Flint Hill ‘conference center’ application tabled

Planning Commission takes long view; deli application moves on to supervisors

Facing the second controversial application for an events venue in two months, the Rappahannock County Planning Commission at its June 21 meeting decided to table the most recent application for further study — after hearing opposition from neighbors about potential noise and traffic.

Three members of the commission — Jason Brady, Alvin Henry and Gary Light — were absent from the meeting, but the remaining members still constituted a quorum.

At the same meeting, the commission recommended that an application to rezone a portion of property behind the building that last housed Cooter’s Place move forward to the board of supervisors for its consideration.

The special exception permit application for a “Conference/Resort Center” to be located on Alnell Farm, off Jericho Road between Flint Hill and Huntly, was presented by local attorney Mike Brown, speaking for applicants Susan Kummli and Stephanie Gorham.

The application also requests a special use permit to run a tourist home on the same 432-acre farm. The commission decided not to consider that portion of the proposal at the June 21 meeting, but deferred the hearing until a later date.

Brown told the commission that calling the proposed facility a conference center is a “rather grandiose term,” as Kummli and Gorham are asking for up to four events a year for not more than 200 people each. He described the potential events as weddings, family reunions, business gatherings and the like.

The application expresses the need for the events and tourist home to provide income to keep the property operating.

Brown said a temporary tent would be erected for each event. He said that, with parking in a screened area away from the road, he anticipated that the events would have a minimum impact on the neighbors.

In addition, he said, all food and beverages served in connection with the events would be provided through “outside caterers” and not by the applicants who “intend to use and promote local restaurants and caterers for this purpose.”

Several neighbors of the property objected to the application, citing traffic, road safety, noise and potential loss of value for surrounding properties.

Others suggested that the commission take a step back and look at the zoning ordinance as a whole.

Zoning appeals board member David Konick asked the planning commission to defer ruling on either application and reconsider certain zoning ordinance definitions.

“My suggestion is you ought to take a look at the field party provision of the ordinance and the festival provision,” said Konick. “They are all the same type of activity with lots of people coming to lots of different events.

“Defer this [application] and others and take a hard look at the zoning ordinance and see what changes need to be made, so that all these uses that are similar in nature are all treated the same way.”

The Alnell Farm application comes on the heels of a special exception permit request from Bill Fletcher that was considered by the supervisors June 5. The application asks for blanket permission to hold up to 31 events per year at Fletcher’s 158-acre Thornton Hill Farm property, south of Sperryville on U.S. 522.

Sixteen owners of adjoining properties and other close neighbors spoke at the supervisors hearing, most in vehement opposition to the proposal.

That application was returned to the planning commission to be taken up again at its August meeting.

In light of questions raised about the effect of the two applications on the county, commission chair Gary Settle suggested taking an even broader view of these and future proposals and looking at how they fit into the bigger picture of what Rappahannock County is and what the residents want it to be.

“We have robust codes on the books that allow us to enjoy what we have now,” said Settle. “People who sat at this table before us applied their wisdom. But maybe we are at a point to revisit and recodify and put some limits on these types of applications.”

He said he agreed with Stratton Semmes, an Alnell Farm neighbor who said during the meeting’s public comment session that the county was facing a “watershed moment” in deciding its future.

“People should be able to do what they want on their private property up to a point,” said Semmes. “We need to look at where one draws lines, what those lines look like, and when one draws them. I don’t have the answers to those questions, but I think we need to look at them at this time.”

John Lesinski, the Hampton district supervisor who sits on the planning commission, also agreed with deferring a decision in order to review the ordinance.

He drew laughs with his comments that he was in agreement with Konick. (The two don’t usually see eye to eye.)

“I’m in danger of bursting into flames here in agreeing with Mr. Konick,” said Lesinski. “I think we should table the [Alnell] application until we better understand the traffic [impact] and can look at the totality of the ordinance to have guidelines for reviewing applications in the future.”

The present members of the commission voted unanimously to table the application.

Deli/bakery/ice cream shop at old Cooter’s Place

Tracy Abdullah, representing her family’s Legacy Farm LLC application, told the commission that the family is planning to run a deli/bakery/ice cream shop out of the building that housed Cooter’s Place at the corner of U.S. 211 and Old Hollow Road in Sperryville.

Legacy Farm is applying to rezone the gravel area behind the building from agricultural use to general commercial in order to accommodate customer parking.

“We are asking for a boundary line adjustment for the safety of customers,” said Abdullah. “The Virginia Department of Transportation now forbids parking on the concrete slab in front of the building” and is requiring that barriers to be put up to prevent vehicular entry.

Abdullah introduced her husband Alan and her three children, whom she said would all have jobs at the store.

A handful of neighbors spoke in favor of the application.

Jimmy Swindler, the facilities manager at the Rappahannock County schools, said he thought the proposed use was a “no brainer for the location.”

“I’ve gotten to know this family [through the schools] and I think they could be darn good neighbors,” he said.

Matthew Black of Piedmont district called himself “a hopeful customer. The only thing missing tonight is the homemade ice cream.”

Local lawyer and real estate agent Sharon Luke, who owns property across Old Hollow Road from the proposed store, said she had no objection to the parking proposal, but was concerned about granting a blanket zoning adjustment from agricultural use to general commercial use.

“Don’t rezone carte blanche to general commercial,” she said, addressing the commissioners. “Ask that the applicants proffer off [all other uses] except parking.”

After some discussion, the commission voted unanimously to recommend the application to the supervisors and ask that the applicant place such a proffer on the property.

An unedited video of the 7:30 p.m. session on Wednesday, June 21 can be found online at rappnews.com/video, or on the newspaper’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/RappNewsPlus. The meeting agenda and related documents are online at boarddocs.com/va/corva/Board.nsf/Public.

About Patty Hardee 277 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.