Mother Nature apparently has not been the only heat-generating force in Rappahannock County this summer.
Also generating some of their own friction are recent interpretations, and counter-interpretations, of the county’s zoning ordinances – those laws derived primarily from a comprehensive plan that is known throughout Virginia for its affection and protective stance toward that very same Mother Nature.
While the most recent challenge comes back before the county’s board of zoning appeals (BZA) on Aug. 14, an older dispute seems to be simmering anew. Back in March, neighbors of a large and once-controversial home on Clark Lane – controversial because its former owner was illegally using it as a B&B – filed suit in the Rappahannock County Circuit Court to challenge BZA’s decision to issue a permit.
The permit allows the new owners, Kimberly and Randall Fort of Arlington, to legally operate a B&B at the place. The Clark Lane Residents Committee, comprised of the five neighbors who live along the narrow tar-and-chip road that rises from beside the Rappahannock Farmer’s Coop to the top of Little Jenkins Mountain, sued because they feel the vehicular traffic will be hazardous and conflict with existing traffic.
In June, Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey W. Parker issued a ruling which denied the appeal. It did not address the issues raised by the neighbors; as the Virginia Supreme Court decided in the recent Miller v. Highland County case which Parker’s ruling cited, the Circuit Court rejected the appeal primarily because the wrong party – Rappahannock County itself, rather than the county’s board of supervisors – was named.
The neighbors now say they will appeal Judge Parker’s decision to the Virginia Court of Appeals, according to the two who have been the most vocal critics of the Forts’ B&B plans, Allan Rexinger and Pat Choate. Choate, an economist (who once ran for vice president as Ross Perot’s running mate) and Rexinger, an attorney, live in the last two properties on the road, just above the Forts. Rexinger said an additional lawsuit is also in the works. “We have a lot of stuff going on here because we really feel like our property rights have been violated,” Rexinger said.
“As much as this is about our property,” Choate said, “this is about upholding zoning standards here. This is the first time the BZA has in 25 years overturned both the zoning administrator’s (McCarthy’s) recommendation and the planning commission’s decision, making a commercial operation possible on nine-foot-wide roads, against the opposition of every neighbor.” Choate was referring to the planning commission’s 3-1 vote a week before the BZA’s decision, to follow McCarthy’s recommendation that the permit be denied.
Both Choate and Rexinger singled out Alex Sharp, the planning commission’s representative to the zoning appeals board, for “failing to even present the planning commission’s decision in the matter” to the zoning board at its hearing. “Instead he came and represented the position he made to the planning commission,” Choate said, referring to Sharp’s minority vote in favor of the Forts’ permit at the planning commission.
“We would like to be good neighbors,” Randall Fort said last week by phone, as he and his wife continued renovations on the home in hopes of opening their two-room B&B operation sometime this fall. “We have only ever extended the olive branch to our neighbors,” he said, and noted, significantly, that he and his wife intend to name the B&B Harmony Manor. “All we’ve been met with is lawsuits and hostility – hostility which I think is misdirected, and meant for the former owner,” he said.
“We are pleased with [Judge Parker’s] decision, and we look forward to becoming productive members of Rappahannock society,” Fort said, noting that the renovations to the house are probably creating “more traffic than a two-bedroom B&B operation ever will. And, the neighbors will notice, there’s been not one mishap, or inconvenience . . .”
Meanwhile, the BZA will hear the appeal at a special session (7:30 p.m. Aug. 14 at the courthouse) of Rock Mills resident David Konick’s claim that his neighbor, Raymond Deakins, was wrongly granted permits by McCarthy this spring for a second structure – a home – on Deakins property.
Konick, an attorney – and McCarthy’s predecessor more than 20 years ago in the role of county zoning officer – claims the first structure his neighbor built on the property is already a home, built long ago but without proper permits, thus making two residences on an inadequately sized parcel. Konick also claims Deakins’ plans and existing structures violated road-setback and floodplain regulations.
At a BZA hearing July 19 held to determine if Konick was an “aggrieved party,” thus allowing his appeal to go forward, the board heard Konick’s comments, and those of Deakins and several supporters, before deciding some two hours later by a 3-2 vote that he had a valid claim. Alex Sharp, Chris Bird and chair Bob Weinberg voted for the finding; Jennifer Matthews and William Anderson voted against the motion.