The members of the board of zoning appeals were puzzled on Wednesday night about whether moving the footprint of the house could eliminate the need for a variance.

Manassas-based construction company Charles R Wood Builders Inc. will wait until April 14 to hear a determination on their application for a setback variance. After a lengthy debate at their regular meeting last week the members of the Rappahannock County Board of Zoning Appeals said they needed more information from the applicants before a conclusion could be reached.  

The company purchased a 0.93-acre L-shaped property off Zachary Taylor Highway (Route 522) near Flint Hill “intending to construct a 2,400 square foot dwelling” on it, according to its application.

Zoned agricultural, the oddly-shaped plat, featured on tax map 1-14G, had been parcelled off from a larger property in 1981 and then had its boundaries adjusted in 1999 and again in 2005. The 2,400 square-foot blueprint Charles R Wood Builders hopes to construct does not fit within the 50-foot setback requirement on two of the building’s four sides, so the company requested a variance from the BZA. 

In her cursory review, Rappahannock County Zoning Administrator Michelle Somers wrote to the members of the board that she found the property to be altogether “not a buildable lot” because, at less than an acre, it fails to meet the 2-acre minimum lot size requirement stipulated in the agricultural zoning ordinance established in 1973. 

For the agenda items, visit the County's BoardDocs site:

Greg Ashwell, the applicant’s attorney, said he did not agree with Somers’ preliminary assertion that his client’s property is not buildable. “We’ll have our day [in court] if that’s the position she takes,” he said, addressing the board. Ashwell argued that if a previous zoning administrator had approved the splitting off of the parcel, then the parcel had to be buildable.

“You just can’t make a lot that’s approved by the government and then not be able to use it. You don’t need a lot to do farming,” he said. 

Nevertheless, BZA Vice Chair Ron Makela expressed resistance to granting a variance for multiple reasons, not the least of which was that Charles R Wood Builders Inc. should have, he said, done their research before purchasing the property. Had they exercised their due diligence the applicants would have known their lot was zoned agricultural and therefore would not be suitable for their desired house design. 

What’s more, Makela continued, the property is brimming with rivulets that become tributaries to the Rappahannock River. 

“You’ve got to protect the watersheds,” Makela said. “I think it would be very appropriate to get a decision from the [Department of Environmental Quality].”

The concern about the watershed was apparently new to the applicants’ attorney, who contended that “if it’s something you want to get into in the future, maybe you should get into it in the future.” 

“All the stuff that has come up about hydrology and topography and things were not asked for before this hearing,” Ashwell said. “We were given a list of things and we gave them to you and we’re here for that purpose.”

The BZA will hold a public comment period at its April 14 special session for citizens wishing to express their views on the application.

Sign up for the C-19 Daily Update, a free newsletter delivered to your email inbox every morning.