“Stop the zoning creep!” That’s how Jock Nash, a resident of Clark Lane, summed up his and nine of his neighbors’ protest at the May 18 Rappahannock County Planning Commission hearing on Commercial Yates LLC’ application to change zoning of the building and 4.5-acre property that now houses Mountainside Physical Therapy and Ginger Hill Antiques. Yates’ ultimate goal is to transform the building into climate-controlled storage units and to build an additional 250 storage units in the four-acre vacant hillside behind the building.
Speaking before a packed courthouse, the commissioners agreed with the Clark Lane residents and voted unanimously to recommend the permit be rejected by the board of supervisors, who have the final decision on the matter and are scheduled to hear it at 7 p.m. Monday, June 6.
Jason Brady, commissioner from the Wakefield district, recused himself from the discussion and the vote.
Yates had submitted two applications to be considered during the meeting. One was a request to remove the proffers — previous owners’ agreement as to the building’s uses — which disallowed storage and warehousing; the other permit was for a special exception needed to build the outside self-storage units.
Early in the evening, however, the commission amended its agenda to consider only Yates’ rezoning request and postponed considering the other application.
After presenting the detailed zoning history of the property, County Administrator Debbie Keyser declined to make a recommendation about the application.
As is customary, the property owner spoke first. Washington attorney Taylor Odom represented the owner, who was not present. “If you read in the Rappahannock county ordinance,” he said, “there is a section that says ‘warehousing’ and below that there are subsections that refer to storage facilities.… The applicant now desires tonight to remove that proffer from the original proffer submitted in 1993 to allow now the storage use of the property. So we’re talking about the property to be used as a storage facility.”
Commission chair Gary Settle then opened the public comment session.
Jeremy and Amy Christopher, accompanied by their young son, were the first to speak. Despite researching the property and meeting the neighbors, said Jeremy, “until you live there you don’t know if your neighbors like to have late parties or use chain saws at 6 in the morning. But one thing you can count on — or I should hope — is the laws, and doing our research and looking at things, we read them. We saw that there was not going to be a large warehouse next to our property and that’s just going to crush our hard work, our resale value.”
Amy Christopher added, “The only way [Yates] should be able to amend the proffers is by permission of the neighbors and their consent.”
Tim Dunbar, who doesn’t live in the county, spoke on behalf of his daughter and son-in-law, Ashley and Mark Wharton, whose property adjoins Yates’ parcel. “My daughter and son-in-law have invested almost half a million dollars in the piece of property that they bought from Mr. [Greg] Yates. They had a vision of what they wanted from their first home and … were confident that there were set proffers in place. You guys are part of the management of the county. I would hope that you have the managerial courage to look at what’s already in place and deny this application.”
Next up was Clark Lane resident Allan Rexinger, whose home is located where Clark Lane ends, near the top of Little Jenkins Mountain. “I don’t care how much of a fence or trees are put up [to obscure the view of the storage units], something like this simply cannot be adequately hidden from view. And you can’t hide noise, exterior lighting or threats from disorder that may come to the neighborhood. I am principally here to support my neighbor. If it’s not good for them, it’s not good for me. But more importantly, this is not good for Rappahannock County.”
Bill Fletcher, long-time county resident and property holder in both Piedmont and Hampton districts, argued for the economic and social benefits of the existing businesses. “Mountainside and the antique store employ 12 to 15 mainly local residents and they have served hundreds if not thousands of people,” Fletcher said. “You’re not only asking to change the proffer but to destroy services that people have come to rely on. Annie Williams [owner of Mountainside] is a treasure of Rappahannock County.”
Zoning board member and land-use lawyer David Konick said: “I agree with just about everybody that has spoken so far, but I want to talk about the integrity of the zoning ordinance. [The applicant’s request] is not a permitted use. If you renege on [the proffers] to the detriment of all these neighbors and all these people who relied on it, you know there’s got to be a reason. And there hasn’t been one thing stated by the applicant or anybody else what has changed since 1989. Nothing’s changed.”
Brian Schultz, who lives on Clark Lane, mentioned his neighbors’ protests when the new owners of a large property on Clark Lane applied for a special-use permit to operate the B&B called Harmony Manor. Reading from a statement, Schultz said, “Every neighbor on the street at that time opposed Harmony Manor, but they managed to get a special use permit. The quality of life on Clark Lane went down at that point and we have been damaged. Please deny this application and stop putting corporate interests over the homeowners’ quality of life. Haven’t we been through enough on Clark Lane?”
Janice Jenkins still lives in the Clark Lane house where she was born and raised. “To see everything go commercial like that is very upsetting,” she said.
Yoko Barsky, Jock Nash’s wife, told the commissioners she had looked up planning commission and supervisors meeting minutes from 1989 and 1993. The proffers “specifically prohibit the warehouses,” she said. “Storage is basically the same.”
Malinda Fisher, resident of Flint Hill, also spoke in support of the existing businesses. “We don’t need another storage facility, but we do need Mountainside Physical Therapy.”
Nash referred to the county’s comprehensive plan, as did several others. “The first line in the comprehensive plan says Rappahannock County is a scenic county,” he said. “It’s the first sentence of the comprehensive plan. Repeat it, repeat it, repeat it: We are a scenic county.”
Before the commissioners made their final remarks, Odom seemed to imply that Yates may still build on the property. “As a landowner, Mr. Yates has assumed all the rights of Faith Mountain. One of the rights is the retail sales operation, so if he were to expand on that, we wouldn’t have to be here tonight. He could go ahead and get a site plan done and approved by the zoning administrator as a use by right.”
But the impact of a storage facility “would be less than some of the uses by right that Mr. Yates currently has, so I guess you have to decide now whether the use can be expanded to a ‘lesser’ impact use or expand his current by-right uses.”
After that, the commissioners took only a few minutes to make their last remarks before voting to deny the application.
The zoning history on the property
In 1989, the former catalogue company Faith Mountain signed a zoning agreement (known as a proffer) changing the zoning from agricultural to general commercial. The proffer restricted the property to retail sales (specifically the mail-order operation) and offices associated with business.
In 1993, the proffer was amended to include the 10 acres behind the building for Faith Mountain’s office, packing and shipping facility. Further restrictions were added requiring down-shielded lighting and a 30-foot right of way not to be for commercial use.
In 2007, the proffer was again amended to allow former local construction company owner Peter Kreyling to house his administrative and sales offices and allow for interior storage of lumber and supplies.
In 2008, zoning for 6.89 acres of the 10-acre back parcel were re-zoned back to agricultural so that Yates could sell that piece as residential. The remaining piece continued in general commercial zoning.