Gid Brown couple wins BZA appeal for rental home

In a four to one vote, the Rappahannock County Board of Zoning Appeals overturned a November 2017 ruling and affirmed a January 2016 ruling allowing Heidi and Desmond Dodd to consider their house on Gid Brown Hollow Road a rental property rather than a tourist home, if the dwelling is continuously rented for 30 days or longer.

Since November 2015, the Dodds had sought a special use permit to turn their restored log house into a tourist home. Twice they applied for the permit, and both times withdrew their applications after facing neighbor opposition.

They appealed to the BZA to rule on whether “allow[ing] use of house as single-family dwelling of more than 30 days” constitutes use as a tourist home under the county’s zoning ordinance, according to their written appeal application.

At question was a previous ruling issued in January 2016 by former Deputy County Administrator and Zoning Administrator Debbie Keyser that “rentals of minimum 30-day periods would not require a special use permit.”

A Nov. 20, 2017 letter from current Zoning Administrator Michelle Somers appeared to contradict Keyser’s ruling.

“The code does not set a time frame for a rental,” wrote Somers. “Most rental homes that are a single family dwelling are leased for a year at a time and pay month to month (every 30 days). A single family dwelling is a place for a family to settle down. Even if it is advertised as a 30 day lease it would be considered a tourist home.”

Somers’ letter came on the heels of a letter from County Attorney Art Goff in October, ordering the Dodds to “cease-and-desist further [alleged tourist home] operations immediately.”

During the February appeal hearing, BZA member David Konick argued that the code section Keyser quoted in her email referred to payment of meals and lodging tax, not the definition of a rental property or tourist home.

He also explained that, according to the county ordinance, the BZA could not be bound by an incorrect interpretation of the code, which he considered Keyser’s reading to be.

“The Zoning Administrator is presumed to be correct,” he said, referring to Somers. “The burden of proof is with the Dodds.”

Robert Light, the Dodds’ attorney, argued that his clients acted pursuant to Keyser’s guidance and that since Keyser’s decision had not been appealed within 60 days, her determination could not now be changed.

The problem, said BZA chair Alex Sharp, is that there is no clear definition of a tourist home in the county code. He suggested that the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors address the issue.

Planning Commission representative Chris Bird agreed. “In the ordinance there is no good definition of long- or short-term rentals,” he said.

Konick entered into evidence copies of the Dodds’ advertising on short-term online rental sites, showing the property being rented at the nightly rent rather than monthly.

Casting the only dissenting vote, he warned that if the BZA didn’t uphold Somers’ ruling, other people will try to use the same argument of 30-rentals to circumvent the county ordinance.

An unedited video of the session 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 258 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.