Public hearing for amendments to be scheduled
The county’s comprehensive plan and proposed amendments to the local zoning ordinance took center stage at the September 20 meeting of the Rappahannock County Planning Commission.
The planners voted unanimously to ask Zoning Administrator David Dameron and County Attorney Art Goff to create a notice for a public hearing on all the zoning ordinance amendments now pending. The hearing could potentially take place at the Planning Commission’s October 18 meeting.
For much of the past year, the planners and the county’s Board of Zoning appeals have worked through a multi-page chart of amendments to the zoning ordinance intended to tighten standards for applications for special use or special exception permits for a range of dwelling types. These include efficiency apartments, family apartments, guest houses, B&Bs, tourist homes, and boarding homes.
Many of the proposed changes are in response to the concern among county residents of the growing presence of tourist homes owned by non-residents for investment purposes.
During the September 20 meeting comment period, Jackson district resident Page Glennie urged the planners to respect the interest of residents over nonresidents and include a residency requirement for applicants for tourist homes.
“The root issue of residency is not being addressed,” said Glennie. “In general, people don’t seem to have a problem with tourist homes if the landowner is a resident on the property. The issue is property investment for short term rentals.”
A recent example was the application by Desmond and Heidi Dodd to turn their cabin on Gid Brown Hollow Road into a tourist home. The Dodds currently reside in South Africa on a work assignment, but call Rappahannock their home.
Their application was met with much opposition from neighbors on Gid Brown Hollow Road and adjoining Harris Hollow Road who considered the Dodds nonresidents.
Dameron and Goff presented a resolution September 6 meeting of the Board of Supervisors proposing another set of amendments to the county code. If adopted, these amendments would remove the distinction between special use and special exception permits and change the responsibilities of the BOS and the BZA.
Currently, both types of permits come first before the Planning Commission, which can vote to recommend the applications to either the BOS or the BZA. Supervisors hear special exception permit applications, while the BZA hears those for special use permits.
Under the Dameron-Goff amendments, there would be only one permit type, which would go to the Planning Commission and then to the BOS. The BZA would only hear appeals and applications for zoning variances.
The purpose for the change, as expressed by John Lesinski, the Hampton supervisor who sits on the Planning Commission, would be to simplify the application process and help address confusion in the public over the difference between special exception and special use permits.
Other items were embedded in the Dameron-Goff document. One would change the process for moving permit applications forward. Under the current system, a public hearing is advertised as soon as an application is received.
The proposed change would require advertising a public hearing only after the Planning Commission has reviewed the application to ensure that it was complete.
Many applications in the past year have had to be tabled and hearings postponed because of incomplete information or improper notices to the public.
Another proposed amendment would clarify acreage requirements for B&Bs and tourist homes.
The controversy over the Dodd application also surfaced a question about whether acreage requirements recommended by the Planning Commission in 2010 and adopted by the BOS were valid.
According to an opinion memo issued by Goff in July, the Planning Commission at its June 16, 2010 meeting discussed an amendment to replace existing language in the county code with one requiring a minimum of 10 acres for a tourist home.
However, the BOS made material changes to what had been advertised, and voted to approve substantially smaller acreage requirements. Because the new language had not been properly noticed, Goff found that the amendments were illegal and that the previous ordinance language requiring a minimum of 10 acres for a tourist home stands.
Comprehensive Plan: “Let’s get it done.”
Hampton district planner Al Henry added to the September 20 agenda a discussion of the county’s comprehensive plan which has been under review for about three years.
“Certainly, it’s been under review since a year before [then-County Administrator] John McCarthy left,” said vice chair Gary Light.
State code requires that comprehensive plans be reviewed every five years. It has been more than five years since the Rappahannock plan been updated.
“We’ve been dragging on this comprehensive plan for a long, long, long time,” said Henry. “I think we need to bite the bullet and get this behind us and get it done.”
Light noted that the planners had “been through the plan twice completely, going around the county talking about it, marking it up, voting on changes. The only thing remaining to be finished … was the updating the data tables.”