No site plan, no consideration for approval

Special use permit for Christmas Tree Lane wellness center tabled

The Planning Commission voted unanimously last Wednesday night (Feb. 17) to table a special use permit application to add two bedrooms and around 6,000 square feet of space to an existing three bedroom bed and breakfast at 105 Christmas Tree Lane, to become a wellness center for healing and the permanent home for property owner Sadhna Singh, a Fairfax OBGYN for the last 20 years who also owns a property just off US 211 near Ben Venue.

Deputy County Administrator Debbie Keyser introduced the application involving the 25-acre parcel known as Parma at Little Washington, zoned for both agriculture and conservation use. The proposal would add two bedrooms to the previously approved B&B, and include a second story, an addition to the gazebo and a new dining room and kitchen. This property was formerly known as Sunset Hills, and it was one of the first bed and breakfasts in Rappahannock County, granted a special use permit in 1993.

Although the commission agreed there was not enough information provided in the submission, since a site plan drawing is required for an application to be reviewed by the Planning Commission in their monthly meeting, the members took turns discussing the proposed business and renovation with the owner for about an hour, and they allowed two neighbors to speak out in opposition to the permit, also noting submissions of opposition to the permit by two other neighbors.

The Rappahannock County Planning Commission is an administrative agent for the county and the circuit court, respectively. They direct the administration of the zoning, subdivision, and erosion and sediment control ordinances. The Commission consists of seven members, one of whom is a member of the Board of Supervisors, another of whom is a representative of the Board of Zoning Appeals and the remaining five are appointed to four-year terms of office by the Board of Supervisors by voting district.

The special use permit will be reviewed at next month’s meeting, if the Singhs can present the commission with a comprehensive site plan illustrating the addition, parking and traffic information, and addressing the visual impact.  

From US 211, the driveway to Parma snakes for three-quarters of a mile, past Rose Hill Veterinary Clinic, where the asphalt turns to gravel, and drivers of low-sitting vehicles have to keenly navigate the muddy low-lying sections of the road to avoid bottoming out, winding past grapevines on the hillside at the Little Washington Winery on the right, up a steep sloped driveway to the mountain peak, where the 25-acre property and home to a bed and breakfast has a stunning view of Old Rag Mountain and a shimmering strip of the Blue Ridge. On top of the one-story stone home with octagonal rooms, blue and black tarp flutters in the wind, where the roof formerly existed.

Stonewall-Hawthorne representative and vice chairman Gary Light questioned whether or not the bed and breakfast was even in operation, which would mean that the special use permit wouldn’t involve an existing permitted bed and breakfast in the first place.

Neighbor Jock Nash of Clark Lane said that in the two years since he and his wife moved next door to Parma, Monday night was their first time meeting the Singhs. He and his wife sometimes walk their dog past the property, he said, just to make sure no one is squatting in the unused residence.

“When we moved here, the last thing I wanted to do was get in conflict with my neighbors,” Nash said, presenting the Commission with architectural drawings of the potential additions to the main building. He then alluded to March 2012, when neighbors of a large and once-controversial home on Clark Lane — controversial because its former owner was illegally using it as a B&B — filed suit in the Rappahannock County Circuit Court to challenge the BZA’s decision to issue a permit.

“I didn’t join the Clark Lane litigation,” Nash said, “But even that litigation, had we had a site plan, from the beginning, I don’t think any of that, all those tens of thousands of dollars that people spent on litigation, would have been spent. I can tell you that if we had a site plan, we could comment intelligently on everything they’re trying to do. We met the Singhs for the first time this evening. I look forward to, as I understand it we’re moving it forward for a month, and can come back and comment.”

Singh rose and spoke before the Commission for about five minutes, stating that this property has been an operational B&B, and that the expansion is not to create a grand enterprise but to make the place home for herself and to establish a wellness center. A storm ripped the roof off of the house last March, and the B&B hasn’t been active since because the building was nearly destroyed. Singh said she wants to build it back bigger and better.

Singh has practiced medicine in Fairfax County for 20 years. In 1997, her father died of cancer. In 2000, she said, “I will build a place where people can come to heal.” Her father had difficulties finding comfort in his final days, which inspired her to help others.

A ‘grandiose’ vision

Singh connected with County Administrator John McCarthy in 2007, and she found a place in Ben Venue, which is undergoing significant renovations as well. To convince other physicians to come here, Singh acquired the Christmas Tree Lane property and made improvements to the house. With the three-minute public speaking limit alarm honking, Singh said, “I’ve never been lucky, I’ve always had to struggle and fight . . . Some neighbors have problems. There are driveway issues . . . Yes, it’s a little grandiose, I wanted to create something beautiful,” she said, noting that she currently lives in a house in McLean that’s 15,000 square feet.

“If you wanted to build a 20,000 square foot house to live in with your husband and children, we have no say in that, other than the building permit,” Hampton representative Al Henry said to Singh. “But when you start transforming it into an enterprise, that’s why we have a say, to protect the county, the neighbors and all these kind of things that’s taken so long to develop to make Rappahannock a special place.”

Henry told Singh that he would like to see a detailed site plan.

“I want to see the road coming in, I want to see the whole property, where the 25 acres are located, the parking, elevation, profile,” Henry said. “I want to see this almost like a Fairfax presentation. We’ve allowed simple things to get by with hand drawings, but this is a really complex, large project here that may affect a large viewshed. So we need to see profiles and diagrams as part of the site plan.”

Board of Zoning Appeals representative Chris Bird agrees that the site plan is crucial.

“And it should involve the property lines, and labels of all of the relevant neighbors — and I think it would be nice to have the parking, infield, all of that kind of thing as part of the site plan,” Bird said. “In addition to that, it would be nice to have an idea of the road and the accessibility. This does seem to be a rather considerable construction concept and enterprise, and it would be nice to know that it would be designed in a fashion that would be safe and functional, and with the neighbors in mind.”

Singing kumbaya

After the special use permit approval was tabled unanimously until next month’s meeting, Henry said:

“Before adjourning I think the board will recognize, and the audience will too, that in the past we have looked to the neighbors for their opinion of what was going on and how things were going to affect them. One of the things we’ve always paid close attention to is the traffic concerns, not only on the public roads but very particularly the private roads,” he said, referencing several letters and emails from neighbors regarding the high volume of traffic currently travelling on the private road. “And this is a very unique situation right here on Christmas Tree Lane right now, in the fact that you’ve got a veterinary clinic, you’ve got a winery, and now you’ve got potentially a 10,000-square-foot spa. And it appears that everybody’s fighting, nobody gets along on this road thing. So this kind of takes a bad situation and makes it worse, so it sure would be nice if everybody got together and sang kumbaya between now and next month, and resolved this.”