Mt. Airy public hearing will resume on Monday
During one of several public hearings on Wednesday, July 7, county supervisors listened to two hours of impassioned remarks from Rappahannock residents on both sides of a contentious debate about whether to approve a rezoning application in Sperryville.
Sperryville residents Tom and Cheryl Taylor, under their company name Mt. Airy, LLC, applied last October to rezone their 35-acre Woodward Road property from rural residential five-acre to residential two-acre zoning. Mt. Airy, LLC has indicated that it might subdivide the parcels and build up to 13 single-family homes on the smaller lots. If the application is denied, the Taylors could still lawfully subdivide their property into five-acre parcels and build up to seven homes.
Last Wednesday night, the board agreed to table the public hearing until next Monday, July 19. The Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors has until October 2021 to take action.
Arguing on his clients’ behalf, attorney Michael Brown said that rezoning the Taylors’ property could enlarge the county’s tax base and provide for the needs of current and future residents, including seniors who may want to downsize from large properties but remain in the county. Mt. Airy has said it plans to make the homes affordable and suitable for young families and seniors, but has not submitted any further details regarding its plans. The county code does not require rezoning applicants to supply site plan information with their applications.
“It’s worth noting that the county’s decision should not be based on how many people show up in support of an application [or] how many people show up in opposition to an application,” Brown said. “It’s not a head-counting exercise. It’s about evaluating the application on its merits and making the decision based upon good zoning practice and principles.”
But not long after Brown urged the board not to base its decision on the number of county residents opposed to the application, Sperryville resident Diane Bruce presented the supervisors with a petition signed by more than 400 county residents and tourists who were united against Mt. Airy’s application. “There has been a groundswell of opposition,” said Bruce, a member of the newly-formed Sperryville Coalition Against Rezoning. “The coalition has found that property owners throughout the county share our concerns.”
On its website (keeprappahannockrural.com), the Sperryville Coalition Against Rezoning offers a comprehensive list of those many concerns: traffic hazards, harm to existing wells, the capacity of Sperryville’s sewer system, impacts to the village’s scenic viewsheds, runoff and pollution, and the specter of tax hikes. The website is not coy about its singular focus on the Mt. Airy rezoning application — its landing page features a panoramic view of the Taylors’ property from the vantage point of Woodward Road.
Several neighbors expressed skepticism that Woodward, an unmarked and partially unpaved country lane, could handle the traffic that more homes would undoubtedly generate. At the hearing, Robin Day said he has lived on Woodward for 36 years in a house only nine feet from the road. “I have watched traffic increase and witnessed vehicles traveling much too fast,” Day said. “I fear one day finding one of them in my living room. This road cannot handle 100-plus extra vehicles per day.”
Speaking on his clients’ behalf, Brown insisted that the driveways for the subdivided lots could be directed towards an alternative road branching from Route 211, but that suggestion raised more concerns than it assuaged.
Kerry Sutten, Sperryville resident and proprietor of Before & After cafe, said that while he supports the creation of more housing in the community, he is not in favor of this particular rezoning application — and certainly not with an entrance from Route 211. “There would be no connection to Sperryville,” Sutten said. “The only way to Sperryville would be to walk along 211. And if you’ve driven 211, you know there’s no place to walk. Essentially what you’re doing is building a sub-development on agricultural land without a connection to the community.”
On the heels of Sutten’s remarks, Daphne Hutchinson pointed out that Sperryville’s sewer was never intended to promote growth within the village. Rather, she said, it was built in order to remedy the village’s status as the “number five health hazard in Virginia.”
“We have a sewer system that was funded, built, designed and promoted as no-growth. … It was not intended to do anything more than solve the existing problem and allow for some reasonable growth,” Hutchinson said. “It [affects] everybody downstream from the village if we don’t do it right.”
Yoko Barsky, a resident of the Hampton district, noted that over the past eight months since the application was submitted, the applicants have provided the county with very little additional information about their plans for the property. “When the time passes by, there are a lot of talks, discussions, speculations, fears, all kinds of things happen and the problem gets even bigger than it actually is,” Barsky said. “To me, [more] information needs to be included with the application. … Right now you should have a lot more information, including more detailed drawings about where the houses will be built.”
Those in favor of the application were in the minority at the meeting. Ron Makela, vice president of the Board of Zoning Appeals, said it sounded as though those in opposition were trying to prevent development of the property, even though the Taylors could easily divide and develop their property into five-acre lots. “If you’re worried about the viewshed, to me, that’s the problem, is that [development] can happen right now [with] no restrictions. … You have an opportunity to increase the number of houses but at the same time limit the square footage [and] limit the height,” Makela said.
Rappahannock resident Bill Fletcher, who leases several properties to tenants, said he has observed a need for more rentals in the county. “One of the biggest discussions I’ve heard in Rappahannock County in the last two years is affordable housing,” Fletcher said. “If [Taylor] can build houses like that for anything close to that price, you’d better take him up on it. I’d like to buy four or five of those houses if I could afford it … There is a need in this community.”
Regarding the petition from the Sperryville Coalition Against Rezoning, Fletcher colorfully added: “I remember my father talking about petitions one time and he said, ‘You know, I don’t really have much faith in petitions, Bill. I could pass one around and get people to sign a petition to crucify Jesus Christ again.’”
After the public comment period had been closed, Piedmont District Supervisor Christine Smith said, “One of the mottos of my life is anything worth doing is worth doing well … I would like time to process everything we’ve heard this evening.”
The Board will revisit the application on July 19 at 7 p.m. in the Rappahannock County Courthouse.