Apartment okayed, guest house delayed, tempers frayed

Acting on the recommendation of the Rappahannock County Planning Commission, the Board of Zoning Appeals at its monthly meeting last week unanimously approved a special use permit to convert a barn into a family apartment.

Robert Chapman, owner of the barn — and accompanying house — on Sperryville Pike near the Sperryville Methodist Church, wrote in his original application: “The barn structure dates to 1890-1910 and contains approximately 1,491 square feet of space. I would like to convert the barn into two spaces: one 408-square-foot storage/workshop and a 1,083-square-foot living space,” both with separate entrances and not connected by door or window.

At the May 25 BZA meeting, he described his plans for the conversion as the board members inspected drawings he provided of a traditional red barn with white trim. Chapman said he intends to close off existing doors at the end of the barn, but leave the trim. On one side of the structure, he will install nearly an entire wall of glass. Inside, he will restore the existing beams.

“The barn is beautifully made,” he said. “My goal is to make it into a nice open living space” for his mother when she is ready to ready to move in. Until that time, Chapman plans to use the space as a studio.

In response to questions from board members, Chapman said that county building inspector Richie Burke had been inside the barn but had not yet seen the drawings, and that the property was already on the local sewer system and he could easily obtain an additional hook-up.

The vote to approve was 4-0. (The fifth member of the board, Bill Anderson, was absent.) Chapman was told he had to start construction within a year of receiving the permit.

Guest house tabled

At the same meeting, another applicant asked that his application for a setback variance on his property be tabled so that he could do more research on zoning requirements and the building possibilities on a small lot across the lane from his main parcel. Applicant Jay Cathell, who lives in Clifton Park, N.Y. but maintains a house in Huntly, said he and his wife would like to build a small guesthouse on that lot.

Cathell stated in his application that when they bought their home in Huntly in 2012, he and his wife “discussed the viability of using the second lot as a site for a small guest house for friends, family and possible rental income in our retirement.” He said that at no time did real estate brokers or county officials mention the 100-foot setback requirements. As designed to fit the narrow, sloping lot, he said, the proposed guest house would leave only a 35-foot setback on one side and 70 feet on the other.

He told the members that he would like time to do more homework, including talking to some of his neighbors about their concerns.

Board chair Alex Sharp asked the other members for opinions on how to proceed.

Board member David Konick said, “In all candor and with respect for the applicant, it’s my view based on what I have reviewed, the ordinance does not allow us to grant a variance in a situation like this where there are two nonconforming lots that are in joint ownership. In my view we don’t have jurisdiction to approve. It’s going to be dismissed on some kind of technicality.”

Cathell asked if there was any way to get an answer about the technicality before a public hearing.

After a brief discussion, the board members voted 3-0 to put the question to the board of supervisors. Konick abstained.

Tempers flare

County meetings are normally congenial affairs, with actions, discussions and even disputes governed by Roberts Rules of Order. But tempers do flare, as happened near the end of the BZA meeting, when Konick and vice chair Jennifer Matthews disagreed vehemently about a variance application approved at the board’s April meeting. Konick had voted against the variance — along with Christopher Bird — while Matthews, Sharp and Anderson voted in favor.

Both Konick and Matthews landed verbal blows before Sharp intervened and called for a motion to adjourn the meeting, which Konick supplied. After a second, it passed unanimously.

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