When is a party just a party?
Recent social events unleashed storms of criticism last week amid accusations (some that proved true and some false) of permit violations, prompting one event organizer to call Rappahannock “Kafka County,” referring to Franz Kafka’s stories about bizarre or surrealistic predicaments.
At issue were the county Republican committee’s annual Reagan Dinner and a monthly gathering of a group of area women who call themselves the Ladies Lunch Bunch.
Rappahannock News Sperryville columnist Chris Doxzen created the ladies lunch bunch in November of 2016 as a humorous counterpart to a group of area men, who call themselves the Lunch Bunch and who meet daily.
At first attracting 20 or 25 women, the group now draws upwards of 60 participants. Having long outgrown the capacity of the county’s restaurants where the group originally met, they began gathering at private homes and wineries for potluck lunches.
Doxzen arranged for the April potluck to be held at High Meadow Farm on Crest Hill Road followed by a demonstration of horse driving in Matthew Neiswanger’s indoor arena. Neiswanger built a large house and equestrian facility on the property in 2014. Golden Springs LLC owns the farm, said Neiswanger in a phone call Monday. His nonprofit Neiswanger Foundation was created to provide riding and horse driving lessons to underprivileged children.
The catalyst for the dust-up over the event had little to do with the luncheon and more to do with the venue’s purported need for zoning permits.
The 1337-acre operation on Crest Hill Road had already drawn the attention of officials for several alleged violations of the county zoning ordinance. A free Easter egg hunt and carriage rides, to which the public was invited, was called off after county Zoning Administrator Michelle Somers issued a letter citing the need for both special use and special exception permits for activities.
One sentence in particular threw the April 6 potluck into question: “A venue hosting [events that attract a large number of people] would be considered an event or conference center as defined in the Rappahannock County Zoning Ordinance as ‘a use which provides temporary lodging, meals, entertainment, recreation, etc. for more than 40 persons in a rural selling’ which requires a special exception permit.”
Doxzen, concerned that her gathering of 40-plus would be in violation, sought assurance from Somers who replied the potluck did not require a permit. That didn’t stop activist residents David Konick and Page Glennie from peering into the luncheon with binoculars, however.
Somers’ letter to Neiswanger also charged him with running a school.
“You are advertising riding and driving instruction, training, and carriage rides on the property,” Somers wrote. “This use would be considered a private school which requires a special exception. It also appears you are operating a spectator equestrian facility which requires a special use permit. Additionally, it appears that some events that you host attract a large number of people.”
Neiswanger denied that he was running a B&B or school. He said he had advertised one of the guest houses on the property as an Airbnb for about a month, but shut it down after receiving a letter of violation.
“And,” he said, “I don’t have a school. I am giving two kids riding lessons and 6 people driving lessons.”
He said he and his staff had approached county officials to find a time to meet and discuss the issues, but that no meeting had so far been arranged.
“I have a great facility and I want to share it with the county,” said Neiswanger.
Another potluck causes indigestion
This is a tale of two meals — a brunch organized by the county’s Democratic Committee and a dinner by the Republicans — that caused confusion for state health officials and exacerbated friction between the two political groups.
Sometime around the Republicans’ annual Reagan Dinner scheduled for March 24th at Quievremont Winery in Gid Brown Hollow, the state health department was alerted to a possible permit violation. Someone had charged that the Republicans did not have a permit for their dinner or an onsite food inspector, as has been required for the Democrats’ Blue State Bluegrass Brunch, last held on April 7.
Hearing of the complaint, Rappahannock resident and Republican Walt Longyear emailed Medge Carter, the local health inspector on April 3 asking for information.
“I understand that you notified Terry Dixon, Chairman of the Rappahannock County Republican Committee, that he needed a permit from your department in order to hold a pot luck dinner,” Longyear wrote.
“This is the second consecutive year that you mentioned to [Dixon] that someone made a complaint to you about this potluck dinner . . . . Please consider this email a formal FOIA request for all documents and communications, including, but not limited to, emails, notes of telephone calls, and personal conversations connected to this complaint to your office.”
In a subsequent email to the Rappahannock News, Longyear wrote that the issue had been resolved.
“Medge [called and] told me that the Dems have been filing for health department permits for their Bluegrass Brunch and complain that they weren’t being treated fairly because the Republicans weren’t filing for permits,” Longyear wrote. “The Republicans claimed that no permits were required and refused to file. We took the issue to Medge’s boss in Richmond who told Medge that no permit is required and that she should stand down.”
The reason for the difference has to do with food preparation: Food cooked onsite is different than food brought to events. Democrats served eggs and meat, which need to be cooked at a certain temperature; Republicans brought potluck not cooked onsite that requires no inspection.