Perseverance paid off for Bob and Julie Coonce, the owners of a vacation home on Quann Lane in Chester Gap. The Rappahannock County Board of Zoning Appeals, at their regular Sept. 28 meeting, approved a special use permit for the Coonces to run their property as a tourist home when they are not using it.
The couple, who live in Middleburg with their three children, plan to advertise the home on Airbnb.com and Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO), two online marketplaces for people to find accommodations without going through booking agents.
BZA approval followed hours of discussion in two monthly planning commission meetings and one other BZA meeting, in which residents of Quann Lane spoke in opposition to the application. (The Coonces submitted their application in July.)
In the end, approval was neither unanimous nor unencumbered. The BZA members, who voted 4-1 in favor of the application, placed a number of conditions on the permit, adding to those that had come from the previous week’s planning commission meeting:
- Brush has to be cleared from the roadway to increase sight distances. The Coonces’s Quann Lane neighbors repeatedly objected to the anticipated increase in traffic on the narrow road. They cited Chester Gap’s notorious fog as a hindrance to visibility and described incidents of drivers running off the road. In all four meetings, planning commissioners and BZA members, consulting plats and photographs, struggled to understand the topography and width of the road. It was finally determined that although the road itself is narrow in places, it does have the required 50-foot right of way.
- Limit rentals to no more than four separate transactions a month and accept no rentals during the months of January, February, and March. After the first planning commission meeting, the Coonces added this restriction themselves, in an effort to allay neighbors’ fears of traffic and to respond to their concerns about the effects of bad weather on drivers unfamiliar with narrow country roads.
- The Coonces must submit to a building inspection and correct any code violations. This issue came up in the last planning commission meeting. Looking at photos of the property, Ron Frazier, the supervisor representative to the board, questioned the safety of the property’s outdoor areas. He noted that the patios appeared not to have railings along the side of the house where the property falls off steeply.
- The special use permit will terminate on any future sale of the property. In other words, the permit belongs to the owners, not the property.
- After two years, the permit will be reviewed to ensure the conditions have been met and to gauge neighbor sentiment with the arrangement.
David Konick cast the dissenting vote. “It’s a mistake to allow tourist homes and B&Bs to spread out in agricultural zones,” he said. “These should be in the villages. Having them in isolated in places around the county, I think, violates the goals and objectives of the county’s comprehensive plan.”
Parma’s stop-work order? It’s complicated.
During the old business part of the BZA meeting agenda, Konick asked for an update on Parma B&B on Christmas Tree Lane. In August, the panel directed County Administrator Debbie Keyser to issue an order to the B&B’s owners to stop work on construction of a new addition on the property. At question was whether the owners, Nicky Singh, her husband and daughter, planned to continue using the property as a B&B or as a private residence.
Earlier this year, Singh, a Fairfax physician, applied for a special use permit to expand the existing three-bedroom B&B by two more bedrooms, adding 6,000 square feet of living space to the property. Before considering the application, the planning commission and BZA ordered Singh to pay back taxes and enter into a road maintenance agreement with the other residents of Christmas Tree Lane, among other conditions.
After several appearances before the county boards, and having failed to meet the county’s conditions, Singh abruptly withdrew her application in April.
Shortly after, she applied for a residential permit for the property, submitting building plans that looked substantially the same as those she submitted for the B&B expansion — at least to neighbors on Christmas Tree Lane and nearby Clark Lane who opposed the application. And to Konick.
In the Sept. 28 BZA meeting, Keyser explained, “The BZA asked me as clerk of the board to send a letter to Dr. Singh, but [in my role] as zoning administrator, I didn’t think that was the best approach.”
She cited differing interpretations of the zoning ordinance governing expansion of B&Bs. “Once a permit has been granted, use shall not be enlarged or extended,” Keyser read from the ordinance. For the past 20 years, she said, building inspector Richie Burke and former county administrator John McCarthy had interpreted the ordinance to apply just to the permitted bedrooms.
“But [Konick’s] interpretation seems to be that the use extends to the entire structure,” said Keyser. “If the county decides to go with that new interpretation, fine, but Mr. Burke and I feel it’s the board of supervisor’s decision to move in a different direction.” (The supervisors took up the issue at their meeting on Monday, Oct. 3.)
Keyser said she has received written assurances that the new construction will be for residential use. “If Dr. Singh breaches the agreement [and expands beyond the three permitted B&B bedrooms],” said Keyser, “she would be in violation.”
For now, construction has been stopped over Keyser’s concerns about whether the addition meets the county’s setback requirements.
The agenda and copies of documents for this and other county meetings are available at boarddocs.com/va/corva/Board.nsf/Public. The video below is courtesy of Kaitlin Struckmann’s Rappahannock Record Youtube channel: