Room for smaller golf courses added to zoning law

Supervisors delay decision on derelict structures

Following last week’s recommendation by the county’s planning commission, the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors voted to amend the county’s zoning ordinance to allow construction of golf courses smaller than 18 holes — on a case-by-case, special-use permit basis.

The zoning ordinance changes were requested by Cliff Miller IV, who said he believes there’s a demand for golf in the county that a nine-hole (or par three) golf course could help satisfy. “This isn’t a request for a golf course,” Miller said. “This is just saying that ‘We’re at least willing to consider a golf course.’ ”

Miller said he’d heard requests from multiple restaurant patrons, as well as guests from the county’s many B&Bs, all of whom “would appreciate not having to drive 45 minutes to play a round of golf.” Miller also provided the supervisors with examples of highly successful 9-hole courses, including one at Pebble Beach that was built on just 15 acres.

Several of the supervisors, as well as the small crowd gathered Monday night (Dec. 2) for the board’s public hearing on the ordinance amendment, voiced concerns about courses in general, including how the use of pesticides (required to maintain the greens) would affect the streams and groundwater supplies. County Administrator John McCarthy replied that a hydrogeological study on those potential effects was par for the course, so to speak, and was already required by the ordinance, prior to course construction.

“They’re about $5,000 to $10,000,” McCarthy added, “so it’s not an insignificant expense.”

Piedmont supervisor Mike Biniek wondered if the ordinance changes should include a minimum setback distance from the road and other properties to help prevent stray balls from hitting homes, the Sperryville power station or even traffic along U.S. 211.

“If you try to throw a number at this, you’re not going to get it right,” replied Miller, who insisted course design — which would have to be approved by the planning commission and supervisors — would include safety measures specific to those concerns. Chairman Roger Welch suggested buffering be built into the course plans, as “the setback distance doesn’t matter if that ball is hit wrong.”

Stonewall-Hawthorne district supervisor Chris Parrish said he believed a local course would help the B&Bs by providing guests with another in-county activity, but suggested the supervisors consider adding a minimum-acreage requirement.

Parrish worried that, without a minimum requirement, wineries or other businesses could build a course on a very small tract of land. The Piedmont Environmental Council’s Don Loock, who’d voiced the same concern earlier, also pointed out that by amending the ordinance to allow courses with fewer than 18 holes, someone could conceivably apply for oddities like an 11-hole course or a 17-hole course.

McCarthy agreed that was possible, but added again that any course plan and permits would come before the supervisors, who would have the right to veto any proposals. “I think it might bring more jobs here,” said Hampton district’s S. Bryant Lee, “and it’s a clean business, which is what we need.” The rest of the supervisors agreed, unanimously agreeing to the zoning amendments, 5-0.

One man’s trash . . .

At its afternoon meeting, the supervisors once again found themselves talking trash, although they voted to table a final decision on amendments to the county’s trash ordinance, and concerns about a burned-out Amissville landmark, until their Jan. 6 meeting.

As he did at the supervisors’ November meeting, county attorney Peter Luke presented several amendments to the county’s trash ordinance, covering solid waste and inoperable vehicles. “Just saying that something ‘doesn’t look nice’ isn’t enough,” Luke stressed. “It has to endanger health and safety.”

Luke explained that property owners are currently allowed up to two inoperable vehicles on their property, provided they own more than an acre of land. Luke said he’d considered adding language that said the vehicles must be visible from a neighboring property (or a road) or possibly exempting all non-highway-approved vehicles, after several supervisors suggested last month that the code should account for vehicles kept solely for spare parts.

“It’s not possible to draft something that covers every eventuality,” Luke cautioned, adding that decisions on what qualifies for county enforcement will have to be made on a case-by-case basis.

“That ‘visible from another property’ [provision] makes all the difference,” said Parrish. “We want to keep the county beautiful, but if the property owner is the only one who has to deal with it, that’s their problem . . . Trash is a problem and we want to be vigilant . . . but I think we should exempt all farm equipment.”

“Every farmer I know has more than two inoperable tractors,” said Lee, a farmer and orchard owner.

The matter was ultimately tabled until the supervisors’ Jan. 6 meeting, when, Luke said, he would present another revision to the ordinance; if approved, the matter would then be scheduled for a public hearing, most likely in February.

The fire-damaged remains of the old Lombardy restaurant might be in violation of Rappahannock’s derelict building ordinances if improvements aren’t made.
The fire-damaged remains of the old Lombardy restaurant might be in violation of Rappahannock’s derelict building ordinances if improvements aren’t made. Matt Wingfield | Rappahannock News

Last month, McCarthy said said he had sent a letter to the burned-out Lombardy restaurant’s property owners informing them that the Amissville site might be in violation of chapter 74 of the county’s ordinance, which covers derelict structures.

Ronald Poe, one of the property’s owners, said that after the restaurant burned three years ago, he’d had it covered and boarded up. He admitted he was aware that some of the siding had come off and said he intended to fix it during the winter. Poe also expressed a desire not to destroy the former restaurant, as it had been in his family for 40 years.

Monday afternoon, McCarthy said he’d met with Poe at the site last week to discuss improvements; Poe was due to meet with building inspector Richie Burke in coming weeks. McCarthy added that Poe was keen to “render [Lombardy] no longer an unattractive nuisance,” and recommended the supervisors table the matter until Poe has met with Burke.

Speaking first, Parrish wondered where the public safety concern was, as the restaurant sits squarely on private property. “I don’t know that we have any leverage to compel him to do anything,” Parrish added. Likewise, Biniek wondered what distinguished Lombardy from “the derelict barns many of us have.”

Despite his admitted fondness for the old restaurant, Lee insisted that the building’s shell was more open than most people realized, and could pose a safety hazard to any curious children who might try and sneak inside. “The more open it is, the more likely it is to attract people.”

A final decision on the matter was also tabled until the supervisors’ Jan. 6 meeting.

Regional jail update

McCarthy also briefly touched on the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail, which is under construction and scheduled to open fully next July 1, and its financial impacts on the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office.

The fiscal year 2014 RCSO budget is $864,641, McCarthy said; the fiscal year ends next June 30. Once the jail is fully operational, McCarthy said the sheriff’s budget could drop by $473,000, which could save 1.2 cents on the county’s tax rate — but only in 2015.

During the jail’s first year of operation, Rappahannock will only be paying for the upkeep of the regional jail, he said, hence the potential savings. After that, McCarthy said, the county has to begin paying down the jail debt service at a rate proportional to the number of Rappahannock prisoners housed there.

McCarthy said that the regional jail’s opening will bring efficiency challenges to the RCSO. In addition to figuring out transportation (and its associated costs) of prisoners to the jail, the county will also lose a Compensation Board-provided matron, who handles the county’s female prisoners and doubles as a second emergency dispatcher.

“Obviously if we have no female prisoners, we’ll lose that position and have to eat that cost,” McCarthy said. While Warren County will be able to directly transport its prisoners, Rappahannock won’t have that luxury and will have to figure out another way. McCarthy added that “there is no agreement on the net effect” the jail’s opening will have on the RCSO.