Sperryville mural war paints complicated picture before BZA

Applicant, board blast county’s lack of clarity

It seems the Rappahannock County Board of Zoning Appeals is no longer satisfied with arguing whether “Welcome to Sperryville” painted on the side of the Happy Camper Equipment Company in Sperryville is an improper sign or mural, advertisement or work of art.

Instead, the BZA this past week expanded its investigation with these questions: Is the BZA a tribunal? What is a legal conclusion and what is a fact? In the absence of clear filing instructions, with whom should a notice of appeal be filed? When is a notice of appeal a pleading? And should the company’s owner, Robert Archer, go to jail — a point made by board member David Konick — for not knowing the difference and trying to defend himself?

After an hour’s debate on these issues, the members of the BZA voted four-to-one in favor of a public hearing. Konick cast the only dissenting vote. Archer was not fingerprinted.

In all fairness, the basic issue of what to call “whatever-is-painted-on-the-side-of-the-building” has been complicated from the start, marked repeatedly by seeming misinformation as to the proper way for a private citizen to dispute a ruling from the county.

In April, Archer painted the orange and white welcome message to visitors arriving from Shenandoah National Park and other points to the west. Someone complained to Zoning Administrator Michelle Somers, who issued a letter to Archer informing him that he should have applied for a sign permit from the county. In her letter, Somers quoted the relevant statutes from the county’s zoning ordinance defining sign and permit requirements.

Somers informed Archer that he could apply for a variance to the code, which he did in early May. He appeared at the May 23 BZA meeting only to be told that he should have appealed the violation letter, not asked for a variance.

At that meeting, BZA chair Alex Sharp told Archer, “The BZA deals with applications that are brought before us and typically call for dealing with the zoning ordinance as it is written. [For a variance] a hardship needs to be proven. You have to show a substantial hardship, not just an inconvenience.”

Sharp urged Archer to amend his application to appeal Somers’ ruling, and return to the June 27 BZA meeting, but the day before that meeting, Archer withdrew his variance application.

Shortly after, Archer, who also goes by the surname Chapman, petitioned the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors “to initiate an RFP [request for proposal] calling for a county-wide mural program that will allow residents to identify and paint welcoming murals on structures,” he told the Rappahannock News at the time. “I’m trying to turn a potential negative into a positive . . . The goals of the proposed murals are to promote our county’s values, stimulate county pride and welcome visitors all the while keeping within the character of our rural setting.”

Before the July 25 BZA meeting, Archer did apply for an appeal of Somers’ decision, and the BZA was set to determine if and when a public hearing would be held for the matter. At issue were several “technicalities,” as Sharp characterized them in a phone call on Tuesday: Whether Archer’s application had been filed properly, whether Archer could sign the application as an officer of his LLC, and whether, because of materials and information Archer supplied with his application, he was practicing law without a license.

Local attorney Mike Brown appeared before the BZA to represent Archer.

Konick claimed that the appeal was filed improperly because Archer only submitted it to Somers and not also to Konick as the BZA Secretary. However, Konick said he did receive a copy the day after the appeal was filed with Somers.

Brown told the board that Archer had followed the instructions on the appeal form to file with the zoning administrator.

BZA member Jennifer Matthews agreed. “I don’t think we can fault the applicant,” she said. “There is some onus on us.”

Then the matter of whether Archer could sign the application. Technically, an appeal from an LLC should be signed by an attorney.

Sharp said that although there were flaws in the application, County Attorney Art Goff, in an opinion letter dated July 18, “gave us some flexibility, if we so choose, to accept an attorney being brought in and after the fact signing off on [the application].”

Brown told the BZA that he had signed the appeal application.

Konick also portrayed Archer’s appeal application as a legal pleading and accused Archer of practicing law without a license, a misdemeanor carrying a penalty of up to 12 months in jail.

BZA member Chris Bird said, “It is a failure of the county and the Board of Supervisors to delineate the process of appeal. This application was made in good faith. It is up to the county and the board to clarify the process.”

In a four-to-one vote (Konick abstaining) the BZA voted to move the August meeting to Wednesday, the 29th, at which time there will be a public hearing of Archer’s appeal.

The board then voted unanimously to seek a ruling on whether the public will be allowed to speak at the public hearing.

In a phone call Tuesday, Archer said that he took Konick’s accusations very personally and felt that the BZA member was “throwing up a roadblock” to his application. “I filed in good faith,” said Archer.

When asked what he hoped to accomplish in the long run, Archer said he wants the county to rule that he created a work of art on his building.

Also, he said, “I want to push this effort forward to make space for works of art” around the county. “Ultimately, it could be a program that the county controls.”

Zook tourist home

The BZA also voted four-to-one, with Konick abstaining, to approve Dawn Zook’s special permit application for an Airbnb-type rental for her property on Sequoia Street in Chester Gap.

An unedited video of the BZA 7:00 p.m. session on Wednesday, July 25 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 271 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.