From ECow to Tree-Cow?

Photo by James P. Gannon

Greg Williams of Flint Hill easily won unanimous approval of the Rappahannock County Planning Commission to move his tree and landscaping business from his home property on Ben Venue Road to the former site of gourmet food vendor ECow on U.S. 211.

At their April 21 evening meeting, after hearing no opposition to the move, the commissioners voted 6-0 to recommend approval of Williams’ move to the highway location, where he plans to run a small farmers’ market as well as house his tree and landscaping business and his extensive array of vehicles and equipment.

The recommendation goes to the board of supervisors at its meeting Monday (May 3) for final action, which seems virtually assured after its good reception and lack of opposition at the commission.

In his application for a special exception permit to use the former ECow site for his business, Williams and his attorney Mike Brown stated that the primary purpose was to move “the vast majority” of his tree and landscape business to the 1.6-acre property, which has been the site of numerous retail businesses over its history.

Williams’ business has expanded in recent years to overrun much of his home property at Ben Venue Road, where passers-by see huge piles of logs, cut wood, sawdust, mulch and other materials as well as a large fleet of trucks, tractors, trailers and machinery in plain view along that scenic drive.

Approval of the application will allow Williams to move all the vehicles and equipment and most of the tree and other materials to the Route 211 property, though there may remain “some residual operation” of the business at his home property, County Administrator John McCarthy told the commission.

Brown, in a letter outlining his client’s plans, said Williams would use the property at U.S. 211 and Ben Venue Road to serve as the office for his business, with one full-time administrative employee there. All the trucks, tractors and machinery would be “parked on the (ECow) property out of sight behind the existing building,” Brown wrote.

The permit would allow Williams to construct six concrete storage bins with walls about four feet high along the western side of the property to store such materials as top soil, mulch and cut wood, the letter stated. The bins “will be largely screened from view by the construction of fencing around this portion of the property,” according to the letter.

A split-rail or board fence around most of the property, along with extensive landscaping, would “create an attractive business venue,” it added. The store building itself would house “a farmer’s market-style fruit and vegetable market,” Brown wrote.

In response to a question from Hampton District Commissioner Al Henry, McCarthy said that there would be no limits on what retail products Williams could sell inside the store, but that any products stored outside would have to be related to the tree and landscaping business, which would rule out such things as selling used cars.

The meeting was lightly attended and the only two comments from the public were favorable to Williams’ plans. Flint Hill resident Phil Irwin supported the application, saying it represents “the type of economic activity this county could use more of.” Monica Worth, president of the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection, said the transfer of Williams’ business “will probably improve the Ben Venue situation,” referring to his home-based business.

In their comments, commissioners likewise were mostly complimentary of Williams’ plans.

“I think Mr. Williams moving there would enhance that corner,” referring to the ECow site, said Gary Settle. “I am convinced this is a good thing.” William L. Anderson said, “I think what they are proposing would be a huge improvement over what is there” at Williams’ home property.

Thomas Tepper said he had “no objections” to the plans but added: “I would like to hope that it would be kept a little neater than at your house.” Tepper urged extensive use of landscaping to create a green buffer around the U.S. 211 property.

Commission Chairman Charles Strittmatter questioned Brown on plans to install dusk-to-dawn security lighting behind the building where vehicles and machinery are to be parked. The attorney assured Strittmatter that the lighting would be “down-shielded” and would conform to the county’s ordinance governing commercial outdoor lighting.

James P. Gannon is the editor and publisher of, where this article first appeared.

About James P. Gannon 21 Articles
James P. Gannon is a retired journalist who lives near Flint Hill. In his newspaper career, he served as a reporter and bureau chief at The Wall Street Journal, as Editor of The Des Moines Register in Iowa, and as Washington Bureau Chief for the Detroit news and a columnist for the Gannett newspapers.