County blazes new trails (like it or not)

On-farm events per­mit also ap­proved at marathon ses­sion

Rappahannock News - - FRONT PAGE - By Roger Pianta­dosi Rap­pa­han­nock News staff

After a nearly five-hour pub­lic hear­ing be­fore an al­ter­nately elo­quent and in­dig­nant crowd of more than 100 — large enough to force the board to move the meet­ing from an over-ca­pac­ity court­house to the high school au­di­to­rium just after the meet­ing started at 7 — the Rap­pa­han­nock County Board of Su­per­vi­sors agreed, in the wee hours of Tues­day, to build the county’s first bike trail.

It was ei­ther, de­pend­ing on your point of view, the end of the world as Rap­pa­han­nock County has known it, or the be­gin­ning of a new era.

Only a pub­lic hear­ing on Sprint’s cell tower plans for the county a decade and a half ago — the first time in re­cent mem­ory that the world ended, or a new era be­gan, in Rap­pa­han­nock — went on longer than Mon­day’s ses­sion, which wrapped up at 12:30 a.m.

Ac­tu­ally not a “bike trail,” the pro­ject is a 1.2-mile multi-use trail, and what the su­per­vi­sors voted 4-1 to do (with Ron Fra­zier dis­sent­ing, after his last-minute mo­tion to ta­ble the mat­ter died for lack of a sec­ond) was ap­ply for a grant — only avail­able to gov­ern­men­tal en­ti­ties — on be­half of Rap­pTrails.

Rap­pTrails is the ad-hoc group that wants to build the trail — orig­i­nally en­vi­sioned as a six-mile trail along U.S. 211 be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Sper­ryville, and since scaled down to the trail that would dou­ble as an emer­gency egress route from the schools. The group has al­ready pri­vately raised more than the funds needed to match the amount re­quired by the Vir­ginia De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion grant,

ac­cord­ing to Rap­pTrails founder Jane Whit­field, in­clud­ing $150,000 from the PATH Foun­da­tion.

The size and vol­ume of the crowd Mon­day night was partly due to the board’s con­sid­er­a­tion, for the first half of the marathon, of a hotly con­tested ap­pli­ca­tion for a special-ex­cep­tion per­mit by a prop­erty owner to host pub­lic events on her fam­ily’s 111-acre Al­nell Farm, off Jeri­cho Road north of Flint Hill.

Half­way through Mon­day night’s meet­ing, after more than an hour and half of pub­lic com­ment for and against, the board unan­i­mously ap­proved the per­mit — good for one year only be­fore it’s re­viewed again — to al­low farm owner Su­san Kummli to host four events a year for no more than 200 peo­ple (with a list of con­di­tions ap­proved by plan­ners and the su­per­vi­sors in July and Au­gust).

Oddly, how­ever, hardly any­one left the au­di­to­rium after that de­ci­sion — or not so oddly, since those who came to op­pose to both ac­tions, in par­tic­u­lar, told the board they’d be go­ing against the grain of the county’s per­sis­tent, cen­turiesold ru­ral and agri­cul­tural na­ture.

“Mov­ing here means ad­just­ing to a dif­fer­ent way of life,” said Mike Cioffi, who rose to read from a let­ter he wrote to the Rap­pa­han­nock News a decade ago about life in a ru­ral area. “No­tice that this state­ment says you ad­just to our way of life. It doesn’t mean you change it. So many peo­ple leave cities and towns be­cause they no longer can deal with growth, skate­board parks . . . bike paths . . . traf­fic lights, in­con­sid­er­ate neigh­bors, high taxes and the like.

“They move to places like Rap­pa­han­nock County to get away, and what do they do?” he said. “In­stead of ap­pre­ci­at­ing the place they get away to, they re-cre­ate the place they left in dis­gust.”

“I know you all have a tough de­ci­sion to make,” Ron Maxwell of Flint Hill told the board, speak­ing of the trail. “I have dear friends on both sides of this is­sue . . . but . . . this pro­ject didn’t start be­cause of a per­ceived need in the com­mu­nity. There was no spon­ta­neous clamor from the cit­i­zens of the county. It started be­cause of the de­sire to ac­cess fed­eral grants avail­able through VDOT! In other words, this is a clas­sic case of so­cial en­gi­neer­ing — lur­ing a com­mu­nity to do­ing what it would oth­er­wise never do.

“Let’s be hon­est,” Maxwell said. “This pro­ject is a friv­o­lous lux­ury that the cit­i­zens of this county sim­ply can­not af­ford.”

“It’s the stupi­dest thing I ever heard,” said Sper­ryville farmer W. T. Way­land, vis­i­bly an­gry as he ap­proached the podium. “And if it goes on to Sper­ryville, it’ll go right on the front of my farm and ruin it, the prop­erty val­ues . . . I op­pose it com­pletely!

“Where are you all from?” he said, turn­ing to one of the seated trail sup­port­ers who’d spo­ken ear­lier. “If you don’t like it here, then get the hell out of the county.”

Both Chris­tine Smith of Sper­ryville, and Al Henry, a long­time Hamp­ton district res­i­dent and plan­ning com­mis­sion mem­ber, pointed out that the plans for a trail through a dense wooded area seemed “odd,” and not likely to at­tract ei­ther tourists or un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren. Henry also noted that the plans, now ap­par­ently on hold, for a path along U.S. 211, also seemed “mis­guided.”

“No one is go­ing to come here to bi­cy­cle, and then want to lis­ten to all that traf­fic noise,” said Henry.

Sev­eral of the trail op­po­nents also pointed at the county’s spon­sor­ship a decade ago of the Rap­pa­han­nock County School Sports As­so­ci­a­tion’s pur­chase of lights for the high school play­ing fields — a loan which, con­trary to the prom­ises RCSSA mem­bers had made in ex­change for the county’s sig­na­ture on a note, the county wound up hav­ing to pay off it­self in 2012. Oth­ers wor­ried about the cost of the trail’s on­go­ing main­te­nance and li­a­bil­ity in­sur­ance.

Whit­field, an Amissville res­i­dent with much ex­pe­ri­ence in fundrais­ing and grant-seek­ing, pointed out that the group had al­ready raised sig­nif­i­cantly more than the es­ti­mated $178,000 needed for a 20-per­cent match re­quired for the VDOT grant — for a pro­ject likely to cost just un­der $1 mil­lion. She also told the board that main­te­nance costs could be built into the grant fund­ing, and that the group had al­ready reached an agree­ment with the Rap­pa­han­nock Rap­i­dan Re­gional Plan­ning Com­mis­sion to act as grant man­agers (an­other po­ten­tial con­tin­u­ing ex­pense). Li­a­bil­ity in­sur­ance would be cov­ered un­der the county’s ex­ist­ing pol­icy, she said.

“You keep say­ing ‘we,” Fra­zier to Whit­field to­ward the end of the hear­ing, at­tempt­ing to high­light that it was the county’s re­spon­si­bil­ity, fis­cal and oth­er­wise, that the pro­ject sought, after Whit­field had made a brief, Pow­erpoint-free pre­sen­ta­tion (be­cause the pro­jec­tion equip­ment was back at the court­house). “You mean the county gov­ern­ment.”

“Well, I was think­ing of all of us as col­lab­o­ra­tors,” Whit­field said.

In all, over the two-hour hear­ing, seven peo­ple who op­posed the trail spoke at the podium. In sup­port of the pro­ject, there were 14 speak­ers, who en­thu­si­a­si­cally pointed out the ben­e­fits to school-age chil­dren, se­niors and cy­clists.

“Bar­ring any un­forseen dis­as­ter, the tax­payer is ba­si­cally go­ing to get a free ride here,” said Stonewall-Hawthorne su­per­vi­sor Chris Par­rish. “I feel com­fort­able mak­ing a mo­tion that we adopt this res­o­lu­tion . . . It’s not like we are com­pletely obli­gat­ing our­selves to this. If we do get this [grant], we can change our minds be­fore sign­ing the con­tract next June 1.”

Fra­zier in­ter­rupted Par­rish’s mo­tion and Pied­mont su­per­vi­sor Mike Biniek’s sec­ond to ap­prove the res­o­lu­tion with his own mo­tion to ta­ble the item, while Whit­field re­peated her cau­tion that the dead­line for the ap­pli­ca­tion was Nov. 1, “and we don’t have time to wait.” No one sec­onded Fra­zier’s mo­tion, and the board voted. Most of those present ap­plauded.

AL­NELL FARM EVENTS

Un­like the trail dis­cus­sion, dur­ing which more than a few sup­port­ers of the pro­ject used the word “no-brainer,” the com­ments on the Al­nell Farm per­mit seemed to fo­cus less on the brain and more on the soul of Rap­pa­han­nock County.

Bob Cle­ments, whose 130acre farm ad­joins the Kummli farm, said he and his fam­ily de­cided in 1999 to leave Loudoun County be­cause of en­croach­ing de­vel­op­ment and found Rap­pa­han­nock’s com­pre­hen­sive plan, meant to pre­serve the county’s open land and agri­cul­ture, com­pat­i­ble with his cow-calf op­er­a­tion and his and his wife’s ap­pre­ci­a­tion of a ru­ral agri­cul­tural set­ting.

“This is not a fox­hunt is­sue or a per­sonal is­sue against the Kumm­lis,” said Cle­ments. “It’s an is­sue about the fu­ture use of land zoned for agri­cul­ture. I be­lieve Mrs. Kummli has no in­ten­tion to harm any­one, but if ap­proved, this would be the first com­mer­cial-use ex­cep­tion in the Wake­field agri­cul­tural district un­der zon­ing or­di­nance sec­tion for recre­ation and amuse­ment. If ap­proved it would set a prece­dent for other farms to re­quest this ex­cep­tion.”

“I found it to be re­ally shock­ing that there are peo­ple who fox­hunt in the area who are op­posed to Ms. Kummli’s ap­pli­ca­tion,” said Lynn Sul­li­van, a self-de­scribed “former fox­hunter.”

“The fox hunt clubs have three events, each week, and they ride up and down the road, with their trail­ers and with hunt break­fasts. If she is re­quired to have a special-ex­cep­tion per­mit for her four events a year, maybe the fox­hunt­ing clubs should be re­quired to do the same thing.”

“I’m ac­tu­ally a farmer, and a friend of Mrs. Kummli,” said Wade Louthian, of Jef­fer­son County, West Vir­ginia. “I’m on the plan­ning com­mis­sion in Jef­fer­son County and I’ve seen a lot, over time. And I’m try­ing to keep farm­ing alive in my county, keep some open land. And I im­plore you, not only for Mrs. Kummli and her daugh­ter but for all the farms — if you want to keep open land, keep it beau­ti­ful, we have to di­ver­sify . . . be­cause we’re not go­ing to keep farm­ing the same way we farmed that made it suc­cess­ful.

“If we can’t make it farm­ing, well hey — the land’s go­ing to get sold off, and usu­ally it’s to a spec­u­la­tor, ex­actly what we don’t want to hap­pen,” said Louthian, who noted that a anti-growth county com­mis­sion in Jef­fer­son County about eight years ago “shut the door” to de­vel­op­ment, and that in sub­se­quent court chal­lenges, “we lost ev­ery case. And it re­ally had an ad­verse ef­fect. When we were try­ing to shut the door, it re­ally hurt and we kinda lost con­trol for a while.

“As we say back home,” he said, re­fer­ring to cit­i­zens who op­pose com­mu­nity is­sues, “the ma­jor­ity of the mouth is from the mi­nor­ity of the peo­ple. I don’t like to be rude, but it’s true. I think I’ll sit down now be­fore I get run out.”

In the board’s dis­cus­sion be­fore the vote, Fra­zier said he was in­clined to side with the op­po­nents, who wor­ried that invit­ing vis­i­tors un­fa­mil­iar with nar­row un­paved Wind­sor Farm Lane, from which Al­nell Farm is ac­cessed, or the con­nec­tions to North Poes Road, Jeri­cho Road and U.S. 522 it­self, would make for a safety con­cerns.

“I think every­body in this com­mu­nity agrees that we should do ev­ery­thing we can to pre­serve our open spa­ces,” said Hamp­ton su­per­vi­sor John Lesin­ski. “I think we agree the best way to do that is farm­ing, but farm­ing is get­ting more and more dif­fi­cult, and I hear all the time that our farms are dwin­dling in num­ber.”

Lesin­ski noted that sev­eral com­ments on “event creep” — more and more events held on agri­cul­tural prop­er­ties — con­cerned him, and ad­mit­ted that the county did not do a good enough job at en­forc­ing per­mit con­di­tions (or catch­ing those who hold events but don’t ap­ply for per­mits), but “I come down to be­ing very open to busi­ness op­por­tu­nity in this county. I think we have to pro­mote the in­dus­try that com­plies with the com­pre­hen­sive plan. And . . . events are some­thing now in our lo­cal econ­omy that we should be en­cour­ag­ing, as long as they’re rea­son­able and we put proper re­stric­tions on them.”

“We have to fig­ure out sooner or later where we want to go as a county,” said Par­rish. “These events can pos­si­bly keep a farm to­gether, which keeps the land open, but it is true that when you add up what the costs are to hav­ing these events, and what the in­come to the county is, it’s prob­a­bly a loser — but that doesn’t fac­tor in the ex­po­sure . . . the peo­ple who come here and fall in love with Rap­pa­han­nock, and who then come back.

“I pre­dict there would be one or two wed­dings [at the Kummli prop­erty], and maybe one or two smaller in­door events,” Par­rish said. “Be­ing as she’s agreed to try this for just for one year, I don’t see a whole lot of gam­ble on this. I mean, if she needs money, Ms. Kummli could cut off some build­ing lots and sell houses, that would be even worse for the neigh­bors. And also she could plant some grapes — and these winer­ies, they’re ex­empt from our over­sight, they can do what­ever the hell they want to do.”

“I’ve been toil­ing over this for the past two or three months,” said board chair Roger Welch of Wake­field district, the last board mem­ber to speak. “What I see here is: Good neigh­bors make good liv­ing. Peo­ple say this is not a case of Not In My Back­yard, but I think maybe it is. I talked to a lot of peo­ple about this, and . . . the fur­ther they lived from the site, the more likely they were apt to ap­prove of this.

“I heard about the roads, and rode them from one end to an­other,” Welch said. “There were ar­eas of wash­board­ing — but here in the coun­try, that’s not wash­board­ing. In the coun­try, that’s speed bumps. The road was in bet­ter con­di­tion than I’d ever seen it.

“She’s ask­ing for four events a year, and every­body says well, then there will be eight and then 20 events — but that’s only if we let that hap­pen. I’ve got friends on both sides of this is­sue . . .”

Welch made the mo­tion to ap­prove the per­mit, Lesin­ski sec­onded, and the board voted unan­i­mously to ap­prove it.

PHO­TOS BY LUKE CHRISTO­PHER

The Board of Su­per­vi­sors evening ses­sion be­gan as usual at the county court­house, above, be­fore mov­ing west on Route 211, to the high school au­di­to­rium, be­low, due to the size of the crowd.

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