Plan­ners re­luc­tant to rule on lot sizes for short term ren­tals

Rappahannock News - - FRONT PAGE - By Patty Hardee Spe­cial to the Rap­pa­han­nock News

Af­ter a pub­lic hear­ing, a vote that was sup­posed to help bring clar­ity to a con­fus­ing 2010 zon­ing or­di­nance amend­ment ended up a threeto-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 tour­many ist 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 10acre 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.

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