Application for Sperryville golf driving range clears first hurdle, but not without concerns

Proposed driving range likened to ‘Dollywood’ attraction in Tennessee

The Rappahannock County Planning Commission has given the nod to an application for a zoning ordinance amendment to allow golf driving ranges in agricultural and rural residential areas.

The application was moved forward when four planners voted in favor of recommending the proposal to the Board of Supervisors.

In addition, an application for a cell tower in Sperryville was tabled until the applicant, Community Wireless Structures, could provide additional information. The planners also heard preliminary reviews of two applications for tourist homes and discussed the status of certain zoning ordinance amendments and the county’s Comprehensive Plan revision.

Regarding the golf driving range, Cliff Miller IV petitioned the Planning Commission in April for a zoning amendment that would allow golf driving ranges in agricultural and certain rural residential areas of the county. Currently, driving ranges are only allowed in areas zoned general commercial and highway commercial.

Specifically, the proposed change would amend section 170-36 to delete “driving range” from the current category of “Golf driving range, go cart or similar outdoor commercial recreation,” and add it to the category of “Country club/ golf course, public or private.”

In April the planners decided to hold a public hearing at its May meeting. Several county residents spoke in opposition to the proposal. None spoke in favor. Miller was not present at the meeting.

Tom Junk and Sharon Pierce from Piedmont district both called the amendment “spot zoning,” referring to the practice of zoning a specific parcel or parcels of land within a larger zoned area at odds with current zoning restrictions or comprehensive plan.

“It’s crucial for Rappahannock to do good planning,” said Junk. “Planning is planning, not reacting.” He urged the planners to take a comprehensive approach to zoning and to take zoning amendments to the districts to get comments from residents “before doing spot zoning.”

Junk also raised the issue of water usage, claiming that Miller’s existing 9-hole golf course in Sperryville is “pulling well water from Sperryville.”

David Konick from Stonewall-Hawthorne district and a member of the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals also opposed the amendment.

“I was Zoning Administrator when this ordinance was passed,” said Konick. “It was not by accident that [this use] was put in commercial zoning. [The amendment] is incompatible with residential use and could drive the rural residential areas further out of the villages. This is the antithesis of the ordinance and the comprehensive plan.”

Page Glennie of Jackson district and Sperryville resident Cynthia Price both expressed concern that approving the amendment could lead to unwelcome tourist attractions.

Glennie cited the example of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, a small town that hosts tourist attractions, such as Dollywood. And Price warned that driving ranges she had seen “look like Vegas.”

During the planners’ discussion Mike Biniek of Piedmont district agreed that “the driving ranges I have seen are gaudy and big.”

“I’m conflicted,” said Chris Bird, the BZA rep on the planning commission. “If we have a tourist-based economy, we have to have activities and opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.”

However, he said, the activities have to be thought about and planned for.

Hampton planner Al Henry said that although he usually disagrees with what the Millers want, in this case “the Millers are trying to find a way to keep their property together.”

Addressing the water issue, he said, “I was led to believe that the [golf course] water usage is lower than residential use [would be]. It’s better to have open space than houses [on that property].”

[NOTE: In June of 2014 that the BOS approved, as the planning commission recommended, Miller’s plan to build a nine-hole, par-3 golf course next to his Sperryville Schoolhouse property — but with a 25-percent decrease in the 10,000-gallon daily irrigation limit the commission recommended.]

Holly Meade of Hampton district said perhaps the county needs a better definition of a driving range.

Chris Parrish from Stonewall-Hawthorne agreed that water is a big concern, and noted that the golf course is authorized to use 7500 gallons a day, but that he didn’t know if anyone was checking for compliance.

Chair Gary Light disputed the spot zoning charge.

“This is not spot zoning,” said Light. “This is about changing a use.”

Biniek moved to deny the application, but the motion failed for lack of a second.

Henry moved to recommend the application to the supervisors. He voted in favor, along with Meade, Bird, and Light. Biniek voted against and Parrish abstained.

Cell tower application tabled

The application to erect a 199-foot tall communications tower on Woodward Road in Sperryville met with opposition from county residents and questions from the planners.

Mike Luthi of Piedmont district recommended that the application be denied because of its location and the purported health risks from radio frequency radiation.

“We live across from the cell tower location,” said Luthi. He feared that emanations from the tower would come into his and his wife’s bedroom and front porch.

In addition, he said, “The visual impact would be devastating.”

Price, who speaks frequently at supervisors’ and other meetings on the potentially dangerous effect of cellphone and other radio signals on public health, noted that “old cell towers are a dying breed.” Century Link is starting to bring in fiber, she said, “which is not ugly and won’t radiate us.”

The CWS representative, Hope McCreary, gave a brief history of her company’s dealings with the county.

In 2014, CWS leased the Woodward Road location in Sperryville. The company’s application to build a tower at the Rappahannock County high school was turned down, so CWS built a tower in Boston in Culpeper County.

McCreary said her company did not pursue the applications at the time because no carriers were interested in rural areas. However, she said, “In the last six to nine months, we have been approached by Piedmont Broadband and the county’s emergency 911 service. And AT&T has expressed an interest.”

Biniek said he was troubled by the effect of the tower on the viewshed.

“It’s unfair to the neighbors to impact them,” said Biniek. “[The Luthis] will sit on their deck and look right into the tower.”

Light agreed, saying, “This is a good site for everyone, except the Luthis.”

“The application,” said Meade, “misses a lot of points in the technical issues of the zoning ordinance. I don’t think the application is complete.”

The planners voted unanimously to table the CWS application until the company could address the questions raised.

Tourist home applications approved for public hearing

Two special permit applications for tourist homes were reviewed and approved unanimously for future public hearings.

Amanda and George Greenwell applied to rent out their home on Aaron Mountain Road as a part-time Airbnb. And Dawn Zook and Deepthi Gadde applied to make their Chester Gap home a whole-house vacation rental property.

Following a new procedure, the planners conducted a preliminary review of the applications to determine whether they were complete and ready for public hearings at a future meeting. The new process was put in place following several instances in the last couple of years when applications had to be rejected or tabled at their public hearings because of incomplete information, frustrating the planners, applicants, and public alike.

Planning Commission vacancies

County Administrator Garrey Curry announced last week that the county will advertise that it is seeking applicants for two vacancies on the Planning Commission, those from Piedmont and Jackson districts. At the May BOS meeting, Page Glennie and Rick Kohler, both from Jackson district, announced their interest in the position. No one from Piedmont expressed interest publicly, but Mike Biniek wrote in a subsequent email that he was interested in staying on in the position. Biniek is currently serving out the term left vacant when former chair Gary Settle resigned in March. Curry says he expects both vacancies to be filled in June.

An unedited video of the planners 7:30 p.m. session on Wednesday, May 16 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.