Neighbors of a once-controversial home on Clark Lane – controversial because its owner was illegally using it as a B&B – say they will fight the prospective new owners’ plans to use it for the same purpose, though legally.
Kimberly and Randall Fort of Arlington, who have a weekend place in Tiger Valley and a contract to purchase the 7,800-square-foot home built six years ago by former Blue Rock Inn owner Gary Harvey, were granted a permit to operate a two-room B&B on the premises by the Rappahannock County Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) a week ago.
In 2008, Harvey was fined for violating zoning ordinances by using the home, built as a private residence, as a B&B and event-rental site. The 30-acre property is not in foreclosure but is being offered by the bank in a short sale (the once $2- to $3-million property was listed last week at $650,000).
The Forts’ B&B permit was contested by the property’s five neighbors along the narrow tar-and-chip private lane, which runs from U.S. 211 adjacent to the Rappahannock Farmer’s Coop to near the top of Little Jenkins Mountain. Most of them attended the BZA session Jan. 25 to voice their feelings that the use would cause dangerous traffic on the narrow, ill-kept road.
Most had also attended the Planning Commission’s hearing on the permit application a week earlier – a session at which the Planning Commission voted 3-1 to follow County (and Zoning) Administrator John McCarthy’s recommendation that the permit be denied because, in part, the zoning ordinance recommended a 50-foot right-of-way lead to such establishments, and the right-of-way in this case was just 30 feet wide.
McCarthy this week said he couldn’t recall any previous case of the BZA similarly reversing a Planning Commission recommendation – unless a month or more had passed and new information had come to light.
Neighbors Pat Choate and Allan Rexinger, who live on the two properties immediately above the Harvey home, said four of the five neighbors have already agreed to pursue an appeal of the decision made by the BZA (which functions, unlike the Planning Commission, as an agent of the court). The appeal would be to the Circuit Court to overturn the BZA’s decision to grant the permit, or return the case to the board to be reconsidered.
“The county is on a dangerous road here,” said Rexinger on the phone from Florida Tuesday, “and I use that pun purposely. The county’s general zoning standards require that the use permit not be issued if vehicular traffic will be hazardous or conflict with existing traffic . . . Two cars cannot pass on Clark Lane in certain stretches; one has to back up. If there’s an accident, and there will be one, a sharp plaintiff’s lawyer’s going to name not only the [B&B] owner but also Rappahannock County.”
BZA member Alex Sharp, who is also the board’s representative to the Planning Commission and was the sole dissenting vote in the commission’s recommendation against the permit, said the right-of-way minimum of 50 feet is a recommendation, not a requirement, and that the BZA can determine if it’s not necessary.
“I feel like the B&B use for that property is one of the best uses you could have, and will have the least impact on the neighbors,” said Sharp, who voted to approve the permit along with BZA chair Robert Weinberg and board member Daniel Whitten (vice chair Jennifer Matthews voted against it).
Asked what he’d do if the Forts decided to open a winery – a use allowed without any special permit throughout Virginia, by legislative order – Choate said he’d pursue a challenge to the state constitution.
“But . . . making constitutional challenges is not what I want to do,” said Choate, an economist who once ran for vice president as Ross Perrot’s running mate. “The larger issue, aside from the safety issue, is that if you allow somebody to come in and build an illegal operation, as Gary Harvey did, and then you allow someone to operate it as a B&B against the opposition of everybody there – if you allow this, then zoning doesn’t mean a damn thing in this county.”
“This seems like a very good group of people,” said Sharp, speaking of the Clark Lane residents, who he believes are still smarting from their experience with the previous owner. “They’re all very interested in and concerned about each other, and I’m hoping that once the smoke clears, they’ll welcome the Forts in and all of them will cooperate as they’ve been doing.”
“We hope that our neighbors will come to understand that we want to be good neighbors,” said Randall Fort by phone Wednesday. He said he and his wife, who plans to operate the B&B on a part-time, Thursday-Sunday basis for at least the first year, are “moving forward accordingly” with the contract to purchase the property. Fort said that at the couple’s first meeting with the neighbors, they agreed “instantly” to participate in a joint maintenance agreement for the roadway.
Asked whether his opinion would change if the Forts had agreed to widen the lane (they haven’t), Choate said: “I would still oppose it. The issue is, we bought that property as an agricultural, residential use. That facility [Harvey’s house] was built under the premise that it would be a single-family residence.”