Planners reluctant to rule on lot sizes for short term rentals

After a public hearing, a vote that was supposed to help bring clarity to a confusing 2010 zoning ordinance amendment ended up a three-to-three tie at the Planning Commission’s Oct. 17 meeting.

In 2010, the then-Planning Commission proposed a zoning ordinance amendment to modify the 10-acre minimum acreage requirement for tourist homes and B&Bs. The proposed amendment stated that the 10 acres, instead of being one tract of land, could include “both the parcel that is the subject of the application and/or adjacent property under the same ownership or owned jointly with the owners or owners of the subject property.”

When the amendment reached the board of supervisors, they made material changes and voted to approve this language: “In Agriculture and Conservation zones the minimum acreage requirement shall be two and five acres, respectively.”

Asked in July of 2017 to weigh in on the legality of the 2010 BOS change, County Attorney Art Goff wrote in an opinion memo that because the new language adopted by the BOS had not been properly noticed to the public, it was void. As a result the 10-acre requirement still stands.

In the ensuing years, the Planning Commission and the Board of Zoning Appeals heard applications for tourist home permits on lot sizes smaller than 10 acres. Some were approved, others not.

The county’s Board of Supervisors at its Sept. 5, 2018 meeting passed a resolution proposing, “In A and C zones the minimum acreage requirement shall be two and five respectively.” However, the planners voted to expand the scope of the amendment and solicit public comment on other alternatives as well, such as a 10-acre minimum and the addition of contiguous lots to make up the minimum.

In last Wednesday’s meeting, they also considered eliminating acreage minimums altogether, considering them as part of a larger package of zoning amendments on the planners’ plates since May of 2016. They include a comprehensive review and redefinition of short term rental types to acknowledge online property rentals, including Airbnb, that didn’t exist when the ordinance was written in the 1980s.

Stonewall-Hawthorne resident and BZA member David Konick urged the planners to either “recommend that [the acreage requirement ordinance] not be amended at all or that it be tabled until you can consider the whole package of all the other things including what the BZA has recommended to you, which is to fix the definition of what is a tourist home versus what is a short term rental.”

George Sonnett of Hampton agreed. The BOS “has had the short term rental issue for over three years and has done nothing,”he said, “while surrounding jurisdictions are putting in place reasonable regulations [for short term rentals] such as those being proposed in Fauquier…. Without regulations, it’s a corruption of zoning districts and sound zoning practice.”

Chair Gary Light acknowledged that he personally feels that “the acreage requirement is unnecessary. . . . The main issue is that they are a rough surrogate for a buffer and a protection. If you listen closely to the opposition to tourist homes, it’s not about the use, it’s about not knowing who is sleeping in the house next door.”

Chris Bird, BZA representative to the Planning Commission, agreed. “The idea that the size of a lot will provide an automatic buffer is a false idea,” he said.

Piedmont planner Sherry Cillo said she had mixed feelings about the proposed amendment, but was hesitant to vote to reduce the lot size minimum.

“I’m uncomfortable making spot decisions on the zoning ordinance,” said Rick Kohler, Jackson district planner.

Wakefield planner Holly Meade said she didn’t think the proposed amendment fixed what was broken.

Al Henry from the Hampton district referred back to Light’s remarks. “This is not an issue about fear of who’s going to be in the house tomorrow,” he said. “It goes to the expectations of what owners expect when they buy into the county.”

Light expressed frustration at having to consider individual amendments in a piecemeal fashion. “We’ve done what’s been asked,” he said. “We’ve had the hearing [as requested by the BOS]. We should get back to what we’ve been doing, finish the Comprehensive Plan and a systematic review of the zoning ordinance and fix the various and many things that are inadequate about our transient zoning requirements.”

Henry, Meade, and Cillo voted in favor of recommending to the BOS that the acreage requirements for tourist homes and B&Bs be increased to ten acres in an Ag zone and 20 in a Conservation zone. Light, Kohler, and Bird voted against. BOS representative Chris Parrish was absent.

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.