Citizens pack courtroom for heated meeting
When the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors at its evening session on July 5 finally approved a rezoning application for a family store in Sperryville, the spectators in the almost packed courtroom jumped to their feet and applauded.
The spontaneous outburst was probably as much a show of relief that a long and contentious meeting had come to an end as it was an expression of support for the applicant — Legacy Farm LLC.
Another application, this one for a special exception permit to hold events at Alnell Farm north of Flint Hill, met with vehement opposition from neighbors. After a lengthy and heated public comment period on the application, the BOS voted unanimously to send it back to the Rappahannock County Planning Commission to reconsider at its July 19 meeting.
Although both the Legacy Farm and Alnell Farm applications had their supporters and detractors, the overriding theme that emerged from the meeting was a need for the county to take a holistic approach to permit applications.
One speaker during the BOS public comment session said that to consider applications individually would be like playing “whack a mole.”
This sentiment was also expressed in earlier meetings of the Planning Commission and BOS around an application submitted in April by Bill Fletcher. His application for a special exception permit to allow up to 31 events a year on his Thornton Hill Farm property along Route 522 south of Sperryville also met with strong neighbor opposition.
The planning commission previously voted to recommend the application at its May 17 meeting, kicking it up to the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors to consider at its June 5 meeting.
However, following a barrage of complaints from property owners adjoining Thornton Hill Farm, as well as other nearby neighbors and concerned Rappahannock residents, the BOS sent the application back to the planning commission for further consideration and to correct defects in the application itself, including a negligent public notification process.
The Alnell Farm application seeks permission to hold four events a year for no more than 200 people. Mike Brown, a local attorney representing Alnell Farm LLC and co-applicant Windsor Lodge Stables LLC, characterized the events as weddings, family reunions, business meetings or the like.
The application also requests a special use permit to turn a cabin on the property into a tourist home. That part of the application will be considered separately at a later date.
Objections to the event center permit request at the BOS meeting echoed those expressed at the June Planning Commission meeting:
- Events would bring increased traffic to Jericho Road, potentially endangering other people who use the road for walking, jogging, biking and horseback riding.
- The traffic would not be limited just to Jericho Road. Alnell Farms is located off Jericho Road about a mile and a half from Route 522, but then becomes N. Poes Road, a narrow gravel road that runs seven miles before intersecting with Crest Hill Rd., Route 647. Several speakers feared that drivers unfamiliar to the county and unused to driving on gravel roads would also be directed by GPS to use N. Poes.
- Traffic from attendees, as well as from caterers and other contractors before events, could potentially make the road impassable for emergency vehicles.
- Several people mentioned that a sharp turn at a bridge on Jericho Rd. had limited sight lines and posed a potential hazard to drivers unfamiliar with the area.
- Noise was also a major concern. One speaker with property neighboring Alnell Farm noted that when Oasis winery — which was farther away than Alnell Farm — had been in operation, he could hear music and other sounds from winery events.
Brown and others suggested that conditions could be placed on the application to help allay the neighbors’ concerns.
Some neighbors praised Alnell Farm’s owner, Susan Kummli, for having generously opened her property for pony club and other equine-related events. Despite the size of those events, they said, no neighbors had complained.
In its discussion period, members of the BOS agreed that the county needs to step back and look at event permit applications from a larger perspective.
“We need to figure out where we’re going as a county,” said Stonewall-Hawthorne district supervisor Chris Parrish. “We need to take the time to set parameters and put guidelines in place.”
Variance vs. rezoning
The Legacy Farm, LLC applicants plan to convert the old Cooter’s Place building at the corner of Route 211 and Old Hollow Road in Sperryville into a deli/bakery/ice cream shop. They have requested that the gravel area behind the store be rezoned from agricultural use to general commercial to allow customer parking.
“Without that rezoning to allow parking,” Legacy Farm owner and applicant Tracy Abdullah told the BOS, “we can’t have a viable business.”
Given the wide community support for the business idea and for the Abdullah family itself expressed at the June Planning Commission meeting, the application was expected to receive quick BOS approval.
However, Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier opined that the request should have been for a variance, as opposed to rezoning.
Currently, only the building is zoned commercial. Rezoning the outside gravel area commercial could possibly set a precedence for neighbors who would like to have a commercial business in that area. The result could be a commercial zone in an area that had been set aside for agricultural use.
A variance would allow parking without expanding the commercial footprint of the property.
Abdullah’s frustration with the variance idea being floated at the 11th hour was evident in her passionate presentation. She described her and her family’s dream for a business to serve them now and provide a reason for her children to stay in the county when they’re grown.
She said she had been instructed by the county along a path for rezoning and had done all the work she was told she needed to do to make that happen. Seeking a variance would mean going before the Board of Zoning Appeals, postponing approval or even risking a denial of the application.
After an hour and a half of comments from supporters, debate among the BOS members, recognition of the unique character of the property, a legal opinion and intercession from county attorney Art Goff, and a proffer signed on the spot by Abdullah, the application was finally approved by a four to one vote. Frazier was the only dissenter.
Said Lesinski in a later phone call: “If the rezoning wasn’t the right path, it should have been brought up by the planning commission. It’s hard to make the public suffer for the failings of the county government.”
Unedited videos of the afternoon and evening sessions of the July 5 Board of Supervisors meeting 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.
An earlier RappNews article about the two applications discussed above can be found at https://rappnews.com/2017/07/02/flint-hill-conference-center-application-tabled/