Planners send clear message about ordinance amendments

Reject wholesale changes, debate B&B and tourist home lot sizes

The Rappahannock County Planning Commission at its Nov. 15 meeting sent a clear message to the county’s Board of Supervisors regarding proposed amendments to the county’s zoning ordinance.

Voting on five different aspects of the amendments, the planners’ overall recommendation was that the BOS should not rush to approve the amendments wholesale, but instead should spend more time breaking down the changes and considering the implications.

First presented as a resolution at the Sept. 6 BOS meeting, the amendments, if adopted, would combine the special use and special exception permitting process into one type of permit which would be considered by the Planning Commission and then the BOS. The BZA, which now hears special use applications after they have been recommended by the planners, would then only hear variances and appeals

A 191-page marked-up copy of the zoning ordinance reflecting the amendments shows the sweeping nature of the change.

But also included in the proposed amendments are additional revisions, including ones that would downsize the acreage requirements for tourist homes and boarding houses in Agricultural and Conservation zones, and eliminate acreage requirements altogether for B&Bs.

The amendments as written would also do away with code sections that limit the authority of the BOS, and eliminate zoning permits for additional construction on existing dwellings.

Eliminate Special Use

In the first of several votes at the Nov. 15 meeting, the planners voted 5 to 2 in favor of recommending that the BOS not eliminate the Special Use permit, and by extension, the power of the BZA.

In the discussion leading up to the vote, BZA representative Chris Bird announced that he was against the proposed changes.

“I’m not sure why this change is being adopted and where the problem with the existing situation is,” said Bird. “It seems that the process is working relatively well. The BZA is tasked with upholding the zoning ordinance in a non-legislative fashion. To change would politicize the zoning process, which seems a dangerous thing to do. It would undermine the public faith and belief in the fairness of the system.”

Wakefield planner Holly Meade concurred.

“I am not supportive of the wholesale change of eliminating special permits,” said Meade. “There are too many holes and too many moving parts in the amendments. Some of the things proposed warrant [separate] discussion and should be broken apart.”

Al Henry, the Hampton district planner, and Planning Commission chair Gary Settle both agreed with their colleagues.

“There is a value to the BZA review of applications,” said Settle.

Only Hampton supervisor John Lesinski and Stonewall-Hawthorne planner Gary Light argued in favor of the amendments.

Lesinski, who in the Oct. BZA meeting revealed that he was sponsor of the amendments, again cited several reasons to recommend the changes, including the need to streamline the process and make it less confusing for staff and applicants.

He also reacted to previous comments offered by county residents that giving the BOS power to decide permit applications would make the process political, as the BOS is an elected body.

Instead, he said, the BZA, as an appointed body, “is above accountability.”

Lesinski and Light were the two dissenters in the vote.

Limits on authority

The planners voted unanimously to recommend that section 170-49 (Limits on Authority) stand as written and not be deleted, as proposed by the amendments. Opponents of deleting the section, as well as amending certain provisions in section 170-50, argue that the changes would allow the BOS to make zoning changes with every permit approval.

“It’s pretty widely known that this amendment [to 170-49] is not supported,” said Light. “I don’t know why it was done. I absolutely disagree with getting rid of the limits on authority and similarly I would not support [the changes to] section 170-50B.”

The next item the planners took up had to do with clarifying the procedure for advertising public hearings of applications, requiring that applications be complete before public hearings are advertised (see section 170-55E). Proponents of the amendment argue that in the past year and a half, the county has seen several instances in which public hearings have been scheduled before permit applications were complete.

Requiring the Zoning Administrator to confirm that applications are complete before advertising for public hearings would eliminate confusion, those in favor argue.

The amendment reads, “No public hearing shall be advertised until such time as the Planning Commission has confirmation from the Zoning Administrator that the application is complete in all respects, and not before the Planning Commission votes to advertise a public hearing on the subject application.”

Arguing that the application process is already too lengthy, the planners voted unanimously to recommend adoption of the first part of the amendment, but to strike “and not before the Planning Commission votes to advertise a public hearing on the subject application.”

Minimum lot sizes

After the provision to eliminate special use permits, by far the longest discussion in the meeting revolved around required minimum lot sizes for transient dwellings, including tourist homes, boarding houses, and B&Bs.

Proposed amendments to section 170-66K set lot sizes for tourist homes and boarding houses at two acres in Agricultural zones and five acres in Conservation zones — down from ten acres and 20 acres, respectively — and removes the requirement for a minimum lot size for B&Bs.

Planners were divided, finally voting five to two in support of the larger lot sizes. Bird and Light were the two dissenters.

Family apartment

The Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend a special permit application for a family apartment to be heard by the BZA. Jeffrey Nicodemus and Marjorie Boucher told the commission they want to build a 954-square foot family apartment on Cabin Lane in Amissville to house Boucher’s father, who is in poor health.

About Patty Hardee 177 Articles

Writer, consultant, actor, director, recovering stand-up comic, Patty covers the county’s courts and other topics of interest for Rappahannock News. She lives with her grape-growing husband Bill Freitag in Flint Hill.

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