Board tables sweeping zoning changes at first meeting of 2018
The first Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors meeting of 2018 included the re-election of its chair Roger Welch and vice chair Chris Parrish, the resolution — for now — of controversial zoning ordinance changes, and expressed optimism for the future.
In a 5-0 vote during the evening session of the meeting, the board tabled, indefinitely, sweeping zoning ordinance changes that have riled county government and the community for months.
First presented as a resolution at the Sept. 6 BOS meeting, the amendments, if adopted, would have combined the special use and special exception permitting process into one type of permit that would be considered by the Planning Commission and then the BOS. The BZA, which now hears special use applications after they have been recommended by the planners, would then only hear variances and appeals
The amendments also included revisions that would downsize the acreage requirements for tourist homes and boarding houses in Agricultural and Conservation zones, and eliminate acreage requirements altogether for B&Bs.
Several county residents spoke in opposition to the amendments at both sessions of the meeting. Some implored the board to seek more input from the public, while others supported the continued role of the BZA. Still others cautioned against moving too fast on zoning changes that could potentially alter the character of the county.
David Konick, Stonewall-Jackson district member of the BZA, posited that these proposed zoning changes had been created “at the behest of lobbyists for developers and real estate moguls, people who want to make money by breaking zoning ordinances.”
No one spoke in favor of the proposal.
Stonewall-Hawthorne Supervisor Chris Parrish asked County Attorney Art Goff to weigh in on the issue. Goff, who helped former county Zoning Administrator David Dameron fashion the amendments, gave several reasons in favor of the zoning changes. One important reason, he said, is around the issue of accountability.
“The BZA [members are] appointed by the court,” said Goff, “and are not accountable except through appeal of their decision, whereas [the BOS] is directly accountable to the people who elect them.”
He asked the BOS to take its time and not decide the issue at the present meeting, and he offered to draft an opinion letter to present to the board at a later date.
During the supervisors’ discussion, Supervisor John Lesinski, a real estate broker, seemingly addressing Konick, said he felt he may be under personal attack as the sponsor of the amendments. (Lesinski is also the subject of lawsuits brought against him by clients of Konick.)
Lesinski took issue with the argument that the BZA could make apolitical decisions, saying, “To insinuate that the BZA is above politics is laughable.”
Later Lesinski said he supports the idea of a more comprehensive study of the changes, rather than “cherry picking the issues.”
Sense of hope
Uncertainty among county residents about how the BOS would vote on the zoning amendments was tempered by a sense of hope for positive change, due to the presence of two new county officials — newly elected Piedmont supervisor Christine Smith and incoming permanent County Administrator Garrey W. Curry, Jr.
Although interim county Administrator Brenda Garton ran Wednesday’s meeting, Curry assumed his duties on January 1.
Garton has filled in since July of 2017 when former Administrator Debbie Keyser resigned. Garton will stay on until the end of January to provide continuity and to help orient Curry as he settles in.
During the public comment period, several residents commended Garton for her work and for bringing order to the county. And they welcomed Curry. Former Piedmont Supervisor Mike Biniek and retiring School Board member Aline Johnson were also formally honored for their years of service.
In another 5-0 vote, the BOS repealed language in the county code, specifically Article II of Chapter 95-Emergency Response, that interfered with state and federal regulations and complicated fire and rescue cost recovery.
Rappahannock County School Superintendent Shannon Grimsley reported that the first semester SOL (public schools’ Standards of Learning testing) scores were “phenomenal.” She also said that in looking for ways to be more energy efficient, the school district is looking into the feasibility of installing solar power units.
A resolution to authorize Goff to hire a deputy county attorney was met with resistance, even though the BOS voted at its December 4 meeting to approve it. After that meeting, former Commonwealth’s Attorney Peter Luke was hired. Goff reported that Luke had already billed some hours.
Jackson Supervisor Ron Frazier objected to Luke’s having been being hired so quickly. Several board members felt the resolution and the hiring had been handled properly and that Luke deserved to be paid for the time he had put in since then.
Finally the supervisors voted on a motion to “ratify the action concerning Mr. Luke” essentially agreeing to the hiring. Lesinski, Parrish and Chair Roger Welch voted in favor; Frazier and Smith abstained. Smith explained it was because she had not yet been on the board at the December meeting.
Based on her time working with the various boards in Rappahannock, Garton presented several suggestions for the BOS to consider. Among them were proposed revisions to the Rappahannock Code Chapter 30 that governs the way meetings are advertised and conducted.
She also proposed a new policy for preparing meeting agendas for the BOS and other county organizations. The new policy would allow time for the administrator to receive agenda materials in time to publish agendas before meetings. She developed a sample draft schedule showing meeting dates and deadlines for receipt of materials.
Garton also proposed a budget meeting schedule for the development and adoption of the fiscal year 2018-19 county budget. She presented a color-coded spreadsheet showing meeting dates for various county organizations and dates when actions, such as advertising to the public, were required.
2018 elections, appointments
The BOS re-elected Roger Welch as chair and Chris Parrish as the vice chair.
The board also made the following appointments to represent county and regional organizations:
· Planning Commission: Chris Parrish
· Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Commission: Roger Welch
· Rappahannock River Basin Commission (rep and alternate): Chris Parrish and John Lesinski
· Public Safety and Local Emergency Planning Committee: Chris Parrish and Ron Frazier
· Fire Levy Board: Ron Frazier
· Agriculture and Forest: Ron Frazier
· Board Clerk: Garrey W. Curry, Jr., County Administrator
· Deputy Clerk: Krystal A. Porras
· Director of Emergency Management: Garrey W. Curry, Jr.
· Blue Ridge Committee for Shenandoah Park Relations: Roger Welch, Christine Smith, Garrey W. Curry, Jr., and Theresa Wood
· Children’s Services Act Community Policy and Management Team: Garrey W. Curry, Jr.
An unedited video of the supervisors 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. sessions on Monday, January 3 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.