‘People look at tourist homes as bringing in creatures from outer space with communicable diseases . . . ’
The Rappahannock County Planning Commission, in its regular meeting April 20, voted to recommend that two applications for tourist homes in the county move to the Board of Zoning Appeals for further consideration. An application to turn an historic building into a family apartment was tabled until the commission’s May meeting.
Ann M. Calloway’s application for a special use permit to turn a cabin on her North Poes Road property into a tourist home sailed through the commission’s discussion before a unanimous vote to recommend the application to the BZA.
Applications for special use permits, zoning variances, and special exceptions come before the planning commission from the county administrator/zoning administrator. If the commission “approves” (votes to recommend) the application, it moves to either the board of supervisors, in the case of special exceptions, or to the BZA.
Calloway’s cabin, which was previously approved as a guest house in 2009, sits in a wooded area and is not visible from the main house or North Poes Road.
In considering the application, Chris Bird, the planning commission’s BZA representative, said making the cabin a tourist home would help “fill a need this county has for people to stay weekends, nights, and weeks. There is surprisingly little [lodging] in the county at the moment.”
None of the other commissioners had comments or questions for Calloway.
Sally-Anne Andrew also spoke before the planning commission about her special use permit application to turn her three-bedroom, two-bath home on Christmas Tree Lane into a tourist home.
“Seventeen years ago I fell in love with Rappahannock County,” she told the commissioners. “I am asking for a tourist home, so that I may share the beauty of this county with others.”
The property sits adjacent to the Rose Hill Veterinary Practice and across Christmas Tree Lane from the Little Washington Winery.
Despite a general feeling of support among the commissioners for Andrew’s application, a thirty-minute discussion revolved around two main issues: the property’s lot size and the agreement between Andrew and other residents on the road to share the cost of road maintenance.
Last year, the planning commission voted to recommend a change in the county’s zoning ordinance to increase the lot sizes for B&Bs and tourist homes from two acres minimum in agricultural zones and five acres minimum in conservation zones to ten and twenty acres, respectively.
However, as the zoning amendments have not yet been approved, the currently specified lot sizes still apply.
Andrew’s property is just under five acres.
Hampton district commissioner Alvin Henry first raised the issue of the zoning ordinance amendments.
“This application would be in conflict with the [ordinance] if [the amendment] was adopted,” he said. “It’s not law yet, but it is headed to the books.”
Stonewall-Hawthorne district commissioner Gary Light disagreed, saying “this is not a set issue.”
John Lesinski, the board of supervisors representative on the planning commission felt it was “unfair to the applicant to hold her to this proposed amendment.”
Jason Brady of the Wakefield district admitted to feeling “a little conflicted.”
“I believe we did the right thing,” he said, “in moving forward to the ten- and twenty-acre lot sizes, but I also agree with Mr. Lesinski.”
Calling Christmas Tree Lane “an intensively used road,” Henry rejected the idea of small lot sizes for tourist homes.
“We need to protect the county standards in agricultural zones,” he said. “Tourist homes are best for larger parcels where there is less interaction with neighbors and the potential for conflicts. How much rural integrity will Christmas Tree Lane have left to represent Rappahannock County if it gets piled up and every lot in there has a use to it?”
‘Creatures from outer space’
In describing some residents’ feeling about tourist homes, Bird delivered the most colorful comment of the evening.
“People look at tourist homes as bringing in creatures from outer space with communicable diseases that can’t be cured by terrestrial medicine,” he said. “If a family lived there and used the road daily, it would be a more intensive use” than if guests used the property two or three nights.
In discussing the road maintenance agreement for Christmas Tree Lane, the commissioners were concerned that only three property owners had signed the agreement. Last year when the property owners met, the winery refused to sign the agreement.
Andrew agreed to pay for the maintenance of her portion of the road.
Six of the commissioners voted in favor of the application. Henry’s was the only no vote.
Historic preservation meets the law
A somewhat flawed application to convert a pre-existing historic building into a family apartment evoked support and innovative suggestions among the commissioners.
Woodville resident Susannah Cadwalader appeared before the commission to discuss her special use permit application to convert a pre-existing building, the Hawlin Store, into a family apartment on her 162-acre property on Hawlin Road.
The Hawlin store and post office was built in the late 1800s, she told the panel, but the post office closed and moved in 1937. Creating a family apartment would be “a great way to use this iconic building in the county,” she said.
In her application, Cadwalader acknowledged that the square footage of the one-and-a-half story structure was larger than the county ordinance allows. The store, she estimated, based on the building’s 20- by 40-foot exterior dimensions, was about 1600 square feet, whereas the ordinance specifies that a family apartment can be no larger than 1200 feet.
During the discussion, however, Cadwalader speculated that the usable square footage of the top floor may not be 800, due to the lower-than-code ceiling and four-foot knee walls on the sides.
“It’s beyond our authority to approve this [application] as written,” said Light. “You might need to look at this in some other ways.
Henry agreed with Cadwalader that the usable space was probably less than 1600 square feet. He suggested that the bottom floor could be the apartment and the top floor could be used for storage only.
Several of the commissioners asked to see additional documentation about the structure and its placement on the property. Under code, a family apartment must be less than 200 feet from the main residence.
The panel voted to table the application until its May meeting and asked Cadwalader to come back with drawings of the space and an accurate measure of the distance from the main house.