State AG weighs in on ‘Welcome to Sperryville’ controversy

Commonwealth’s Attorney General Mark Herring has ruled that the public must be allowed to speak at the Wednesday, August 29 Rappahannock County Board of Zoning Appeals hearing regarding the “Welcome to Sperryville” message painted on The Happy Camper Equipment Company.

The AG’s opinion letter to Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff reads in part: “It is my further opinion that the BZA must allow any affected person to participate in the hearing, and allow any aggrieved party to address the BZA for a specified amount of time . . .

“An aggrieved person is one who owns or occupies nearby property and can demonstrate a particularized harm, or the imposition of a burden or obligation different from that suffered by the public generally.”

In April, after Robert Archer painted the message on the side of his business, someone complained to Rappahannock County Zoning Administrator Michelle L. Somers, who issued a letter to Archer in May informing him that he should have applied for a sign permit from the county.

Somers informed Archer that he could apply for a variance to the code, which he did in early May.

But when he appeared at the May 23 BZA meeting he was told that he should have appealed the violation letter, not asked for a variance.

At the July 25 BZA meeting, a question arose regarding the public right to speak at the appeal hearing, at which point the board voted unanimously to seek a ruling on whether the public should be allowed such privileges. The AG’s decision could also have relevance to the Aug. 29 board of zoning appeals hearing about the Welcome to Sperryville sign.

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