors shared the well and septic system concerns, with neighbor Karen Hunt pointing out that rooms had been rented out there (without a permit) for the last three years, something she was “disturbed to find,” and which prompted several calls to the sheriff’s office and County Administrator John McCarthy.

“I’m fine with it as long as all the code standards are met,” said fellow neighbor Donna McConn, who also requested the property be properly identified to prevent people coming to the wrong address. Neighbor Jana Froeling was also not against the B&B, but said the fact that previous revisions to the house had been done without permits impacted her property, and asked that the house be brought up to code.

Concerning questions of the house not meeting the county’s building codes, McCarthy said, “It’s going to be hard to unpack what was done when and what code applied at that point.” Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier agreed, and noted that the previous owner “was always knocking walls down . . . That contributes to the house’s ‘ramblingness.’ ”

The commission ultimately decided that meeting decades’ worth of building-code requirements was secondary to the drain field’s capacity, and approved the permit unanimously (pending the health department’s approval of the septic system), 5-0. (Alex Sharp abstained.) The application was scheduled to go before the board of zoning appeals Wednesday night (June 25) for final approval.