Two inns, two apartments cleared for takeoff

“You’ll get a permit in the mail,” was a common refrain last Wednesday night (July 24), as the Rappahannock County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) approved all six permits that came before it, despite having only three of its five members available for the board’s regular monthly meeting.

The first application was a special-use permit request from Susan Fitzgerald, which would allow her to use the single-family home on her Flint Hill property as an efficiency dwelling while a new, larger home is being built. The Rappahannock County Planning Commission recommended its approval last week by a 4-2 vote.

Fitzgerald said the current house was approximately 800 square feet and simply not big enough for the family to live in. “We want to build a new house but maintain this one — it’s a nice structure,” Fitzgerald explained.

Though the planning commission had some debate as to whether a structure of that size could qualify as an efficiency dwelling, BZA members expressed no such concerns. “There’s precedent for an existing house becoming an efficiency apartment,” said Alexander Sharp.

“I think this is a reasonable, proper use of the land,” agreed Christopher Bird. “It may not fit particularly within the definitions, but that’s why there are things called ‘zoning ordinances’ . . . We’re not riding roughshod over those.”

The three present BZA members — Sharp, Bird and vice-chair Jennifer Matthews — approved the permit. (William Anderson and board chair Robert Weinberg were absent.)

The second permit was also an efficiency apartment request, this one from Amissville resident Patricia Sher, who wanted to use her existing garage, which is currently an office space, as an efficiency dwelling.

Sher said people had temporarily stayed in the garage before, as it originally served as an office space for her farm manager and his wife and was outfitted with a kitchenette. “My husband died in 2012 and I need some help,” explained Sher. The BZA approved her request, 3-0.

The first of two bed and breakfast applications belonged to Slate Mills resident Jeanne Wall, who said she and her husband, Joseph Pipik, wanted to use their three extra bedrooms to operate a B&B. Wall added that she and her husband are planning to renovate and improve parts of their home and that knowing they could use it as a B&B would help in deciding what to improve.

“We’re looking for a small business we can do from home that keeps us in the county,” said Wall.

Two of Wall’s neighbors — Sharon Kilpatrick and Kathryn Sumpter — voiced their approval in letters, with Sumpter pointing out that the location “will offer a different ambiance and not duplicate existing B&Bs in the area.” The BZA approved the request, 3-0.

Flint Hill resident Beth Hall submitted an application to allow her to use her house as a B&B for up to six guests. Hall, who usually hosts young musicians and artists from the Castleton Festival, said she intended to be open August through May in order to provide rooms for visitors to the Farm Tour, Studio & Gallery Tour, point-to-point races and more. Hall originally submitted the application as a tourist home, but because she said she intends to remain on the premises as a live-in manager, it was reclassified as a B&B.

“My house is on the Farm Tour and people always ask where they can stay,” Hall said, adding that she had discussed the possibility of housing guests from weddings at Cliff Miller’s dairy barn last year. “It’s about time the property started making some money.”

Several of Hall’s neighbors signed a petition urging the BZA not to grant Hall’s permit, with Susan and Joseph Claffy citing the narrow right-of-way (20 feet) leading to Hall’s property as a concern.  “We are concerned . . . if a tourist home is allowed . . . our right to peace and quiet will end,” read the letter.

County Administrator John McCarthy said the normal width required for a right-of-way leading to a B&B was 50 feet, but added that the BZA could decide to relax that requirement.

“The impact on the neighbors here seems minimal,” said Bird. “It seems unreasonable on their part to worry about a dedicated right-of-way . . . this is a minimal increase in use.”

The BZA voted to approve Hall’s application, 3-0, though they did add a two-year review period should problems arise. Matthews also suggested that Hall issue a “friendly reminder” to her guests to drive slowly on the gravel right-of-way.

Cynthia and Arthur DeVore, owners of Valley Green Naturals, which produces natural health and beauty products, applied for a cottage industry permit allowing them to run their business from their house in Amissville.

Cynthia DeVore said she would be making the products in her kitchen and bottling them in the garage. She said she had two part-time employees helping her, and intended to grow some of the products’ botanicals (such as lavender) on the property as well.

The week before last, planning commissioner Alvin Henry asked the DeVores whether the oils being washed down the drain would have any adverse effects on the plumbing. DeVore told the BZA that any oils that did get washed down the drain were very eco-friendly, but that the majority were scraped out of the pots and pans with a paper towel.

“It’s in our best interest not to have our expensive ingredients get washed down the drain,” DeVore said. The BZA approved her request, 3-0.

The final permit was a variance request from James Shaw, co-owner of Shaw’s Services in Sperryville, allowing him to construct a one-story storage structure to house tool cabinets, service benches and other repair tools that are currently stored in the garage itself.

“Our mechanics just don’t have enough room to work on the cars,” said Shaw.

The storage space would be built on concrete pylons positioned on the bank of the Thornton River and raised up to make it level with the rest of Shaw’s; it would also, as Shaw pointed out, present no increased flood risk for those downstream. “We’ve been good stewards of the county,” said Shaw. “There’s just no other place on the lot to do this.”

Bird agreed with Shaw’s assessment that building options were limited and moved to grant the variance request. “He is an important, effective community member and anything we can do to help is a good thing,” said Bird. The other members agreed, and approved the request unanimously.