Appalachian dulcimers museum, music venue proposed for Estes Mill in Sperryville

Security company returns with new proposal for outdoor training

A permit request for a unique museum and music venue for Sperryville was heard by the Rappahannock County Planning Commission at its June 20 meeting, along with a new request from a previous applicant for a private school for outdoor security training.

Local musician and filmmaker John Hallberg has applied to the county for a special exception permit to adapt the circa 1820s Estes Mill off Route 211 in Sperryville into a museum to house his dulcimer collection.

“I have acquired one of the top collections of [Appalachian] dulcimers in the world,” Hallberg, who has lived in Jenkins Hollow for 20 years, told the planners.

In addition to creating the museum, he hopes to establish an intimate venue on the mill property for live music — indoors during the cold months and in a small amphitheater made of mobile staging during the warm times of year.

The planners were enthusiastic about the proposal.

“I think this is a wonderful use of the building and a wonderful venue to have for Rappahannock,” said Chris Bird, the Board of Zoning Appeals representative on the Planning Commission. He said as long as questions of access, parking, safety, septic capacity, and other issues can be satisfied, “It’s a worthwhile and reasonable use of the property.”

Chris Parrish, the supervisor representative, agreed.

“This would be one more place to generate some tourism,” Parrish said, “and to make Sperryville a little more attractive.”

Wakefield planner Holly Meade and Al Henry from the Hampton district, while positive about the concept, both asked for more details about the music venue, its proposed hours, expected number of patrons, frequency of music events, and parking options.

Chair Gary Light asked Hallberg “to come to us with a plan [addressing these issues] so that we know well enough what we’re approving.”

The planners then voted five to zero in favor of moving forward with a public hearing, as soon as Hallberg can provide the additional information. The Planning Commission lacked members from Piedmont and Jackson districts. It is expected that the Board of Supervisors will appoint members to fill those vacancies at its July 2 meeting.

The commission also voted unanimously in favor of scheduling a public hearing for a reworked special exception permit application from Mike Blyth. Blyth, co-owner of RSM Corp., a security training company based in Manassas, wishes to establish an outdoor school to conduct security training for people and organizations posted in warzones and other hazardous areas of the world.

In March, Blyth presented his initial application for a permit to operate from the 39-acre Old Kennels property off of Crest Hill and North Poes roads. The application, originally described as being for “active shooter training,” met with considerable opposition from the public and the planners, who said they needed more specifics.

Blyth returned in April with a 50-page tabbed document, yet he was still turned down.

The third time, however, apparently was the charm. At the June meeting, Blyth said that he had taken the previous comments to heart and had found an alternate location, this time on an 84-acre parcel on Shurgen Lane in Amissville.

Again, Blyth assured the planners that the training would have minimal impact on the community.

“We’ll be there one or two days a month during the warm parts of the year,” Blyth said. He also reiterated that on the rare times when shooting would occur, they would not use live ammunition, but a type of low-noise blanks.

The planners also:

  • Voted unanimously to recommend two tourist home special permit applications to the Board of Zoning Appeals. Dawn Zook applied for an Airbnb-type rental for her property on Sequoia Street in Chester Gap. And George and Amanda Greenwell applied for a permit for their Aaron Mountain Road property. The planners placed special conditions on both permits for health and safety concerns.
  • Scheduled a work session to review a list of zoning ordinance amendments proposed in May 2016 dealing with tourist homes, B&Bs and other transient lodging, as well as a more recent proposed amendment changing the use category of golf driving ranges. The work session will also include a review of the Comprehensive Plan, now that the Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Commission has completed its update of the county’s statistical data.

An unedited video of the planners 7:30 p.m. session on Wednesday, June 20, can be found online at, or on the newspaper’s YouTube channel at The meeting agenda and related documents are online at

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.