With two of the seven members of the Rappahannock County Planning Commission absent at last week’s (Sept. 21) regular meeting, the rest of the commission narrowly voted 3-2 in favor of recommending approval of a tourist home application to the board of zoning appeals.
Bob and Julie Coonce, owners of a vacation home on Quann Lane in Chester Gap, applied in July for a special permit to make the residence a tourist home when the Coonces aren’t using it. 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.
This was the second time the application came before the planning commission. At the body’s Aug. 17 meeting, the application was tabled until the Coonces could address commissioners’ concerns. Several current residents of Quann Lane also protested, citing privacy and hazardous conditions on the narrow private road.
According to the written Record of Decision from the August meeting, the Coonces were asked to “meet with neighbors and work toward a road maintenance agreement; confirm and provide proof of a 50-foot right of way [on Quann Lane]; supplement the application with property pictures; and pay back [meals and lodging] taxes” for rentals before the application was made.
At the September meeting, local attorney Taylor Odom, representing the Coonces, addressed these concerns, directing the commissioners to copies of “the road maintenance agreement that the Coonces are bound to.”
He confirmed through photographs that there is indeed a 50-foot right of way on Quann Lane and he presented several pictures of the property itself.
Concerning the back lodging taxes, Odom said he had learned from the county commissioner of the revenue that the taxes could not be paid until a permit was issued. “Upon the generation of a permit,” he said “[the Coonces] would pay any back lodging taxes owed to the county.”
Answering neighbor concerns about privacy and use of the road by strangers, Odom said the Coonces would limit rentals to four separate transactions per month. And, acknowledging fog and snow during the winter months that make driving hazardous in Chester Gap, Odom said the Coonces had offered not to take short term rentals on the property during the months of January, February and March.
In closing he said, “The Coonces’ application is in line with the comprehensive plan to bring tourists into the county. The more tourists in the county, the better. The more tourists to enjoy our wonderful vineyards and see the beautiful county.”
Julie Coonce also addressed the commissioners, saying “we’ve taken a lot to heart in what we’ve heard over the past month or so from our neighbors and the board and planning commission. We’ve gone out and met every single neighbor on Quann Lane as well as on the road above us.” However, she said, she was not able to get signatures on the road maintenance agreement from everyone on Quann Lane.
She spoke passionately about her family’s involvement in the community. “I take exception to prior comments from the community that we are not members of the community, that we are absentee owners. We live in Fauquier County. We are one county away. We are 40 minutes door to door from our place in Chester Gap. We attend Chester Gap Baptist Church. Our child has been a teacher for the gifted and talented in the Chester Gap community. She plays the piano at the Chester Gap Baptist Church, where her husband is the minister.”
Gary Light, co-chair of the commission, filling in for chair Gary Settle, complimented the Coonces on taking the effort to get to know their neighbors on Quann Lane and working to resolve the previously identified issues.
Others on the panel still had questions. Alvin Henry of Hampton district focused on the road maintenance agreement. Without signatures from all the neighbors, “this is not a complete RMA,” he said, wondering about the underlying reasons for a couple of the neighbors not signing. “The RMA needs to be signed by all on Quann Lane” to make it a legally binding document.
After viewing the property pictures, Ron Frazier, the board of supervisors representative, had questions about the safety of the property’s outdoor areas. Noting that the patios appeared not to have railings along the side of the house where the property falls off steeply, he asked, “Has the building office looked at this?”
Odom assured Frazier that the building and occupancy permits were in full compliance.
Before a vote, conditions were added to the application — the property must be inspected by the county building office and the Coonces would be required to correct any code violations. In addition, the commission accepted the Coonces’ proffer to limit rentals to four transactions per month, except for January, February and March, when there would be no rentals.
Commissioners Light, Christopher Bird (the BZA representative) and Raymond Brown of Jackson district voted in favor of referring the application to the BZA. Henry and Frazier voted no. Jason Brady of Wakefield district was also absent. The BZA was to take up the application at its regular monthly meeting last night (Wednesday, Sept. 28), after press time for this edition.
The agenda and supporting documents for this meeting can be found online at boarddocs.com/va/corva/Board.nsf/Public. Video of this meeting can be seen on the Rappahannock Record’s Youtube channel at youtube.com/watch?v=Pbpgb9sP2Vg.