Confusing Airbnb permit process marks zoning meeting

Rapp couple deactivates Airbnb listing ‘effective immediately’

Two special permit applications presented at the June 27 meeting of the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals became bogged down over a pair of applicants’ misunderstandings of the zoning ordinance, leading one couple to abruptly withdraw their application for a county Airbnb permit.

George and Amanda Greenwell, owners of a 40-acre property on Aaron Mountain Road, presented their special permit application to the BZA for an Airbnb-type tourist home a week after the county’s Planning Commission had recommended the application to go forward. So the couple had no idea their application would go awry with the BZA, following questions and requirements they hadn’t anticipated.

Amanda Greenwell explained that she and her husband had been renting out the property through Airbnb until they received a letter in March from the county’s Commissioner of the Revenue, Sharon Dodson, informing them they were in violation of the county code. The Greenwells, Amanda told the board, then immediately applied for a permit and worked to comply with all the requirements set by the Planning Commission, such as installing fire safety equipment.

But, as BZA chair Alex Sharp expressed it in a phone call last Sunday, “It may be [the Greenwells’] bad luck that [new BZA member] Ron Makela” knew so much about their property.

Makela, appointed to replace Bill Anderson who had resigned, owns a house maintenance company and has a broad knowledge of the county and its properties.

He first questioned the number of bedrooms in the house. According to tax records, said Makela, the house only had two bedrooms. The Greenwells, however, insisted that the house had been appraised as a three-bedroom structure before they bought in October 2016.

Next, Makela flagged the electrical panel, which he said “was in a cupboard, which you had to open the door and take things out … to get to the [panel] access door. It’s not in code. . . . That’s a lifesaving problem.”

When Makela asked if the deck on the property had been permitted, George Greenwell said no, but that they were in the process of getting a permit.

The couple, who live in Alexandria and use the Rappahannock property on weekends, also discussed their check-in procedures and Airbnb’s practices for vetting renters.

During the public comment period, Ed Timperlake, one of the Greenwells’ neighbors, took a broader perspective about the county’s approach to tourist homes in general.

The BZA voted unanimously to table the application until the Greenwells corrected the electrical panel and obtained a permit for the deck.

The next day the Greenwells withdrew their application. In a letter to Zoning Administrator Michelle Somers, they said, “It was made clear to us last night that there are personal feelings involved in [our application] from some of the members, and inaccurate information like the number of bedrooms in our house and some [BZA members] had personal agendas. . . . Even if we comply with the requirements that were laid out last night (that are clearly outside of the zoning requirements) for why it was tabled how can we be sure there aren’t more requirements coming our way when false information is clearly being considered and not checked?”

They said that they had deactivated their Airbnb listing “effective immediately since we heard loud and clear that the approval was never going to happen even though we continued to meet all of the requirements.”

In the phone call Sunday, Sharp was dismayed that the couple had withdrawn their application. If he had known they were going to take that action, he said, he would have told them to wait a bit, think it over, and remain calm.

“This is only a process. I think people read too much into stuff,” he said, referring to the accusation of personal agendas. “The board as a whole wanted to see resolution on the safety issues and likely would have been inclined to approve the permit” once the work was completed.

BZA member David Konick agreed in a Sunday phone call.

“The members [of the BZA] were acting in good faith to uphold the integrity of the zoning ordinance,” said Konick. “I don’t think anybody had any personal agenda whatsoever.”

The BZA, at the same time, took up a special use permit application submitted by Dawn Zook, although the Planning Commission had tabled it at its meeting the week before to await certain approvals from the county’s health department. (Last week’s Rappahannock News reported incorrectly that the planners had recommended Zook’s application to move forward).

But the BZA tabled the application again after determining that Zook and her husband were not the owners of the Sequoia Street property in Chester Gap. In their application, they presented a letter from property owner Deepthi Gadde authorizing Zook “to act as my agent to secure a special use permit (vacation rental) for this stated property.” In a separate letter, Gadde authorized Zook to manage the property.

Konick advised that either the Zooks need to get a notarized letter from Gadde authorizing the Zooks or that Gadde herself should apply for the permit to ensure the legality of the request.

Time ran out on the BZA before they discussed proposed zoning ordinance amendments that have been in the works since May 2016. They voted to continue the meeting to July 9 to take up the amendments.

An unedited video of the Board of Zoning Appeals 7 p.m. session on Wednesday, June 27 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 225 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.

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