Zoning board will continue to meet in courthouse
Chair Ron Makela: “This building has problems. I have safety concerns about emergency egress. Also, from an ADA standpoint it’s terrible.”
The Rappahannock County Board of Zoning Appeals will continue to hold meetings on the second oor of the Rappahanock County Combined District Court building on Gay Street in Washington unless a di erent venue is needed to host a large crowd expected for particular meetings.
The decision was made a er BZA Chair Ron Makela brought up the challenges the courthouse may pose to the elderly and those with heart problems or mobility issues. It’s an issue Makela, a retired Virginia Beach re captain, has raised before.
The courtroom space is also used for meetings of the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission when it’s not used for court hearings and trials. The building is equipped with a wheelchair li running between the rst and second oor and a ramp is Claudia connected to a side door.
But Makela said that’s not enough. “This building has problems. I have safety concerns about emergency egress. Also, from an ADA standpoint it’s terrible,” Makela said, referring to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act that prohibits discrimination based on disability.
“If there’s a re in the lobby, that's the window. That’s how to get out,” Makela said, pointing to a window in the second oor courtroom that opens to a re escape.
He said there should be a sign outside to direct people to the ramp alongside the building. The door to the building served by that ramp doesn’t have a push feature to help someone who has di culty with a standard knob, he noted. “The [wheelchair] li is not adequate for someone not in a wheelchair,” Makela added. “You can’t stand on it.”
Makela suggested using a community room at the Rappahannock County Public Library as an alternate meeting site. From an ADA and safety standpoint, it’s better, he argued.
BZA member Julie Coonce retorted, “I hear you. We’ve been meeting here a very long time and the risk is relatively low.” As a “quasi judicial” body “it’s important that we meet here,” she said. BZA members are appointed by the circuit court.
Both Coonce and BZA member Bill Tieckelmann noted the room is also used by the court, the supervisors and planning commission. “For the sake of consistency,” the BZA shouldn’t move, although it can advertise a move to another site if a controversial application will be considered at an upcoming meeting that can draw a large crowd, Coonce suggested.
Without taking a formal vote, the members decided to keep the BZA meetings at the courthouse.
Makela said he raised the issue of building accessibility before and felt the need to do so again.
“I tried to do the same thing a year ago. Other board members decided not to [move the meetings]. That’s ne,” Makela said.
The BZA on Wednesday also approved a special use permit for David and Birgitt Thornhill to use a one-bedroom home on their property at 38 Little eld Ln. in Boston as a tourist home. It has been used as a family apartment since 2017 under a special use permit granted then.
An application for a special use permit by Lissa Hubbard to use a two-bedroom structure at 41 Headwaters Rd in Chester Gap as a tourist home was removed from the agenda. It can be considered once the body receives more information. An application for a special use permit from Nevill and Clare Turner to use an accessory dwelling at 2353 Jericho Rd., Wake eld, as living space was withdrawn since the county determined it wasn’t needed. The Turners have a vested right to use the building as they planned based on a prior approval.
The BZA also selected its leadership during the organizational portion of the meeting. Makela, who has been serving as acting chairman since the departure of Alexander Sharp VII, will serve as chairman, with Sharon Pierce as vice chairman, Coonce as secretary and Freedom of Information contact, and Stephanie Ridder as representative to the Planning Commission.
Sharp was presented a resolution of appreciation for his service to the BZA during the meeting. Sharp served as a BZA member from 1990 to 2021, including six years as chairman.
Pierce arrived late to the meeting and excused herself before it ended, noting that there were people in the room not wearing masks as a COVID-19 precaution. Makela said there is a sign at the door of the building that asks those entering to wear a mask but doesn’t require that they do so.
The BZA canceled its December meeting since it lacked a quorum after at least one member tested positive for the virus, while another was feeling unwell and Makela had come into close contact with somebody who tested positive. At the time, Makela declined to disclose the names of the member who tested positive and the other who was feeling ill, citing medical privacy laws.
BZA MEMBER JULIE COONCE: “We’ve been meeting here a very long time and the risk is relatively low.”