Planners recommend cat shelter

The Rappahannock County Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of a special-use permit for the RappCats cat rescue organization that would allow them to use the northeast corner of the old Flint Hill packing shed as the county’s first cat shelter.

RappCats president Pat Snyder presented the organization’s case to the commission, noting that Rappahannock was one of just 10 counties in Virginia that didn’t offer a cat shelter. Though the Rappahannock Animal Welfare League (RAWL) runs a no-kill shelter, RAWL only cares for dogs, leaving local residents to look after for the county’s many homeless cats.

“It’s a community problem,” Snyder said. “The idea is to re-home these cats.”

Snyder said RappCats, which was founded six years ago by Franklin Schmidt, had looked at many buildings in the county – including several in the town of Washington – and decided on the Flint Hill location because it suited their needs and would have the least impact on the county.

Snyder said she expected the shelter to house 20 or 30 cats at one time at most. The goal of the shelter is to find new homes for the cats; for that reason, Snyder said, the shelter wouldn’t be taking in any feral cats.

Snyder added that she believed most cats would stay between three and four months before being adopted and estimated that the shelter could help RappCats save the lives of up to 100 more cats annually.

“We’re not asking the county to run it – just to support the idea,” Snyder said.

Vice-mayor Gary Schwartz, a member of the Washington town council, which endorsed the application and pledged the first month’s rent at its April meeting, spoke in support of the shelter.

“The town [of Washington] is definitely behind it – the county should be too,” said Schwartz, who co-founded the Cause for Paws fundraiser that helps pay for RappCats’ spay and neuter costs.

Town council member Mary Ann Kuhn, who also serves on RappCats’ board, said she has been dealing with homeless cats since 1990, and has had many dropped on her doorstep (including, during her tenure as editor, 14 kittens left at the front door of the Rappahannock News).

“And that pales in comparison to elsewhere in the county,” Kuhn said. “Emergencies don’t happen between 9 and 5 [when vets are open]. This shelter is a safe place.”

“Until recently I thought RAWL took care of cats,” said RappCats board member Katherine Leggett. “I bet so do lots of other people.”

Leggett, one of nine attendees who voiced their support for the shelter, called the idea of a shelter “terribly necessary,” and pointed out that that operating a shelter would increase the value of the packing shed – and positively impact the local songbird population.

Other private citizens voiced their support for the shelter, describing it as “desperately needed” and enumerating many of its other positive impacts, including, as Sperryville resident Nina Moore said, providing a place for people to see kittens and cats of an adoptable age, which could help increase adoption numbers.

“I’m just concerned about what happens 15 minutes after you open and you find you’re already full,” said Stonewall-Hawthorne district commissioner Gary Light, laughing. “I do wonder how much impact one shelter can have . . . But I’m glad you’re taking on the responsibility.”

Hampton district commissioner Alvin Henry said he was concerned about the lack of handicap accessibility to the building and was firm on the idea that a maximum number of cats needed to be established and adhered to. Henry also asked that the building’s water supply be tested prior to the shelter’s opening.

Snyder said the shelter would be assigned a maximum occupancy number by the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association (VVMA) and would not exceed it. Snyder added that RappCats has partnered with other rescue groups in surrounding counties that have higher adoption rates, and would continue such partnerships.

To the applause of those in attendance, the commission unanimously approved the permit, 6-0 (absent Piedmont commissioner Gary Settle), with conditions that the building’s water supply be tested and a good-faith effort be made to improve handicap accessibility.

The matter goes to the board of supervisors for final approval at their 7 p.m. meeting May 6.

Comprehensive plan forum

After settling the shelter matter, the commission continued its series of public hearings on the county’s comprehensive plan, which is, as County Administrator John McCarthy said, designed to guide the county’s planning and land use decisions for the next five years.

The comprehensive plan is reevaluated every five years to ensure it reflects the county’s current thinking on land use, zoning and other issues.

Flint Hill resident and innkeeper Phil Irwin was the first to speak up, thanking the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection (RLEP) for pushing for the comprehensive plan’s initial adoption and urging the commission to focus a number of issues, including preserving the county’s viewsheds, managing wildlife, coordinating with adjacent counties and strengthening the definition of an “event” in the plan.

Anita Ramos of the Hampton district voiced the need for what she described as horse-friendly additions to the plan, to help protect and preserve their way of life, and help preserve riding trails, both public and private. “Keep horse people as a part of our beautiful community,” Ramos said.

Reid Folsom requested the revised plan deal with the impending changes to the county’s water supplies and focus on preserving the viewscapes, including vegetation. “The viewscape is what this county has to offer,” Ramos pointed out.

Amissville resident (and RLEP president) Rick Kohler said he’d like to see the new plan help preserve historic structures, including the county’s many stone walls, some of which, Kohler said, he’d already seen destroyed. Kohler also said the new plan should focus on preventing ridgetop development, allow shielding on outdoor lighting at a neighbor’s request and maintain native habitats, especially as invasive species multiply in the county and throughout Virginia.

Judy Tole, representing the Rappahannock Historical Society, asked the commission to focus on promoting tourism, an activity she said has dropped off significantly after former tourism consultant Laura Overstreet retired from the position in January. Tole also asked to amend some of the language in the plan to correct some historical inaccuracies.

Henry said he’d like to see the county establish a geographical information system (GIS) in the county, which would serve as a valuable aid to both local governments and landowners. Henry added that the new plan should focus on future services as the county’s demographics change “like never before.”

“In just a few years, this community will be dominated by people 55 and over . . . the school population will be down . . . we need to focus on services to-be-needed,” Henry said.

The next public hearing on the comprehensive plan is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. June 19 at the Flint Hill fire hall.