On Thursday, August 19, Warren County Emergency Services Coordinator Rick Farrall issued a brief Situation Report (SITREP) update on a spike in COVID-19 cases in the county and a county government decision to revisit masking and other safety precautions, which he addressed in person two days earlier after being introduced during County Administrator Ed Daley’s report to the county supervisors. Here is Thursday’s written SITREP on the upsurge in COVID-19 cases and the County’s response:
(a) As of Friday, August 13, 2021, VDH began reporting COVID-19 information in a new format; refer to the COVID-19 Vaccine Summary on the VDH website.
(b) The rate of new cases per 100,000 persons measures the level of community transmission. This rate is measured in terms of Low (<10 cases), Moderate (10-49 cases), Substantial (50-99 cases), and High (>/= 100 cases).
(c) As of today, the County’s rate of new cases per 100,000 persons is 211.6, and is considered “High” (by comparison, the State rate is 160.3, and is also considered “High”). Our percentage of PCR tests that are positive is reported at 8.7%. To note, Shenandoah County and the City of Winchester currently have slightly higher rates.
(d) Accordingly, the County updated its COVID-related policies.
(e) Recommend all County/Town citizens, employees, and employers reinforce basic public health preventative measures, as appropriate.
At Tuesday’s County Board of Supervisors meeting, Farrall elaborated on policy moves and their reasoning.
“With the Delta variant we do have an increase in cases in the county and our region,” Farrall said in opening his oral report with a graphic indicating Warren County among the majority of Virginia counties reporting increased COVID activity including cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities.
He continued to describe the VDH (Va. Dept. of Health) move over the past week reporting cases per county as they would translate into a number of cases per 100,000 as a comparative tool. What such measuring accomplishes is to compare case rates between smaller communities and larger ones, for a more accurate reading of relative contamination rates on a scale of Low-Moderate-Substantial-High.
In the chart pictured above, red indicates High, orange Substantial, yellow Moderate, and blue Low. As Farrall noted, only one Virginia county (Bath) is currently in a low transmission rate, and the map indicates only one Moderate-rated county (Richmond Co. toward the Eastern shore) as well.
Consequently, he said it was being recommended that Warren County “reinstate some additional precautions” that had been previously utilized in the earlier days of the pandemic. That includes mask-wearing outside one’s workstation and some testing parameters for unvaccinated or symptomatic employees.
The county emergency services coordinator noted the start of public schools this week, with Randolph-Macon Academy’s middle and high schools and Christendom College students returning for classes the coming week. Those variables, coupled with the just-completed Warren County Fair, Farrall observed, could contribute to any continued spike in cases here coming “in the next couple of weeks” before flu season arrives in the fall.
Particularly concerning is Warren County’s continued relatively low vaccination rate, coupled with skepticism among certain local sectors of masking and social distancing requirements. Reported as holding at 38% to 38.2% in recent weeks, a Friday, August 20th check of the Virginia Department of Health website showed Warren County “skyrocketing” to a 38.9% fully vaccinated rate, or 15,627 of the county’s approximate 40,000 population; with another 6% (to a 44.9% total) with at least one vaccine dose. As Royal Examiner recently reported, COVID-19 is now being referenced as “a pandemic of the unvaccinated” with 98% to 99% of new cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities coming among those not fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
In Farrall’s handout accompanying his oral report, Warren County’s cases per 100,000 over the week of August 8-14 were at 215, the high for the six-jurisdiction Lord Fairfax Health District (LFHD). The range for the other five jurisdictions was between 182.2 (Shenandoah Co.) and 78.7 (Clarke Co., the only one with a Substantial rank, the other five rated High). Statewide, the rate per 100,000 stood at 144.4 cases per week.
As for vaccination rates in the LFHD, Warren’s 38.9% was second-lowest to Page’s 37.3%. The other four jurisdictions were between 43.3% (Shenandoah) and 51.7% (Clarke), with Virginia at 55.3% statewide.
Farrall also reported an update of the County, Town, and Public School System lists of “critical” or “essential” employees, which he said, “Will come into play if we have to quarantine unvaccinated employees”. He told the board that working in conjunction with Dr. Greene of the Lord Fairfax Health District, periods of quarantine may be adjusted somewhat for those “essential” governmental employees.
County Emergency Services is working with Valley Health and the Health Department to reestablish COVID-19 testing sites, Farrall reported. The CDC is forecasting that booster shots for those fully vaccinated for six months or longer will become available by the fall. The CDC is working to have those booster shots fully approved by the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) by their release.
In his report and or written SITREP, Farrall also noted the reopening of Happy Creek Road; some train crossing work that will temporarily close some access roads; and the potential of flash flooding from rains associated with recent tropical storms moving northward in the Eastern portion of the country. As for the railroad crossing situation, Farrall reported this in a Friday afternoon release: “There is one Warren County railroad crossing closed, and one planned to be closed for railroad track and crossing repairs. Please adjust your emergency responses and travel plans accordingly.
“(a) US 340 / Buck Mountain Road. In the vicinity of Limeton Church Road, this railroad crossing is currently closed for crossing repairs and repaving. Norfolk Southern estimates the work to be completed by this Monday night (August 23, 2021), weather permitting.
“(b) US 340 / Bentonville Road. In the vicinity of the Bentonville Post Office, this railroad crossing is planned to be closed for crossing repairs and repaving. Norfolk Southern will begin this work once the Buck Mountain Road crossing is complete. This work is planned to begin next Tuesday (August 24, 2021), weather permitting.”
Town Planning Commission moves to officially join Council at Aug. 16 special work session to allow group feedback on contractor Summit Design’s Comp Plan update
After getting new electronic tablets from IT Director Grant Autry as part of a municipal move away from paper material expenses, and approving four items for advertisement for public hearings, a three-person quorum of the Front Royal Planning Commission got an August 3rd briefing from Planning Director Lauren Kopishke on the status of the Comprehensive Plan update currently underway. Present for that briefing were Chairman Darryl Merchant, Vice-Chair William Gordon, and Commissioner Connie Marshner. It was explained that former Chairman Douglas Jones, who is retiring at the end of the month, had a scheduling conflict and that Josh Ingram was dealing with a family medical emergency.
Pointing for commission feedback on the Comp Plan draft by the end of the month and both commission and council public hearings on approval of a revised Comp Plan by October, Kopishke suggested that commission members attend an August 16 Special Work Session called by the Town Council that includes a presentation on the status of the Comp Plan update from consultant Summit Design and Engineering.
So that commissioners can participate in the work session Q&A with Summit and council it was suggested that the planning commission join council in the call for the Special Work Session, making it a joint session the planners can legally participate in as a group, as opposed to one designated representative.
“You all need to be there,” Kopishke told the commissioners of the 6 p.m. special work session on Tuesday, August 16. “We want to be more involved than last year,” Gordon told his colleagues of what was described as minimal, if any involvement of the planning commission in the launch of the Comp Plan review and update process last year.
After review of the consultant’s draft packet, Planning Director Kopishke observed, “So far – knock on wood – there is nothing controversial in it.” She pointed to a summary page near the outset of the draft Comp Plan citing four major “Big Themes” based on public feedback:
- Preserve Downtown and Create more of what we Love (though exactly what that collective “we” loves was not immediately apparent);
- Improve Town Aesthetics;
- Enhance Safe Mobility and Choice;
- Increase Access to the River.
Those four themes were supported by 10 specific “goals and objectives” which were:
- Small town character;
- Economic Sustainability;
- Environmental Sustainability;
- High Quality Development;
- Housing sustainability;
- Public Health & Safety;
- Reliable Utilities and Services;
- Responsive and Accountable Governance.
Well, okay then.
After reviewing the draft Comp Plan update, Commission Chairman Merchant wondered if a town-wide projected future land use map would be included. Vice-Chairman Gordon offered, “I like the ideas, not the execution” of portions of the graphic presentations in the draft packet.
“And from this we start the ordinance process,” Merchant observed.
“That’s why it’s important we wrap this up by October, November at the latest,” Planning Director Kopishke observed. And on that note the 6 p.m. work session was adjourned at 6:46 p.m.
Prior to that adjournment and the Comp Plan conversation, as noted above the commission authorized four matters to go to public hearing on August 17. First up was Poe’s River’s Edge LLC and Eagle Sky Industrial Park LLC’s request for a Special Exception on the zoning-recommended width of a private street to service the River’s Edge LLC parcels listed at 508 Kendrick Lane and originally proposed for camp site development. The applicant cited a precedent in the town government’s granting of a similar special exception as justification for its application. While not stated, it would appear the referenced previous exception was to Mayor Holloway for his subdivision private road in town.
After some discussion, Merchant noted the circular pattern of the narrower 20-foot width as opposed to the zoning-recommended 36-foot width street through its service area. “I have no problem with it. We’ll see what the public thinks at the public hearing on the 17th.”
The other three applications were for Special Use Permits (SUPs) for short-term tourist rentals at 107 Highfield Lane in an R-1 zone (by William and Melissa Gordon); at 12 Chester Street in a C-2 Zone (Lea Justice); and 124 Luray Avenue in an R-3 zone (Phillip Vaught/Vaught Real Estate LLC). Vice-Chairman Gordon recused himself from discussion of his and his wife’s SUP request.
Supervisors reject tourism friendly Route 211 Bike Route designation, tables decision on Sheriff’s Office replacement of four vehicles
In addition to a number of sometimes eye-opening monthly reports, including from the Virginia Cooperative Extension Office, the County Department of Social Services, and VDOT, at its first monthly meeting of August, Tuesday morning August 2nd, the Warren County Board of Supervisors tackled some “Unfinished Business” and several items removed from a lengthy Consent Agenda for additional scrutiny prior to adjourning to an expanded Closed Session.
As for that Unfinished Business, despite receiving fairly strong assurances from County Attorney Jason Ham that it would be protected from litigation from accident victims on the local portion of a proposed regional US Bike Route 211, the board by a 4-0 vote, Happy Creek Supervisor Jay Butler absent, denied approval of a Resolution of Support for the bike tourism-friendly initiative. Warren joined southern-most involved county Augusta, as the only two of nine involved municipalities rejecting the designation. According to the staff agenda summary, approving it have been Shenandoah and Rockingham Counties, the City of Waynesboro, and Towns of Strasburg, Woodstock, New Market, and Grottoes.
Safety for bikers from motor-vehicle traffic remained a primary concern for the board. Former Planning Director and current County Director of Economic Development Joe Petty gave the supervisors an update on the status, potential local or state signage, and VDOT involvement including large yellow “Share the Road” signs for the project. Petty’s input included his having taken his bike and ridden the involved county portion of the route.
With VDOT signage a variable, if not endorsement based on safety concerns, Petty pointed out an oddly counterproductive VDOT-based variable. With narrow or a lack of road shoulders for bike lanes a safety concern, Petty noted he encountered a portion of the road with “generous shoulders” where VDOT had installed “rumble strips” which while waking up a sleeping and drifting motorist, also forces wide-awake bicycle riders out of the “generous shoulders” into traffic lanes, unless they want to dismount for a walk along the side of the travel lanes.
As to dangers inherent in endorsing physically active tourism initiatives, Petty also noted the community’s promotion of itself as the “Canoe Capital of Virginia” with all the dangers inherent in water sports. But despite the lack of litigation over any past canoeing mishaps and what the county attorney termed “the highest level of immunity” offered to the board by “Sovereign Immunity” codes dating back to English Common Law protections for British monarchs, liable or not, the board’s concerns about the safety of Route 2011 touring bikers held the day, if somewhat hesitantly. A long pause followed Fork District Supervisor Vicky Cook’s motion to deny the Resolution of Support. Finally, Board Chair Cheryl Cullers broke the silence with an “I’ll second it” leading to the 4-0 vote of denial.
About those Chevy Tahoes
On the County’s own motor vehicle front, one of four items pulled from the 14-item Consent Agenda for discussion was the Sheriff’s Office request for approval of two co-operative contracts entered into with the Virginia Sheriff’s Association (VSA) and Fairfax County facilitating the purchase and “upfitting” of four 2022 Chevrolet Tahoes. Board Chair Cullers led the questioning of the contracts totaling $223,742: $159,124 to RK Chevrolet for the four vehicles; $44,618 for the purchase of additional equipment and lights to bring them to law enforcement standards; and an estimated $20,000 to complete “upfitting” of the vehicles.
With Sheriff Mark Butler not present, Deputy Finance Director Alisa Scott whose department would handle the contracted purchases, presented the proposal to the board. Despite the nature of the cooperative contract arrangement through VSA, Chairperson Cullers wondered at the absence of a cost comparison analysis, particularly with Ford Explorers, which she asserted got better mileage than Tahoes.
The agenda packet staff summary notes: “Section 2.2-4604 of the Virginia Public Procurement Act authorizes the County to cooperatively contract through a solicitation issued by VSA and the County of Fairfax on behalf of other public entities. VSA and the Commonwealth competitively solicit goods and services which the County can procure directly from the awarded vendor” adding of these two competitively solicited contracts: “Contract 2205-0917 was awarded to RK Chevrolet, Inc and Contract E194-89772 was awarded to Dana Safety Supply, Inc.”
But with a lack of a direct cost comparison to Ford Explorers on the table, the three supervisors present sided with their chairman in tabling a decision pending further explanation from Sheriff Butler on why the supervisors should trust the Virginia Sheriffs Association, the Commonwealth, and Fairfax County to get them the best deal available on new vehicles, apparently available for immediate delivery and outfitting to law enforcement standards.
So, on Delores Oates (North River District) motion, seconded by Vicky Cook (Fork District), the board voted 4-0 to table the matter until a September meeting for additional information.
Also pulled from the Consent Agenda were two items related to transfers of Warren County Public School (WCPS) funds related to Operating Expenses from one fiscal year to the next. After extensive discussion and explanations from WCPS Finance Director Rob Ballentine, all submitted transfers were approved. A commitment to improved communications between the schools and county administrative finance departments as budget-year variables arise was promised by both sides.
A fourth Consent Agenda item, authorization for Public Hearing of a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) by Cole and Danielle Haase for a Commercial Outdoor Recreational Operation, was also pulled to delay that public hearing to September 27 to facilitate the schedule of the applicants.
See these discussions, the outside agency reports, board and staff reports, and a revised motion into a four-topic Closed Session in the County video. Following reconvening and adjournment of the open meeting, the board convened to a work session review of FOIA standards and a report on planned renovations to the 15th Street Health and Human Services Complex to facilitate the move of the Warren County Senior Center into expanded space there.
Boyers updates Town Council on infrastructure projects
Robbie Boyer, Public Works Director, updated Front Royal Town Council at its regular meeting on July 25, 2022.
Here’s the list of the current projects and their status:
- Curb & Gutter Installation Project – Installing 9,000’ of CG6 curb & gutter and CG9 driveway aprons on ten streets, the project is 50% completed and should be wrapped up by mid-September 2022.
- West Duck St Drainage Project – GEI started on July 18th, upgrading the existing 18” culvert to 30”, they’ll be finishing up the curb & gutter and backfilling this week and should be done by Thursday, July 28th.
- North Royal Ave Paving Project – Kick’in Asphalt started on North Royal Ave on July 18th. The milling and paving should be wrapped up with this on Friday, July 29th. Their line painters will be here on Sunday night and Monday night to install the new line markings. Then West 13th Street, George Banks and Belmont Avenue.
- 610B and 612 West 11th Street Storm Drain Upgrade – The town has installed the new 36” culvert between the two townhouses to the back of the property shy of the EDA fence. We received the signed right-of-entry agreement from the EDA this past Friday, July 22nd.
- Braxton Road and Manassas Avenue Waterline Upgrade Projects – We had a pre-bid meeting on June 27th at the town hall and had a good turnout of contractors show up. The bid opening is this Thursday at 2:00 pm. The plan is to have it ready for Town Council approval in August.
- John Marshall Hwy Waterline Upgrade Project – Bid will be posted on Friday, July 29th, with a pre-bid meeting on Thursday, August 11th, and bids will be opened on Tuesday, August 30th.
- Robinhood Lane Prv Vault – Order on April 26, 2022, and still looking at another ten weeks for delivery due to the traffic bearing hatch.
- Richmond Rd Prv Vault – Working on the vault drawings and bid documents, plan to bid out in late August 2022.
- Redundant Water-line Project – The pre-bid meeting was held on July 19th with 12 different contractors. The bid opening will be on August 24, 2022.
- Custom Storm Drain Lids -We’re in the process of coating the 25 custom storm drain lids for East Main Street. We’re planning to have them all coated by the end of next week.
Rotary gets the lowdown on plans for downtown Front Royal from Vice-Mayor Cockrell
Vice-Mayor Lori A. Cockrell, in a speech before the Rotary Club of Front Royal, shared a Town of Front Royal list of accomplishments with Rotarians over recent years, followed by a “to do” list of tasks needed to be completed in the years ahead.
So, what do we need and what have we got? These are some of the items discussed at Rotary’s regular weekly meeting at the community center last Friday, July 22:
Tourism appears of major interest to Cockrell, who listed a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) with the county government to fund “Discover Front Royal” that will help the Town and County to focus on bringing visitors to the area. She mentioned the recent hiring of a special events coordinator, Elizabeth Lewis, who, for example, planned and executed the town’s Fourth of July celebrations, the most recent community event that Cockrell said “many citizens are (still) talking about.”
Along with this, Cockrell, who is the lone mayoral candidate on the ballot in this November’s election, remarked on the “new look” Main Street with its murals and colorful store displays. She reported that a new event policy for Main Street has been “firmed up”and a new pavilion completed last year is in use.
Establishment of the Front Royal Economic Development Authority (FREDA) is off to “a really amazing start,” the vice mayor asserted. She reported briefly on a retreat the FREDA board had a week or so ago, guided by a facilitator “who really helped us discuss our vision and what we’d like to see accomplished in the area of economic development for the town.”
Among other accomplishments she mentioned was the completion of the Stonewall Drive Bridge project and the final sale of the Afton Inn. She said completion of the Afton Inn project is anticipated for the fall of 2023.
Some things “on deck” or in the process of completion include:
- Finalization of land acquisitions that will allow a backup water supply (Redundant Waterline project) to serve downtown businesses. Cost: $11 million, possibly more.
- Completion of the town’s Comprehensive Plan by February 2023.
- Blighted buildings in and around town, remain, after years of discussion and enabling ordinance passages without action, a priority for Council, Cockrell claimed. Perhaps aware of the Town’s slow move towards enforcement within its boundaries, she cautioned that: “This is a community issue, not just a Town concern.”
- Shenandoah Rail Trail: a 50-mile Broadway to Front Royal former railroad section converted to a hiking trail, still under discussion.
- Support for a new Drug Treatment Court, planned and approved for Warren County.
Regarding this last item, the council’s Vice-Mayor, a veteran school teacher, said: “Too many of our youth and loved ones have been taken away due to drugs and we must provide a healthy, vibrant and substance abuse-free community.”
Despite opposition from FREDA chairman Novak, Town Planning Commission forwards adjusted Data Center proposal
At its regular meeting on July 20th, the Front Royal Planning Commission edged out a late effort by the Front Royal EDA (FREDA) to get the commission to revert to an earlier version of an Ordinance to define and set rules for data centers in the town. In its June meeting, the commission considered a change that would have allowed a data center by-right and instead voted to forward a modified ordinance change that will require a Special Use Permit (SUP) for siting a data center. Subsequently, in its June 27th meeting, Town Council appeared to agree with the Planning Commission’s stance on the Special Use Permit and returned the ordinance change to the planning commission to incorporate the wording the commission had suggested. That was the version before the commission on Wednesday for their recommendation.
Rick Novak, Chair of the Front Royal EDA, addressed the commissioners during the public hearing, followed by Vice-Chair Mark Tapsack. Novak had provided a package to the commissioners at the beginning of the meeting that recommended the adoption of the original by-right language.
Among other information, the package listed Town revenue estimates from Real Estate and Personal Property taxes averaging $122,500 annually, without listing any expenses the town would incur in supporting a facility of this type. Industry research provides a wide variety of data about this rapidly spreading business, in which developers typically look for sites that can provide low real estate costs, ready access to utilities, and capacity for power and water. Relative to the size of facilities, data centers employ very few people on-site, usually between 5 and 30 full-time equivalents (FTE). That can cut both ways, as it means less impact on local schools or roads, but it also means that jobs – a large part of building a community’s economic health, are relatively few, even though they are generally well-paying. Combine that with rosy projections for tax revenues, and it is easy to see why many localities are signing on to the trend. During his presentation, Novak said that data center developers don’t like to share too much data, as the business environment is extremely competitive. That means that recruitment and negotiations with potential employers are often shrouded in secrecy and that consequently contributes to citizens’ mistrust of the process.
Technologies are rapidly evolving that reduce the power and water demands of these facilities, and more can be expected, but even with those increased efficiencies, data centers still impact the community and its resources. Land use decisions also can have unintended consequences.
Ultimately, the Commission voted to recommend its own version of the Ordinance with the provision for Special Use Permitting of Data Centers to the Town Council. The commission did not indicate in any of its discussions that it is opposed to data centers, only that there should be an opportunity for oversight and public input on a case-by-case basis.
The commission also conducted public hearings for two new short-term tourist rentals.
- Joy Allen and Patrick Masch for a commercial (C-1) zoned property at 425 North Royal Avenue
- Jerry and Martha Britton for a Commercial (C-2) zoned property at 18 East Stonewall Drive.
There were no speakers for either public hearing, and both applications were unanimously recommended for approval.
Ramzi Beidas has applied for a Special Use Permit (SUP) for two apartments on the ground floor of his Commercial (C-1) building at 650 W. 11th Street. The property is the former Royal Village Laundromat. There were no speakers for this public hearing, and the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval.
A fourth application from Poe’s River Edge LLC for a Special Exception for a new proposed private street to improve traffic flow through parcels at 508 Kendrick Lane was withdrawn prior to a public hearing for some engineering revisions.
The commission’s Consent Agenda was for three authorizations to advertise for a public hearing for short-term tourist rental SUPs:
- 107 Highfield Lane, by William and Melissa Gordon
- 12 Chester St., by Lea Justice
- 124 Luray Avenue, by Phillip Vaught
The commission voted to approve the authorizations to advertise unanimously, and the public hearings will be held on August 17.
Under-strength County Planning Commission approves tourist rentals and votes to deny sports center permit
The Warren County Planning Commission held a 3 ½ hour regular meeting on July 13, short two members, after last month’s sudden resignation of commission member Joe Longo and the absence of South River District’s Kaylee Richardson. That proved a problem early as the commission considered the old business of an amendment of Chapter 180 of the Warren County Code relating to data centers. The amendment provides a by-right use for data centers in the Industrial (I) and Light Industrial (LI) zones. Chairman Richard Myers reminded the members that he had recused himself from consideration of the ordinance change due to his previous employments, so the 2-remaining members, Vice Chairman Hugh Henry and commissioner Scott Kersjes, could no longer form a quorum.
Chairman Myers’s recusal applied only to the data center and not other commission business on the agenda. After consulting Assistant County Attorney Caitlin Jordan, the Commission voted to defer action on the ordinance amendment until next month’s meeting. Hopefully, at that time, there will be enough members present to form a quorum.
Fortunately for the commission’s workload, the chairman had not recused himself from the remainder of the agenda, and the eleven, yes, eleven public hearings could proceed. As has become the usual fare for the commission, the first seven of the hearings were Conditional Use Permit (CUP) requests for short-term tourist rentals:
- Joseph Muniz for a dwelling at 499 Rome Beauty Drive in Linden, a residentially zoned property in the Happy Creek District.
- Yulia Svetlichnaya for a residential dwelling at 610 Jones Quadrangle Drive in the Shenandoah District.
- Thomas Cho for an Agriculturally zoned property at 4359 Remount Road in the South River District.
- Andrew Sickle for a residentially zoned dwelling at 298 Worlds End Lane in the Happy Creek District.
- Jennifer Harp for a Dwelling at 608 Venus Branch Rd in the Shenandoah District. The property is zoned Residential.
- Lyndsey DePalma and Amanda Shipe for their agriculturally zoned property at 1945 Panhandle Rd in the South River District.
- John Clarke for an agriculturally zoned property at 938 Fetchett Rd, also in the South River District.
The Muniz application was the first to draw opposition from neighboring property owners at the public hearing. Wayne Baxter told the commission that his primary concern was fire safety. This led to a suggestion by the commissioners that a prohibition on open fires could be added to the conditions of approval. In each case thereafter, the open fire prohibition was included in the motion to recommend approval.
More opposition emerged during the public hearing for the Svetlichnaya application for 610 Jones Quadrangle Road. Five nearby property owners addressed the commission with concerns about added traffic, additional strain on already inadequate roads, open air fires, endangerment of neighborhood children, the introduction of commercial activities into a residential area, and the use of community-owned common areas facilities by B&B guests.
Chairman Myers reminded the speakers that the Virginia General Assembly has determined that short-term rentals are a residential activity, not commercial. Vice-Chairman Henry added that short-term tourist rentals are short-term by definition, and absent a Conditional Use Permit, a property owner can rent a property long-term by right, and neighboring owners have no say in the matter. He then asked Planning Director Matt Wendling how many complaints had been lodged against short-term tourist rentals since the practice began. Answer: One case of a guest parking on the street in violation of the property owner’s rules.
One recurring theme in the community response to short-term tourist rentals is concern about open-air burning, given that many properties are in wooded mountainous areas. Guests may not realize how dangerous an open fire can be with so much woodland nearby. Vice Chairman Henry suggested that a general prohibition of open fires along with fireworks and ATVs as part of the conditions list for permit approval might be at least a partial solution.
Ultimately all seven CUPs for short-term tourist rentals were recommended for approval with the added condition of a prohibition on open fires, and will be forwarded to the County Board of Supervisors.
The Commission also reviewed a CUP application by Royal Oak Estates, LLC, for a cluster housing development on Reliance Road in the North River District. The property is currently zoned agricultural and would have to be rezoned for development. The development plan would contain 40 lots of less than 10 acres (averaging an acre each), seven lots of 10 acres or more, and 64 Acres of preserved open space. The applicant indicates that the reserved open space can be placed in a perpetual easement for agricultural or forestal uses, deeded to the county to prevent future development.
The Conditional Use Permit is just the first step in the approval process. Larry Himmelright gave the commission an extensive explanation of the plan prior to the public hearing. The property lies between Reliance Road and Interstate 66. Two areas of residential housing are nearby. Two speakers addressed the Commission to register their opposition to the development. Both speakers, Bonnie Snyder and Joyce Dunlap, expressed their concerns about the impact on wildlife that is plentiful in the area. According to the speakers, Reliance Road is a heavily traveled rural highway between Route 11 at Middletown and Routes 340 and 522, and adding traffic from a new subdivision could adversely affect the neighborhood. After some discussion between commissioners and a review of a subdivision design, the commissioners voted unanimously to recommend approval of the request.
The Planning Department proposed an amendment to the zoning ordinance to add a definition and supplemental regulations for outdoor recreational operations as an allowable right by Special Use Permit (SUP). With a brief discussion, the commissioners voted unanimously to recommend approval.
Cole and Danielle Haase have applied for a CUP for an outdoor recreational operation for their property at 19959 Fort Valley Road in the North River District. The Haases purchased the 10-acre former church property in April 2022 to turn it into a sports and events center, primarily to support local and traveling softball/baseball leagues, Little League softball and baseball, and personalized instruction opportunities for youth. Their plan includes a phased plan to provide batting cages both indoors and outdoors, practice areas that can be used during inclement weather, and eventually regulation-sized Little League fields under a future Conditional Use Permit.
The Haases described their background of years of involvement with local youth sports and their hopes for the facility as a service to local communities.
The public hearing yielded four speakers, all opposed to the permit. The complaints followed a familiar pattern – increased traffic on a rural highway, noise, security, and adverse impact in a quiet rural neighborhood. Susie Poe, whose beautifully manicured farm is diagonal across the road from the Haase’s property, was supportive of the mission the applicants are trying to fulfill, but not in that location. After all the speakers were heard, the Commission voted in a split 2-1 decision to recommend the denial of the permit. Vice Chairman Henry and Chairman Myers voted for the denial, and Commissioner Kersjes voted against the motion to deny. The application will go to the Board of Supervisors on July 26 for a final decision.
The Shahi Food Group is applying for a CUP for a food processing facility at 426 Baugh Drive in the Stephens Industrial Park. The property is in the North River District and is zoned industrial. The applicant has requested the permit during a 60-day study period, so the permit could be approved by the time they close on the facility. They hope to begin manufacturing there in the late fall.
On its consent agenda, the commission approved authorizations to advertise public hearings for Conditional Use Permits for seven short-term tourist rentals:
- Michelle Moriarty for 96 Cappy Rd. in the Happy Creek District
- Michael Merrill for 319 Rocky Mount Rd. in the Shenandoah District
- Kendra Hanson, Kathryn Stuart, Simon Sarver, and Michael Cherubin for 97 Overlook Rd. in the Shenandoah District
- CAZA Legacy, LLC, for 241 Wildcat Dr. in the Shenandoah District
- Matthew Williams and Jay Gilbert for 244 Delicious Rd. in the Happy Creek District
- Matthew Williams and Jay Gilbert for 115 Lonesome Flats Rd. in the Fork District
- Thomas L. Pigeon for 540 Lakeside Dr. in the Fork District.
These applications will be advertised for a public hearing at the next regular Planning Commission meeting on August 10.
Finally, Terra Site Constructors has applied for a waiver to the building and parking lot setbacks for their warehouse project at 6986 Winchester Road. The waiver is necessary because of the projected widening of Routes 340 and 522, which impacts the design of the front parking area. The Waiver will mean that the structure will be 89 feet from highway right-of-way, rather than the required 100 feet. With no objection, the Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the waiver.
The meeting adjourned at 10:30 p.m.