Planners ease golf course restrictions

After an hour-long exercise in abstract thinking last Wednesday (Nov. 20), the Rappahannock County Planning Commission approved a proposal for a golf course by Cliff Miller IV — or the possibility of a golf course, at least.

Miller’s application petitioned the commissioners to amend the county’s zoning ordinance to allow the creation of nine-hole golf courses. Currently, Miller pointed out, the ordinance allows 18-hole courses provided the applicant has 150 acres on which to put it. In his presentation, Miller said he’d talked to golf course architects who called Rappahannock’s ordinance “the strictest [they’d] ever seen.”

“I think the demand for a course like this is out there,” Miller said, adding that many of his Sperryville-based Headmaster’s Pub customers have asked where to play golf nearby. Miller said he’d also heard the same request from Foster-Harris House owners John and Diane MacPherson’s guests, and had talked to high school athletic director Jimmy Swindler about possibly creating a golf team.

Miller pointed out that many world-class golf courses are only nine holes, including Augusta National, where the Masters tournament is held, and are built on the same amount of land Miller is requesting — around 20 acres. Furthermore, Miller added that irrigating only the greens (as he intends to do) eliminates much of the required water, which had been a concern earlier.

Nonetheless, Miller cautioned the commissioners against considering his specific golf course, instead asking them to focus on amending the zoning ordinances. “You’ll still have plenty of opportunities to say no,” Miller said, “but if you’re considering an 18-hole course, you should consider nine.”

Both Flint Hill resident Phil Irwin and golf course architect Mike McCartin spoke in favor of the course, with Irwin adding that he was “in favor of anything that enhances recreational activities in the county.” Irwin did express some concerns — mostly about the demand for such a course and the chemicals necessary to maintain the greens — but said he still supported the application.

Hampton district’s Alvin Henry was the first commissioner to speak, and said he was against the idea. “You’ve got the substation on one side and U.S. 211 on the other,” Henry pointed out. “A projectile could hit that and take it out . . . though I guess you could solve that with nets.”

Stonewall-Hawthorne commissioner Gary Light said he though the application made sense, “in principle,” but added that he’d be more comfortable approving the amendment if language were added to ensure a minimum impact on all surrounding properties.

Gary Settle found himself agreeing with both Light and Henry, and also voiced his approval of “real clear, strict guidelines” that limited any course’s impact. “I don’t want to open Pandora’s Box here,” Settle cautioned, “and the last thing I want to see is nets in Sperryville . . . but there is a need for recreation.”

Despite some misgivings expressed by chairman Charles Strittmatter and Raymond Brown — “That’s not a good location for a golf course,” declared Brown — the commissioners approved the ordinance changes, 4-2. (Strittmatter and Henry voted against the change; Ron Frazier was absent.) The final say on the matter belongs to the county’s supervisors, who will likely decide the matter at their Dec. 2 meeting.

Comprehensive plan

Before the commission considered the zoning amendment, County Administrator John McCarthy presented a newly revised copy of the fifth chapter of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which is undergoing an automatic five-year revision.

McCarthy asked the commissioners to read the new chapter and inform him of any required changes in time for the commission’s Jan. 15 meeting (a vote to cancel the December meeting was unanimous). Chapter 6, which the commissioners will also consider at their January meeting, “is where some substantive policy changes start to be addressed,” McCarthy added.