Board pressed to act on noise, speeding, zoning issues
The board of supervisors of Rappahannock County — a place known far and wide as a quiet, green oasis where nothing much ever happens — spent most of its marathon monthly meeting on Monday (Aug. 1) dealing with noise, traffic and emergencies.
As usual for a midsummer session, the board had a relatively light agenda, with actions on the docket including resolutions to revise its banking procedures; to pass on a proposed zoning code revision on adaptive uses of old structures to the planning commission; endorse its annual contract with Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services; pay some fire levy bills; and approve a temporary Blue Ridge Heritage Committee monument (at the county visitors center) to the original families displaced by Shenandoah National Park. All of which it voted unanimously to do.
But near the beginning of its regular session is a public comment period — during which, this Monday, the public commented. At length.
Harold Beebout, chief of the Sperryville Volunteer Rescue Squad, rose to quietly implore the supervisors to “find another vendor” for its EMS cost-recovery program, a two-year-old effort by the county to seek reimbursement from Medicare and other insurers for ambulance trips from Rappahannock County to other medical facilities. The program has been troublesome enough over the last year to cause volunteer fire and rescue companies in Amissville and Washington, and possibly Flint Hill, to seek their own vendors to process the claims.
Beebout’s point was that the current vendor, Medical Accounts Receivable Systems (MARS), which recently bought out the county’s previous vendor Fidelis, “is ineffective and needs to be replaced.” Beebout said he believed the company was missing out on an unknown number of claims, “and it’s hard to tell because they don’t give us any records.”
Warren County, which has a similar EMS cost recovery program, recently switched from MARS to another vendor for similar reasons, Beebout said.
Beebout said SVRS and volunteer rescue squads at Castleton and Chester Gap “would like to stay with the county,” a reference to the independent claim-submitting status of the Amissville and soon Washington companies, adding that “switching vendors” would help make that likely.
(The board discussed the matter of EMS Cost Recovery vendors in closed session following its public session Monday, a discussion legally kept private because it involves contract negotiations.)
Deborah Reina of Amissville appeared before the supervisors, as she has several times over the last three years, to renew her efforts to persuade the county to regulate noise — including, in her case, noise created by neighbors’ dogs, and gunfire. “We have been deprived of the opportunity to have a normal life,” Reina said, noting that she and her husband spent their retirement savings to build a house, which they are unable to sell, in part because of the noise in their neighborhood of smaller-lot homes on Hackley’s Mill Road. The noise and lack of sleep have caused both her and her husband medical problems.
“I just want to appeal to your compassion, your sympathy, one more time,” Reina said. “I was raised that if you do the right thing, you would be rewarded. But apparently some people don’t live that way anymore.”
After a long discussion later Monday, during which County Attorney Peter Luke again reiterated the difficulties faced by the county, not so much to craft a noise or “nuisance” ordinance but to enforce it, the supervisors decided to schedule a public session this fall. The public hearing would not be tied to a vote on any noise ordinance, but would give the public a chance to air their views on such regulation — much as last winter’s hearing on the “idea” of regulating future residential lighting to preserve Rappahannock’s “dark skies.”
Deak Deakins of Rock Mills rose to criticize the board, “for which I have had the utmost respect over the last 32 years,” for ignoring his requests, at five board meetings since January, that they consider reducing the speed limit along U.S. 522 through the village of Woodville from 35 to 25, as it is in the village of Sperryville and the town of Washington.
Deakins’ daughter and young grandchildren live along the road, down which he says vehicles speed routinely every day. He called out Stonewall-Hawthorne Supervisor Chris Parrish, who Deakins said responded in an “insensitive” way, saying in an email that “a child hit by a car doing 25 would suffer the same injuries as a car doing 35.”
“The first thing I would like to do is apologize to Mr. Deakins,” Parrish later said, as the board heard from County Administrator Deborah Keyser that VDOT had determined that the speed limit, reduced to 35 through the village from the 55 mph limit to the north and south, was adequately slow, after conducting a study.
Keyser said VDOT suggested the county create and maintain “Children At Play” signs at either end of the village, and the supervisors asked her to start the process of creating the signs.
Board of Zoning Appeals member David Konick pointed out that the adaptive use provisions in the current zoning ordinance included an arbitrary date, 1940, as a reference point for the age of buildings that could be considered for “adaptive uses,” or uses different than their original purpose, such as old mills — or, in the most recent case, the F.T. Valley Store, which received a zoning permit earlier this summer that would enable its owner to reopen it as a service station.
“But what is proposed . . . really enlarges the adaptive use provision of the zoning ordinance in a way that I think is really bad. The adaptive use thing was a very narrow, limited thing for existing structures at the time the zoning ordinance was originally adopted,” Konick said. He said the zoning ordinance was meant primarily as a hedge against unwanted change on behalf of existing property owners; not, as he interpreted County Luke’s proposed amendment, to encourage development.
Luke later disagreed; the supervisors voted unanimously to pass the amendment on to the planning commission, with a specific request that it be considered during the next 90 days along with other proposed zoning changes and revisions of the county’s comprehensive plan.
Jock Nash of Washington said he shared Konick’s views on the adaptive use revision. “It’s almost like the Amendment That Ate the Code. It can be very mischievous. For example, on the street that I live on, Clark Lane, there was a man named Gary Harvey who years ago went and built a home with 14 bathrooms, violated all the regulations . . . and then ran an illegal B&B for which he was punished. And now another owner has taken it over and it’s failed. And here’s a perfect example of somebody’s who’s built a huge white elephant and now the county has got to figure out what to do with it.”
Nash also mentioned “right next door,” a building permit for the Parma B&B, “which still has 10 bathrooms and 10 bedrooms, and they say that the owner is going to live there. But I understand that on Mitchell Mountain you have two different projects by the same owner, building these monstrosities, and we don’t know what they’re going to be used for.”
The “adaptive use” amendment will cause “all kinds of problems,” Nash said.
“And I would like it, if you are going to come up with an amendment, that first of all, tell us what the evil to be remedied is,” Nash said. “And then give us some explanation of how the amendment is different — you have here three and a half pages of typewritten code that’s going to replace two sentences.”
Page Glennie, an Amissville resident who has delivered sharply critical remarks at most supervisors meetings in 2016, most having to do with the county’s volunteer fire and rescue management policies and financial structure, rose to read from prepared remarks:
“Gentlemen, once again you have forced the Fire Levy Board to approve only some of the allowed operational expenses of our volunteer fire and rescue companies. You have refused to allocate any funds from the general fund to cover these expenses, as done in other Virginia counties. And you have refused to increase the Fire Levy tax to cover these expenses.”
Glennie said that over the last 12 months, the difference between allowable operational expenses by volunteer companies, and the fire levy tax revenues amounded to about $146,000.
“Gentlemen, on one hand you don’t pay your bills, and on the other hand, 20 percent of the full-time county employees, non-school employees, make over $75,000 a year,” said Glennie, who swore after the meeting that he was not running for any public office.
Glennie also criticized the supervisors for “not reviewing or updating” the volunteer companies insurance policy. “How could anyone think that a $75,000 cap on medical expense is reasonable?”
Hampton Supervisor John Lesinski said he was “very discouraged” by the “divisive tone” that the discussion of fire and rescue issues had taken, especially the comments that the county’s insurance coverage for volunteers — in light of a recent serious accident which injured a 19-year-old volunteer for Washington Volunteer Fire and Rescue, who has many months of likely rehabilitation ahead.
“I think we all have to discuss the issue, and I think everyone talking about this issue now feels that insurance needs to be increased,” Lesinksi said “But let’s look at that together, instead of pointing fingers at each other and saying, ‘You were amiss.’
“As far as being fully funded,” Lesinski said, referring to Glennie’s comments on fire and rescue funding, “I don’t know that this isn’t something we want to take a look at . . . but to be accused of not wanting to look at that . . . is just divisive. This is not something you can just wave a magic wand at, it’s something that’s being discussed and will be worked out — including by a committee on which Mr. Glennie serves. . . . ”