Neighbors oppose the owners’ application, which will go before county Supervisors for final vote
A request by the owner of the Chapelle Charlemagne Vineyard in Flint Hill for a special permit to operate two campsites behind the winery was backed by the Rappahannock County Planning Commission on Wednesday.
The Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors will next hold a public hearing and vote on the property owners' request.
The application, submitted by John and Max Schmitz, was opposed by adjacent neighbors George and Bonnie Williams who live at 13415 Crest Hill Rd. They attended the public hearing as did their attorney Michael Brown. “I don’t want to see the property opened up. It’s detrimental to the property, detrimental to the property values,” said Mr. Williams. Mrs. Williams said she and her husband have been living on their property for 47 years “and have been enjoying our privacy” and don’t want it disrupted.
Max Schmitz said operating the campsites produces income beyond what the winery produces. He argued they enhance tourist opportunities outlined by the county’s comprehensive plan as something that should be encouraged. He acknowledged under questioning from Planning Commission member Brian Scheulen, of Wakefield District, that people have been allowed to camp on the property for a year. As a result, he had been “pinched,” as Scheulen described it, by the Commissioner of Revenue for not filing transient occupancy tax revenue.
Scheulen, who represents the district where the Crest Hill Road property is located, asked if “you would be averse to pushing the campsite farther back from the Williams’ property. I understand you want to camp on flatter ground, but in another 100 ft. you’d be out of sight.”
Max Schmitz replied: “I’d be happy to mitigate any detriment to them.”
Scheulen proposed setting a one-year duration on the special permit, which would require a re-application to extend. Denial of an extension would be “a remedy if something goes south,” Scheulen said.
In a response to member Mary Katherine Ishee, of Piedmont District, Schmitz said that all structures on the property are at least 100 feet from neighboring property lines. He said the campsites operate for eight months of the year. Currently groups of two to four use them. The Schmitz campsites aren’t considered “campgrounds” under the definition of the county ordinances since there aren’t three or more of them. Though he doesn’t have to abide by campground regulations, he is required to follow water and sewage requirements.
Planning Commission member Alex Sharp said he didn’t think anyone is hindered by allowing two campsites on the property, but he thought that a trial period would be appropriate.
Wineries and other agritourism businesses contribute to the county's annual sales tax and meals and lodging tax revenue, which are about $1 million and close to $500,000 respectively, according to Planning Commission Chair Keir Whitson.
But still there’s the question of “how do we protect people like the Williamses from adverse effects?” In this instance, Whitson said he would vote against a recommendation of approval for the special permit.
Planning Commission member Al Henry, of Hampton District, said, “I think [recommending rejection] sets a bad precedent.” He argued that the winery and campsite is putting the property to productive use as opposed to it being dormant if it was under a conservation easement.
“Four people on 60 acres and we’re worried about the impact and they’re using a bathroom,” Henry said. “It seems we’re basically saying we’re closing the county down to anything not allowed by permit. I sympathize with the Williamses but I think we all need to work together rather than saying denial.”
Sharp replied saying that he didn’t think it was wrong to consider “what’s going on on a property. I don’t think that excludes a use, but it’s something we can’t ignore.”
The body ultimately voted 4-1 with one abstention in support of a recommendation for approval introduced by Scheulen, with Whitson voting in opposition. Henry abstained in taking a position on the motion, which carries a one-year cap on the permit, limiting use to two people to each of two campsites, screening of the camping area so that it isn’t visible to the neighbors, and adding a requirement to place portable toilets closer to the campsites than the currently existing bathroom building.
Henry explained later that he felt that the body continued to “pile on” by adding requirements such as a one-year permit — requiring reapplication to be continued — and a portable toilet for each campsite.
“So now you [have] two campsites for a total of four people and with bathroom capacity for four people. Prior to this add on, when the campers left there [were] no visual items in the field,” Henry said in an email. “Now there are two big plastic Blue or Green Johns sitting in the field. I have never seen a one year permit in my almost 20 years on the Commission.”