At their monthly meeting Monday, members of the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors unanimously declined, at least for now, to thwart the intentions of their predecessors — who, in 2006, allowed the then-owner of the Blue Rock Inn property to build a three-bedroom residence there on the condition that it would never be used for commercial purposes.
As it turned out, the structure was never finished, never used as anyone’s home and has been sitting, forlorn and Tyvek-clad, at the western edge of the rolling, 80-acre former farm for nearly 15 years.
New Blue Rock owner Nick Dowling apparently has plans — and pending permit applications — to turn the property into what county zoning now classifies as a “conference center and resort” (the plan to host events with more than 40 attendees bumps it up from its current “country inn” status, for which the property was granted a special exception permit in 2005).
The first of those new permit applications, which would allow Dowling to operate the newly renovated (and now five-bedroom) residence as a tourist home, had to come before the supervisors because it would contravene the intention, or promise, of his predecessor.
The board heard near-unanimous opposition to the request for a new, unrestricted special exception permit from a progression of six citizens who rose to speak at the microphone and David Konick, former zoning administrator and planning commissioner, who appeared via Zoom. Opponents included school board member Lucy Ann “Pud” Maeyer, who owns the farm just across the fence line from the residence.
A tourist home, Maeyer said, “is just not something I want to live next to.”
“When you live in a neighborhood, you have neighbors,” Konick said via speakerphone. “That’s why it’s called a neighborhood. When you live next to a commercial enterprise like this, and different people are there all the time, it’s a different thing. It’s not about traffic, it’s not about water … it’s about the character of the neighborhood. And if you have a commercial use like this in an agricultural zone, it changes the character.”
Konick warned the board about setting a precedent by lifting a restriction purposefully set in place by their predecessors, who wanted to stop a slow crawl westward of the commercial zone they deliberately placed along U.S. 211 in the county’s center. “If you let it happen here,” he said, “when and where are you going to say no?”
“Two things,” said Jackson District Supervisor Ron Frazier. “We shouldn’t overturn the previous board’s vote, and we should certainly not do anything until we see a master plan.”
Frazier, the only supervisor who was on the board in 2006, was referring to Dowling’s application for a different special exception permit to operate the Blue Rock as a conference center and resort, which has not yet made it to the county’s planning commission — after which it will wind up, as the tourist home permit did, on the supervisors’ agenda for a public hearing.
Attorney Mike Brown, representing Dowling Real Estate, asked the board to consider, if their inclination was to deny the permit, instead postponing any decision until they can review it along with any other permit applications by Dowling Real Estate for the Blue Rock property.
And that is what the board did.
Frazier and Supervisors Christine Smith, Keir Whitson, Chris Parrish and Chair Debbie Donehey all agreed: they could not make a decision about the tourist home without knowing more about Dowling’s full plans for the property. They voted unanimously to table the application and revisit it in August.
‘The pager system sucks’
The board’s afternoon public comment session was dominated by fire and rescue volunteers and members of the Rappahannock County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association — most of whom came to complain that the county’s fire-and-rescue pager system, which notifies volunteers of emergencies, is working poorly.
Kevin Williams, president of the fire and rescue association, said that volunteers in most parts of the county reported getting many unintelligible calls over the Harris pager system — which replaced the county’s old Motorola system two years ago as part of a shared deal with Fauquier and Culpeper counties, Rappahannock’s 10-percent share coming to about $1.6 million. In Chester Gap, he said, sometimes pagers are not even activated by the new system. In Fauquier County, which footed 50 percent of the Harris system bill, responders are reporting similar problems, he said.
He played a recording of a recent page — completely distorted and impossible to understand — and, for comparison, a recording he made from his pager in the parking lot of Washington Volunteer Fire and Rescue, which was perfectly clear and static-free.
Sherry Hamill-Huff, president of Flint Hill Volunteer Fire and Rescue, concluded her brief remarks with: “I think the pager system sucks, and I’m only three miles down the road [from Washington] on Fodderstack.”
Said Sean Knick of Harris Hollow: “Thirty-two years ago when I came to Rappahannock County as a law enforcement officer, the radios worked 200 times better than they do today. This system is messed up throughout the county. Something drastically needs to be done with Harris.”
Williams said the association was asking that it be notified in writing of the results of recent tests of the system. The supervisors didn’t respond (they usually don’t, during or after public comment sessions), but Frazier said by phone later that the county is awaiting the results of a test performed June 1 by Harris personnel in Amissville, during which he believes they were able to reproduce the problem mentioned by the fire and rescue people.
Paid EMS in Chester Gap
Emergency response — specifically that service originating in Chester Gap — was the subject of another long discussion Monday, as the supervisors considered a new one-year Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with Chester Gap Fire and Rescue, which last year became the first volunteer company in the county to start paying at least one emergency responder.
The new agreement will cost the county $146,000, an increase of $86,000 over the current year, which ends June 30, to pay for a second professional at the station, which Chester Gap Chief Todd Brown said would enable the company to have an Advanced Life Support (ALS) unit available 24-7-365. Warren County, which Brown said accounts for 60 to 65 percent of Chester Gap’s calls, has also agreed to pay $146,000 — plus they are paying to upgrade the company’s Basic Life Support ambulance to an ALS-capable unit.
Some or all of Rappahannock’s costs for the Chester Gap agreement could be paid with funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which County Administrator Garrey Curry described for the supervisors later during Monday’s meeting as amounting to $1.4 million — about half of which was just received, the second half expected in a year.
The motion to approve the MOA passed by a 3-0-2 margin, with abstentions from Smith and Frazier — Frazier having complained bitterly that “there was no authorization from this board for anyone to negotiate this agreement” before it landed on the agenda. Smith essentially agreed with Frazier that it was unfair to be “negotiating this agreement in public,” but complained less bitterly.
“I think this is a step in not just the right direction, but the inevitable direction for this county,” said Stonewall-Hawthorne Supervisor Parrish after the vote.
In other significant actions, the supervisors voted to reopen the Share Shed — as the free shack operating for years at Flatwood Refuse and Recycling Center is known — after shuttering it more than a year ago due to COVID-19 concerns.
Smith said she asked that the item be put on the agenda. “Of all the things going on in the county,” she said, “this is the thing I hear the most complaints about.”
In a memo to the supervisors, Curry had expressed concern about safety issues — the shed and its small head-on parking area being now directly in the path of traffic coming from the new compactors.
“I don’t want to be on the hook for the safety if some little old lady gets run over,” Curry told the supervisors as they considered the issue Monday. “That’s my position.”
The supervisors took another position, unanimously passing a motion to “open the Share Shed now.”
Smith made a public plea for volunteers who might help keep the shed clean and keep its inventory fresh, two issues that have popped up repeatedly over the years. “This is a county of volunteers,” she said, sounding hopeful.