After safety debate, BZA permits B&B

Building permits and bed and breakfast safety were the primary concerns last Wednesday night (June 25), as the Rappahannock County Board of Zoning Appeals considered — and ultimately approved — a request to operate a B&B in Amissville.

The B&B request came from Cameron and Jeannie Schriver, who wanted to use their 12.7-acre property as a three-bedroom bed and breakfast. The house, which Cameron Schriver said currently had five bedrooms — “And arguably six,” he laughed — would provide a room for handicapped guests “and cater to them. It would be another place for patrons of places like Narmada to spend their evening.”

Schriver added that he was in the process of excavating the property’s septic system — at the health department’s request — to ensure it’s sufficient for a five-bedroom house. Schriver’s mother, Jeannie Schriver, said she’d worked managing vacation rental homes in Hawaii for 25 years, and just wanted “a nice, quiet B&B.”

Many of Schriver’s neighbors, who also spoke up at the previous week’s planning commission hearing, shared the well and septic system concerns, with neighbor Karen Hunt pointing out that rooms had been rented out there (without a permit) for the last three years, something she was “disturbed to find,” and which prompted several calls to the sheriff’s office and County Administrator John McCarthy.

“I’m fine with it as long as all the code standards are met,” said fellow neighbor Donna McConn, who also requested the property be properly identified to prevent people coming to the wrong address. McConn also requested the BZA attach a review period to the application.

At the planning commission, neighbor Jana Froeling said she was opposed to the B&B, but said the fact that previous renovations to the house had been done without permits impacted her property, and asked that the house be brought up to code. Hunt shared Froeling’s safety concerns, and pointed out that there is “an expectation of safety from guests” that she felt the Schrivers should honor.

Concerning questions of the house not meeting the county’s building codes, McCarthy said, “It’s going to be hard to unpack what was done when and what code applied at that point.”

Alex Sharp suggested that county building inspector Richie Burke could inspect the property and certify it, thus eliminating the neighbors’ concerns, but McCarthy disagreed, noting Burke was the county’s employee and refused to have him or the county assume any potential liability.

“He’s my  employee,” McCarthy told Sharp, “and I’m telling you, he’s not doing it.”

As McCarthy explained later, the problem with having Burke inspect the building is that there were many things he’d simply be unable to assess easily, such as preexisting wiring and plumbing. As the county’s building inspector, McCarthy said Burke could easily certify existing records and ensure the house matched the recorded building permits, but couldn’t do anything beyond that.

Building permits, McCarthy noted, are required by the county under two circumstances: When rewiring or replumbing more than 150 square feet of an existing structure, and when building a structure of more than 300 square feet. Permits aren’t required for simple home repairs like replacing existing drywall, or for demolishing parts of an existing structure (walls, doorways, etc.) — though certain regulations must be met before demolishing an entire structure.

The main problem, Sharp contended, was that the neighbors testified to the house’s potential safety issues. Without at least some sort of cursory inspection of the premises by a licensed inspector, Sharp said he felt the board had no choice but to turn the application down.

Both the Schrivers disputed the neighbors’ claims, and added that while some of the house was likely added onto in the without a permit, all they had done since owning the property was demolish some of the house. Jeannie Schriver wondered if (and why) she and her son were being treated differently than other B&B applications; the board’s only response was Sharp’s insistence that neighbors don’t usually testify about potential safety concerns.

“We need to be well-reviewed to be successful,” said Cameron Schriver. “Everything is going to be better . . . We’re going to take steps to make sure no one gets hurt. It’s going to be better for our neighbors too, because everything is going to be kept up nicer, and it’s going to be quieter.”

The rest of the board, however, was hesitant to impose a safety inspection on the Schrivers’ application. As William Anderson pointed out, “We’ve never made anyone else do this.” McCarthy said Monday (June 30) that the county has no safety requirements — other than Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and health department-related concerns — for B&Bs.

“With most of them, part of the charm that they’re selling is the fact that many of these structures were built in the early 1900s,” McCarthy said.

“I think part of the problem here is that we are the board of zoning appeals, not the B&B licensing board,” said Christopher Bird. “Their home’s safety is not our purview. I agree it’s wrong if it’s not somebody’s purview, but it’s not our purview . . . [However,] having the home inspected would be evidence of good faith . . . and resonate with everyone involved in this process. It’d be very worthwhile for a very modest investment.”

“If the condition of the building isn’t under our purview, who do we defer that to?” wondered Sharp. “This way, we’ve done something to ensure that some level of safety has been recognized.”

While not without some hesitation, the board voted unanimously to approve the Schrivers’ request, 4-0. (Jennifer Matthews abstained.) As part of their application, the Schrivers must meet all VDOH and VDOT standards and have the house certified by a licensed home inspector.