BZA approves tourist home — or is it an Airbnb?

The Rappahannock County Board of Zoning Appeals has approved a special use application from Kimberley Hawkins to operate her property in Washington as a tourist home. The 2.6-acre property belonged to Hawkins’ grandmother and was a family gathering place.

“Unfortunately, the family comes infrequently,” said Hawkins, who lives in Warrenton and plans to advertise for guests on Airbnb and other online booking sites. “I’m not trying to make money, other than to pay for maintenance and insurance.”

The application was approved as submitted, with conditions placed by the Planning Commission at its earlier February meeting limiting the number of guests and vehicles and requiring certain safety devices be installed in the property. Three BZA members voted in favor of the application. David Konick abstained, saying that he didn’t believe the use of the property fit the definition of a tourist home.

“I think what you are doing is an Airbnb, not a tourist home,” Konick said.

There is currently no definition in the county’s zoning ordinance for Airbnb rentals. Later in the meeting, the members set a time to discuss the issue.

The board, meanwhile, re-visited a special use permit application that the BZA approved in June of 2016 for a family apartment. There was a question as to whether the applicant, Ashley Frazier, had moved forward sufficiently to maintain the permit. Frazier’s application stated that she planned to place a permanent mobile home on her 3.3-acre property in Boston.

According to the county’s zoning ordinance, whenever a special use or special exception permit is issued, the approved activity and any construction “shall be diligently prosecuted” within a year, if no other time period has been specified. And if construction “has not commenced within a period of one year, unless an extension is granted, such [permit] shall automatically expire without notice.”

County’s Zoning Administrator Michelle Somers reported that the county’s building office had reported to her that no work was going on at the property and there had been no inspections to date. Somers also told the BZA that the Health Department did not have any record of completion for a drain field to serve the new dwelling.

Konick noted that a trailer has been moved onto the property, but said he didn’t think that was enough to satisfy the “diligently prosecuted” provision of the ordinance.

BZA Chair Alex Sharp suggested that board “summon Frazier to [the] next meeting and get a report of her progress.”

By unanimous vote, the members directed Somers to write a letter to Frazier asking her to give a status report on the progress being made at the property.

In addition, Sharp asked Chris Bird, the Planning Commission’s representative to the BZA, to report on the progress of zoning amendments that have been before the county since July 2016. The amendments seek to change the definitions and acreage requirements of tourist homes, B&Bs, boarding houses, and other transient dwellings. Since that time, there have been more Airbnb-type rentals in the county.

Bird reported that “the Planning Commission moved to have the Board of Supervisors define a tourist home versus an Airbnb, but as of now nothing visible has happened. . . .  Any progress is conspicuous in its absence.”

County Administrator Garrey Curry told the BZA that Somers and County Attorney Art Goff are working on the amendments.

“But,” said Curry, “I’m not sure when [the amendments] will come back to the Planning Commission.”

In addition, he said, “I suspect they will not be accepted as written and there will be some massaging of those documents” before a public hearing is held.

Sharp suggested that the BZA hold a work session to discuss and begin to define Airbnbs and other dwelling types.

Because the BZA is not authorized by statute to hold special meetings, the April 28 meeting was recessed — instead of adjourned — until May 10 at 4 p.m. at the Courthouse or county library.

Finally, Bill Anderson has recently resigned from the BZA. According to Konick, Anderson submitted a formal resignation, which was sent to the clerk of the Circuit Court, Peggy Ralph. BZA members are appointed by the circuit court. The vacant position will be advertised publicly.

About Patty Hardee 256 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.