Nearly everyone you ask is in favor of affordable housing in Rappahannock County, where community-action organization People Inc. has proposed for the second time in two years to build some — or, actually, to build more than anyone’s ever proposed here before.
Nearly everyone you ask, from those who raise cattle and hay to those who import renowned architects to design their weekend homes, also worries about too much change coming to Rappahannock.
“We’ll see,” said Chris Parrish, a hay farmer and the Stonewall-Hawthorne district’s representative to the board of supervisors — a governing body that will not, incidentally, get a chance to pass judgement on this latest proposal. “The county does need to pay attention to providing affordable housing for its citizens.”
People Inc.’s application for a special-use permit to build 24 to 28 apartment units on the site of the former Sperryville Emporium was scheduled for an initial hearing before the planning commission last night (Wednesday, Nov. 19, after this edition went to print). [An update on that meeting is here.] If the planners recommend approval, the permit need only pass the board of zoning appeals. (Their next meeting is Wednesday, Dec. 4.).
“Multifamily housing is new to the county,” said Parrish, “and what we don’t know is what kind of problems it could create. . . . I like the idea that it would accommodate our teachers and our deputies. I worry that it would get filled up with people coming from outside the county.”
Hal Hunter, founder of the Rappahannock Food Pantry and a tireless advocate (and volunteer) for the county’s elderly and hungry, said he’s been told by many that the county’s most pressing need is providing affordable housing for its senior citizens.
Hunter pointed out that People Inc.’s plans — which he reportedly helped bring about — include a small “community building” between two larger apartment houses. “That’s the kind of thing many of our elderly citizens really need.”
“I have known a lot of elderly who find that they have too much property as they get older, and they want to scale down,” said David Huff, who owns the Country Cafe in the town of Washington — the town where People Inc. two years ago proposed to triple the number of apartments at the Old Washington School by adding a dozen affordable units. The proposal was withdrawn after the schoolhouse property was purchased by local investors.
Among those investors was a then-town council member whose wife was quoted at a hearing as saying,
“I didn’t move all the way out to Rappahannock County . . . to live next to high-density housing. We moved to the county . . . specifically because of the sense of community here.”
Community is a relative term, says County Administrator John McCarthy. “With any kind of public building like this,” he said, “people, specifically neighbors, will worry — ‘What will happen to our neighborhood?’” By Wednesday morning this week, McCarthy said, he’d received no letters opposing the People Inc. plan for Sperryville. “But I’ve certainly heard from folks who are either concerned or on the fence. And they’ll all be there [at the planning commission meeting] tonight.”
Piedmont Supervisor Mike Biniek, who, with his wife, runs a farm, a B&B and a private school, said “we have a lot of service-industry folks here, whether it’s teachers or policemen or anything else. It’s better to have them in the community.”
With undermarket rents — People Inc. says the apartments will be offered to those who make 60 percent or less of Rappahannock’s median family income, which was last estimated by HUD at $82,000 — Biniek said the key is “managing it properly. Two important things: Architecturally and landscape-wise, it has to be done right, so it blends in with the surroundings. And it has to have good management, to keep quality people in there.”