BZA to BOS: Fix zoning ordinance!

Permit applications reveal continuing problems

The Rappahannock County Board of Zoning Appeals has voted in split decisions to approve four special use applications for tourist homes and family apartments.

But each decision was preceded by vigorous discussion about deficiencies in the county’s zoning ordinance that some feel render the code out of date and ambiguous.

This was especially true concerning two applications for tourist homes.

Joseph and Jacqueline Meuse applied to use their 3-bedroom 1-bath home in Washington as a tourist home. Immediately the definition of a tourist home became the focus of the discussion. According to the county code, “the term of accommodation for guests [at a tourist home] is generally longer than one week (seven days).”

The Meuse application, however, specified that the property would be available for “daily rental.”

BZA Vice Chair Jennifer Matthews said that she didn’t think the applied-for use fit the definition of a tourist home. But Chair Alex Sharp disagreed.

“Seven days is not standard,” Sharp said. “The definition reads ‘generally.’”

BZA member David Konick argued that the tourist home definition derived from pre-internet days when people would rent vacation cabins along highways leading into Shenandoah National Park for a week or more.

He advocated refusing the application and sending the Meuses to the BOS on appeal.

“The Board of Supervisors has not reviewed the zoning ordinance comprehensively in 35 or 40 years,” Konick said. “Maybe if we say ‘No, your permit doesn’t fit’ and enough people complain” the BOS will address it.

After discussing whether to table the Meuse application, the board voted three to one to approve the application. Konick was the sole dissenter. (Bill Anderson resigned from the BZA recently, and a replacement has not yet been appointed).

In addition, the board agreed to send a letter to the Planning Commission and the BOS requesting they address the definitions of short term accommodations. Almost two years ago, the Planning Commission and BZA wrote and approved a set of proposed zoning amendments that would bring the definitions up to date. The amendments have languished since then, and have not received a public hearing before the BOS.

David Albee also applied to use a guest house on his Sperryville property as a tourist home when the dwelling isn’t being used to house visitors. The guest house, built in 1958, and Albee’s residence sit on 140 acres.

Albee told the board that he rents out the guest house sporadically, and “only when I am there.”

“It is never unsupervised,” he said.

The BZA voted three to one to approve his application. Konick abstained from voting.

Another tourist home application was on the agenda, but the applicant, Kimberly Hawkins, was not present. The board plans to take it up at its May meeting.

Problems also surfaced around two applications for family apartments. The county’s ordinance requires that dwellings designated as family apartments contain 1200 square feet or less of living space, lie within 200 feet of the main residence, and are used exclusively for family members for two years. After that, the units can be rented out to anyone.

The issues for the BZA revolved around housing density, the two-year requirement, and enforcement of family use.

Jason and Pam Anderson applied for a permit to build a 1200-square foot, 3-bedroom, 2-bath family apartment on their 10-acre property in Amissville to house Pam Anderson’s mother.

Konick observed that adding a second dwelling to the small lot would violate the zoning ordinance density restriction of one dwelling per 25 acres.

“But,” said Sharp, “there’s a provision in the ordinance that allows one dwelling unit per parcel, regardless of size, and you can have an accessory unit within 200 feet.”

Enforcement of family use was also a concern for Konick.

“The BOS and Planning Commission might as well take out the two-year time limit,” he said. “It’s very difficult to enforce, and [after the two-year period] the unit becomes another rental unit. That’s a real easy way to circumvent the provisions of the ordinance that are supposed to restrict growth and development in the county.”

The permit was approved three to one, with Konick being the sole dissenter.

Greg Foster and Bonnie Ellis also applied to construct a 1200-square foot, one-bedroom, 2-bath family apartment for their children, grandchildren, and in-laws to use when they visit. The dwelling will be built on the couple’s 9-acre property in Huntly.

After a discussion along the same lines as for the Anderson application, the BZA approved the Foster/Ellis application on a three to one vote, with Konick again voting no.

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.