Proposed amendments to the county’s zoning ordinance captured most of the attention at last week’s Rappahannock County Planning Commission meeting.
After considering, and tabling, an application at the Aug. 17 meeting for a special use permit to operate a tourist home, the members of the commission addressed definitions of adaptive reuse of existing structures and transient lodgings, including B&Bs and tourist homes.
The commission considered an application by Bob and Julie Coonce for a special use permit to operate their vacation home on Quann Lane in Chester Gap as a tourist home when they are not there. The couple, who live in Middleburg with their three children, plan to advertise the home on Airbnb.com and Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO), two online marketplaces for people to find accommodations without going through booking agents.
Page Glennie, resident of Jackson district, asked whether a property operating as an airbnb is required to pay the same hospitality tax as regular B&Bs. “It seems like the Airbnb is a way to get around paying the hospitality tax. That’s unfair to regular B&Bs,” he said.
On the state level, a Virginia Housing Commission-convened work group is now studying the potential impact of a bill, the Limited Residential Lodging Act, passed by the Virginia General Assembly in March, that would take all the regulation — and some local taxation — of airbnb operations out of the hands of local jurisdictions. The bill won’t take effect until the General Assembly reconsiders it at the next legislative session this winter, leaving the regulation in local hands for now.
On the very local level, several of the Coonces’ Quann Lane neighbors protested the application, most citing the road conditions on the private lane. Ben Atkins told the commission that the road “is about 14 feet wide. Two cars can’t pass each other without scraping each other. The road is not wide enough or safe enough. And when it’s foggy up there, you can’t see your hand in front of your face.”
Carolyn Leake, also a resident on Quann Lane, said, “People from the city don’t know how to drive on a country road. They drive too fast. This is not a good location for a tourist home. I don’t know about the codes, but I do have common sense.”
Jock Nash of Hampton district said: “I know the difficulties of living on a private lane with a commercial operation,” referring to Harmony Manor B&B, just down Clark Lane from Nash and his wife. If the Coonce’s are granted their permit, “this will be the second commercial enterprise on a private lane in the county. It’s a bad situation for neighbors to have a commercial operation” on a private lane.
Phil Irwin of Flint Hill told the commission that “the B&B Association of Virginia would not consider for membership any establishment on a private lane.”
Julie Coonce told the group that the house is not a commercial enterprise, but just supplemental income “so we can have a mountain place and enjoy this beautiful place. We don’t want to destroy your community. We love your community. That’s why we chose to live here.”
After listening to comments, the commissioners debated the merits of the application, focusing mostly on the neighbors’ concerns about privacy and road conditions. Ron Frazier, the supervisors’ representative on the commission, said he normally likes to pay attention to neighbor concerns and asked why the Coonces had not contacted their neighbors. Bob Coonce answered that he didn’t think the application would be an issue.
“It is incumbent on us to think about and balance the rights of the owners versus the rights of the neighbors,” said commissioner Gary Light of Stonewall-Hawthorne district. “Just because the neighbors have enjoyed absentee ownership for this long doesn’t mean that they should not come to expect there won’t be further use” in the future. He said he is normally supportive of a tourist home application in a village residential zone.
In response to a question from Alvin Henry, the commissioner from Hampton district, Bob Coonce said he and his wife had not paid any meals and lodging tax, although they had started advertising the place for rent online in February, but would pay them as soon as possible.
Several of the commissioners expressed dismay. “We should not even be hearing this if your taxes are delinquent,” Frazier said.
After a bit more discussion, the commission voted unanimously to table the application until all issues are addressed, including delinquent taxes and a road maintenance agreement among all the residents of Quann Lane. Keyser advised the Coonces that they could not rent out the property until conditions had been met and the application approved.
The Coonces case remained on the agenda for last night’s Board of Zoning Appeals session (which happened after press time); the commission generally makes a recommendation, but the BZA actually decides the fate of the permit application.
New adaptive use provisions
For the next 45 minutes, the commissioners discussed an expanded definition of adaptive use received from the board of supervisors. Under adaptive use, structures built and zoned for one use could be approved for a different use. An example often mentioned of adaptive use is the Flint Hill structure next to the Wakefield School on U.S. 522, which was built as a packing shed but now houses Clark Land Surveying.
The issue of adaptive use came up recently in response to a permit approved this spring allowing the owner to reopen the F.T. Valley store on Route 231 south of Sperryville.
The current zoning ordinance definition says that adaptive use is “any special exception conducted in accordance with Section 170-69B generally, the use of a dwelling or other building built prior to 1940 for use other than as a single-family dwelling.” The half-page of text spells out additional standards, including that the new use “shall be limited to retail shops, arts and craft galleries, offices, restaurants, inns, bed and breakfasts, theaters, multifamily uses or other similar uses.”
The proposed change defines adaptive use as “a special exception use authorized by the Board of Supervisors in accordance with Sections 170-69B and 170-36H of this code to permit an existing structure to be used for purposes not allowed by the structure’s current zoning.” The proposed language goes on for four pages with detailed descriptions of the purposes of adaptive use, pre-conditions, and factors — such as the number of vehicle trips, noise and lighting — used to evaluate proposed new uses.
The planning commission has 90 days to consider the supervisors’ proposed language.
Transient occupancy definitions
Prompted by a spate of recent controversial permit requests for B&Bs (including Harmony Manor and Parma), tourist homes and other lodging types, local attorney and BZA member David Konick submitted proposed amendments to the county ordinance that define transient occupancy.
Referring to a 10-page chart of the proposed amendments’ current and new language, commission chair Gary Settle of Piedmont district suggested the members work through one item at a time. “It’s past 9,” he said, “so let’s see how far we can get. Any that we can’t agree on we’ll put at the bottom of the list and just move forward.”
In a memo accompanying the submission of amendments to the commission and Keyser, Konick stated that some of the definitions are not “in synch with the current definitions in the Statewide Building Code or other parts of the Code of Virginia or Virginia Administrative Code.”
Other amendments strove to redefine or expand definitions of such lodging types as owner-occupied and -operated B&Bs, other than owner-occupied and -operated B&Bs, hotels and motels; and to add definitions for facilities such as spas that are not currently included in the code definitions.
The commissioners did not complete their review and approval of all the amendments and will take up the rest at the next regular meeting, scheduled for Sept. 21 at the courthouse.
Supprting documents for the entire meeting are available on the county’s Boarddocs website at boarddocs.com/va/corva/Board.nsf/Public. (Select the Aug. 17 Planning Commission meeting, click on “View the agenda.”)
A video of the planning commission meeting can be seen on the Rappahannock Record’s Youtube channel at youtube.com/watch?v=Nq8nkBztM-Y.