Owners accused of renting too many rooms, holding unpermitted wine tastings and weddings
The Rappahannock County Board of Zoning Appeals has voted unanimously to hold a public hearing to consider revoking the three-bedroom B&B permit held by the Skyline Vineyard Inn, formerly called Harmony Manor.
The Special Use Permit was issued in September 2013 to previous owners of the property, Randall and Kimberly Fort.
In a notice of violation letter dated March 6, 2019, Zoning Administrator Michelle Somers charged the company, now owned by Carl and Donna Henrickson, with renting out two more rooms than the permit allowed and holding unpermitted events such as wine tastings and weddings.
“This notice of violation requires you to cease and desist from offering more than three bedrooms for rent and offering and/or holding events on the properly,” Somers’ letter reads.
The original permit authorized fourth and fifth bedrooms only if the property owners complied with a Virginia Department of Transportation requirement to install turnouts along Clark Lane between the Harmony Manor entrance and Lee Highway (Route 211/522) within a year of the permits being granted.
Because the turnout requirement was not satisfied within that time, the additional rooms were not granted.
Carl Henrickson, in a phone call Tuesday, said that he had obtained records from VDOT proving that the turnouts had been completed. Somers confirmed in a later phone call Tuesday that Henrickson had shown her the VDOT paperwork.
To add to the confusion over the permit, Henrickson said that when he acquired the property from the Forts, then-Zoning Administrator David Dameron indicated that the permit was cleared for five rooms.
BZA chair Alex Sharp noted in the May 22 meeting that the property owners had not responded to Somers’ letter.
However, Henrickson said that he and Somers had been in constant contact, emailing back and forth several times and meeting at least twice since the Henricksons received the cease and desist letter. Somers confirmed that information in the Tuesday call. Somers also said that she had informed the members of the BZA in advance of the May meeting about her communications with Henrickson and his actions to resolve any issues.
After meeting with Somers on March 21, Henrickson reprogrammed his reservation system to accept bookings for only three rooms and agreed not to book any weddings for the time being.
In April, Henrickson said he asked Somers for an application to apply for a permit to expand his operation to five rooms and that he met with Somers in mid-May to discuss the application process.
BZA member David Konick moved to hold the public hearing. Despite pushback from some BZA members, all voted to hold a revocation hearing at its June 26 meeting.
After a public hearing, the BZA voted unanimously to deny a variance at Fletcher Guy and Sandra Brannock’s three-acre property on South Poes Road. The Brannocks sought a change to the county’s property set-back requirements in order to build a run-in shed for their horses. Rather than the required 100-foot setback, the Brannocks wish to build the shed 37 feet from the property line.
“The reason for locating the shed next to the property line,” according to the Brannock’s application, “is this area is very dry, relatively flat, with no underground springs or swampy areas unlike the rest of our pastures. . . . It will allow us to locate our horses here during very wet weather, thereby eliminating the erosion that has prevailed over the years . . .”
According to the county’s zoning ordinance, variances are granted to “alleviate a clearly demonstrable hardship, as distinguished from a special privilege or convenience sought by the applicant.”
While studying the Brannocks’ hand drawn plat map, the BZA members questioned whether the couple actually could show a demonstrable hardship and whether there might be another site on the property for the shed.
“Looking at the pictures and the property, you’ve got maybe two acres of pasture and it appears that there is area in there [for the shed],” BZA member Ron Makela said.
“There are places,” said Fletcher Brannock, “but it’s not convenient.”
Makela reminded him that according to the county code, “convenience cannot be a factor” in determining a setback variance.
After the vote against the variance, BZA member Chris Bird suggested that the Brannocks might consider building a moveable shed. Bird said that his neighbor has a shed than can be moved and positioned by tractor.
In a phone call Tuesday, Sandra Brannock said, “I’m not terribly pleased with the outcome, but we have to respect it, whatever the reason.”
She said they plan to move the site of the shed farther from their preferred location, “although it’s not ideal.”
Let the public speak
The BZA voted three to two to delete from the draft of its revised Rules of Procedure language prohibiting the public from using “abusive conduct, personal charges or verbal attacks upon the character or motives of members of the BZA, and County Officers or employees, or other members of the public.”
Konick, in a May 23 email to the other BZA members, explained his objections to the language.
“If someone wants to get up and chastise the Board or other public officials, or to question their character or motives, how is putting it in the ‘Rules of Procedure’ going to stop it?” he wrote. “Besides, isn’t that part of being a public official, elected or appointed? If a member does something that calls into question his or her character, motives, knowledge of applicable law or good zoning practices, the public certainly has the right to call them on it at a public meeting.”
The revised draft did include a clause that begins, “BZA meetings will proceed with an atmosphere of respect and civility.”