At its May 17 regular meeting, the Rappahannock County Planning Commission considered and approved four applications to move forward to either the Board of Supervisors or the Board of Zoning Appeals for final disposition.
But ensuing discussions in the two-and-a-half hour meeting raised questions about three of the applications — specifically, whether neighbors were properly notified, whether applications had been properly filed, and whether the zoning ordinance actually covers what an applicant requested.
Bill Fletcher’s application for a Special Exception permit to hold a for-profit “carnival, field party, or music festival” on his 158 acres along Route 522 in Sperryville had commissioners flipping through the county ordinance looking for definitions and special conditions.
Explaining that events have been held at his property, also known as Stuart Field, since 1943, Fletcher told the commissioners that a local resident had approached him about holding a Renaissance festival on the property later in the year. He has also received requests to hold weddings. For many years, the Sperryville Volunteer Fire Department has sponsored Fourth of July fireworks on the property.
In his written application, Fletcher cited “an increasing need for a large open space parcel to accommodate a growing interest in agritourism outdoor events. All of our adjoining counties have parcels such as fairgrounds or 4-H parcels that are either county-owned or owned by nonprofit organizations.”
The application also gave an estimate of the number of events and crowd sizes: “no more than 8 large events per year (2,000-8,000 people), 8 mid-size events (500-2,000 people) (one of those being the July 4th Fireworks) and 15 small events (20-499 people).”
It’s also a good property for overnight camping, he said.
The commissioners were largely in favor of the proposal.
“I am familiar with the property,” said commission chair Gary Settle. “There’s a lot of history of success there, including horse races and eleven years of fireworks. And the Fletchers have been more than gracious to the county’s nonprofits.”
Chris Bird, the Board of Zoning Appeals representative, and John Lesinski, the supervisor representative, were also supportive.
However, the panel struggled to find the ordinance that would allow the application.
Vice chair Gary Light said the county ordinance “does not envision [open-ended] applications like this.” Instead the ordinance requires a separate permit for each event and, for some events, no more than one every three years.
The commissioners were also concerned about the idea of overnight camping and the need for security, water, and sewer facilities. Fletcher said that water is available on the property, but not bathrooms or sewage disposal.
“The fundamental question,” said Light, “is do additional conditions have to be approved for every event or not?’
Al Henry, the Hampton district commissioner, suggested that the panel leave that question for County Attorney Art Goff and the board to supervisors to settle.
“This almost needs a new category of zoning ordinance,” said Henry.
Before voting unanimously to recommend that the application move forward to the board of supervisors, the commissioners placed a long list of conditions on the application, including a review of the entrances conducted by the Virginia Department of Transportation, a security plan for each event, specific dates/times for each event application, restrictions on lighting, and complying with any additional standards and conditions listed in the ordinance.
The idea of overnight camping was an issue that would have to be revisited later, they agreed.
Heribert and Berkley von Feilitzsch presented their applications for a tourist home special use permit and a wedding venue special exception permit. The couple owns 222 acres on Henselstone Lane in Amissville; ten of those acres extend into Culpeper County.
Both applications were approved unanimously, but in the days since the planning commission meeting, the applications were pulled to correct certain issues. The first was revealed during the public comment period at the meeting when several neighbors said they had received official notification of the application only a day or two before the meeting and had been surprised. The ordinance mandates five days’ notification to adjacent properties.
The other issue revolves around the correct owner of the property. The von Feilitzsches applied for the permits in their own names, but property records show that it is owned by Henselstone Estates LLC, an entity owned and operated by the couple.
County Administrator Debbie Keyser said in a phone call on Monday that the notification letters would be reissued in compliance with the ordinance and the applications would be amended to reflect the correct property ownership.
The applications will be re-presented at the June planning commission meeting. The tourist home application was to have been considered at last night’s Board of Zoning of Appeals meeting, but as of press time it had been removed from the BZA agenda.
Nevada Estes received unanimous approval for a special use permit to build a family apartment above the existing barn at her property on Mt. Marshall Road. in Washington. She told the commission that her mother will live there.
The major ordinance requirements for a family apartment are that it be less than 1200 square feet of living space and be less than 200 feet from the primary dwelling. At 1070 square feet of space, and 170 feet away from the main house, the proposed apartment qualified.
And, according to Light, “The neighbors were not especially concerned” about the plans.
An unedited video of the 7:30 p.m. session on Wednesday, May 17 can be found online at rappnews.com/video, or on the newspaper’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/RappNewsPlus. The meeting agenda and related documents are online at boarddocs.com/va/corva/Board.nsf/Public.