The Rappahannock County Board of Zoning Appeals on Wednesday voted unanimously in favor of an appeal that will allow Charlotte Wagner, owner of a Sperryville dog training facility, to continue training dogs on an agriculturally-zoned land parcel.
The notice, served by the Rappahannock County Zoning office in October, alleged that a portion of the agriculturally zoned land where her business is located was being used for commercial purposes that fall within the definition of a “kennel” under current zoning ordinances, rendering her use in violation of code. A complaint against Wagner was submitted to the Zoning Administrator by neighboring property owners.
While much of Wagner’s facility is located on commercially zoned land, she leases an adjoining agriculturally zoned parcel to use as a pasture yard and for dogs to exercise, the use of which neighbors and the county have called into question. The notice stated that in order to legally use the parcel, Wagner must apply for a special use permit.
BZA members unanimously voted in favor of Wagner’s appeal of the notice, following a precedent that Chair Ron Makela said was set by the county more than 20 years ago when a dog training facility opened in Amissville on agriculturally-zoned land without a special use permit. Makela said there’s another facility in Sperryville operating without a special use permit on a parcel zoned as rural-residential.
“We cannot apply the law arbitrarily,” Makela said.
Zoning Administrator Michelle Somers said that if Wagner was only training breeds used specifically for agricultural purposes, such as hunting dogs, sheepdogs, bird dogs, and guard dogs, among others, “then we wouldn’t be here.” Somers said that was also the opinion of County Attorney Art Goff. Goff declined to comment for this report.
Wagner argued that the county does not have any breed-specific legislation. “Realistically when you live out here, all dogs need training in an ag setting,” she said. “A lot of our clients live on farms, and they need a controlled environment that is safe for the dogs to learn how to be off leash, how to be under control so that when they have their dogs at home, they can apply those concepts across the board.”
BZA member Steph Ridder asked Somers to identify language in the zoning ordinance that specifies the use of agriculture-specific dog breeds, but Somers instead referred to an opinion issued by Goff.
“Are we saying that if the dogs being trained in this portion of land were dogs whose sole purpose is dedicated to some kind of agricultural process, that this would be permissible?” BZA member Bill Tieckelmann asked. “And because somehow these dogs are dual purpose, makes it impermissible?”
Wagner filed her appeal in November writing,“the field in question is being used as a supplemental way to exercise and work dogs as a part of our dog training operation (which principal, primary operation is conducted in an adjoining commercial lot).”
The appeal marks the latest development ina long running sagaof residents opposing Wagner’s dog training business on agricultural land. She opened her “K9ology” facilitylast summer in Sperryvilleat the corner of Old Hollow Road and U.S. Route 211 after months of community unrest led to her backing out of opening the business in Amissville.
About a dozen residents spoke at the public hearing on Wednesday in support of Wagner, with many saying her business is valuable to the community.
“It concerns me that we tend to be anti-business,” said Sperryville cafe owner Kerry Sutten, referring to government interference in businesses in Rappahannock County. “I encourage you to rethink the definitions or the interpretations of those codes and actually give Charlotte the benefit of the doubt.”
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