Planners table commercial expansion at Cooter’s

‘Spot zoning’ raised in McNear request; commission OKs two other permits

The controversy over allowing and expanding commercial establishments in the county’s agricultural zones came to the fore again at the Rappahannock County Planning Commission’s June 15 meeting.

Richard McNear, representing himself, Nancy McNear and Laura Morey spoke to the commission about their application to rezone part of the property they own next to Cooter’s from agricultural to general commercial use to allow for overflow parking from Cooter’s Place and outside eating area.

After much discussion and public comment, the commissioners voted unanimously to table the application until their July 20 meeting.

The issue was spot zoning — so called because it means singling out a small parcel of land for a use at odds with the surrounding zoning. Back in the 1970s, county zoning officials identified with yellow crayon retail stores that existed in agricultural areas. These establishments were grandfathered in when the current zoning maps were created. Cooter’s Place, now operated as a retail gift shop, museum and eatery with a “Dukes of Hazzard” theme, is one of those spots.

County Administrator Debbie Keyser wrote, in her recommendation to the commission: “Cooter’s was previously Bradley’s store in business from at least the 1960s. When the Zoning Ordinance was implemented, Bradley’s location was given a grandfathered commercial zoning designation and has remained such through numerous businesses through the present day.” However, she wrote, “The commercial designation was the corner of the property to include the store only and stopped at the back wall of the building” — a point that was brought up several times during the June 15 meeting.

“In April 17, 2013, “Keyser wrote, “the Zoning Administrator approved a boundary adjustment to add 0.2365 acres to enlarge the store lot. The current application request is to extend the commercial zone into the .2365 acre and the applicant has proffered ‘it will revert back to agricultural zoning upon the lease termination of Cooter’s.’ ”

An irony of the application is that McNear was involved in early zoning efforts in the county. Diane Bruce of Piedmont district, in her remarks during the public comment session, said that McNear at one time was considered the “guru of zoning in Virginia.”

Several attendees to the meeting spoke against the proposal. Andrew Haley of Piedmont district and owner of Haley Fine Art in Sperryville, told the commission he owns property one parcel removed from Cooter’s Place. In a letter to Keyser, he said, “This property represents a substantial portion of everything I have worked for in life and as such have questions and concerns about the rezoning application.”

The concerns he cited were how the business became a restaurant, hours of operation, noise and alcohol sales. He said he is “all for light retail,” but “a restaurant is different; add alcohol and you have “Cooter’s Roadhouse,” kegs of beer under tents in the “overflow parking lot,” attendant music. I’ve seen groups of bikers (5 -10 at a time) hanging out there already; I don’t want to live next door to a biker bar.”

He also asked about the establishment’s site plan, drainfield, and mitigation of runoff into the Thornton River. And wondered, “Why expand a non-conforming use in an area where there are no services, not supported by any aspect of our comprehensive plan?”

Cliff Miller III of Piedmont district said: “My concern is there’s a lease right now. If the property were sold to Cooter’s, I’m not excited about having commercial across from me. I think Dick [McNear] would be concerned about the same thing.”

Calling herself a “sixth or seventh generation Rappahannockian, if that’s a word,” Bruce also opposed the application on the grounds that “what is going on is already illegal,” that Cooter’s deck and seating areas are in violation of the zoning and represent “illegal activity creep. And I’d actually like to make a formal inquiry or complaint and ask the county governing body or administrator to check into that and see if there is anything going that was not allowed.”

“Cooter is doing what he said he would do, only he can’t have outdoor music and concerts,” said Bruce, referring to a previous application Jones and his wife Alma Viator made in 2015 for a special exception permit to hold outdoor music events on weekend afternoons at Cooter’s. After a lengthy stretch of questions and concerns from commissioners at their April 2015 meeting, and a neighboring property owner’s worries about noise and traffic, Jones and Viator withdrew the application.

Bruce went on to say that there are “now porta-johns, a dumpster and garbage cans outside, as well as lights all over the front. What’s coming next if we allow parking? A Ferris wheel?”

Sheri Fickel of Piedmont district and co-owner of Hopkins Ordinary B&B and Ale Works in Sperryville, said she had no opposition to the business currently, but that “it does look like spot zoning. It is surrounded by agricultural land. There is no reason to put a commercial spot. And it doesn’t seem significant to me that the proffer would revert back to agricultural use after the lease is ended. While the lease is in place, it is being treated like a commercial property.”

During the commissioners’ discussion, Christopher Bird, the commission’s representative from the board of zoning appeals, said: “As far as the commercial or non-commercial zoning, to me this property has been a commercial enterprise for many, many years. This application is trying to accommodate an existing business. This seems like a reasonable and justifiable change.”

Alvin Henry from Hampton district said: “The previous zoning administrator had a right to make [the earlier] boundary adjustment … but not to make an administrative approval for the use of that parcel. The use of that land should have come to us for review. After the boundary adjustment was done, the property was parked on, but then the commercial use crept out onto that 0.23 acres for outside tables and it has continued to creep.”

Subsequent discussion involved the viability of the property reverting back to its original use after the lease was up, the need for additional parking, and how to restrict further “creep” before the vote to table the application.

Special use permits recommended

The commission also approved two applications to move forward to the BZA, which will have considered them at its meeting last night (after the newspaper went to press).

Ashley Marie Frazier of Hawthorne district applied for a special-use permit for a permanent mobile home to be used as a family apartment on her mother-in-law’s property on Turkey Ridge Road in Boston. The application was recommended by unanimous vote on the condition that it meets the definition of a mobile home and not a trailer and that it meets all associated Rappahannock County building codes.

Susan Hager of Piedmont district applied for a special-use permit to convert her three-bedroom residence on Sycamore Ridge Road in Sperryville to a tourist home, her second in the county, “which has been a very good venture,” she said. Hager is building a primary residence next to the Sycamore Ridge Road property where she will live and manage the new tourist home.

After several questions about Hager’s plans and about tourist homes in general, the commissioners voted unanimously to recommend the application to the BZA.

About Patty Hardee 270 Articles
Writer, consultant, actor, director, recovering stand-up comic, Patty covers the county’s courts and other topics of interest for Rappahannock News. She lives with her grape-growing husband Bill Freitag in Flint Hill.