Subdivision proposal faces much citizen opposition
A proposal to rezone 35 acres of land along Woodward Road in Sperryville is back on the agenda of the Rappahannock County Planning Commission, which will meet at 7 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday) at the Rappahannock County Courthouse.
If Tom and Cheryl Taylor’s Mt. Airy Field LLC application is approved, the property’s current five-acre minimum lot size would be reduced to two acres. Mr. Taylor first presented the rezoning idea to the Planning Commission in 2020 when the body was revising the county’s comprehensive plan.
Since then he has applied for the rezoning and made known his desire to build up to 13 homes on the property.
The Planning Commission has taken up the application three times to date: Nov. 18, 2020, when members conducted a preliminary review of the application; Dec. 29, 2020, when a public hearing was held and the application was tabled; and Jan. 20, 2021, when the planners heard from the Taylor’s attorney Mike Brown, who presented a draft site sketch showing a possible layout of 13 residential lots.
After Brown’s presentation, Commission Chair Keir Whitson suggested the planners schedule a work session to discuss the points that had been brought up in the meeting. “My idea,” Whitson said, “is to hash out the issues in a work session and then decide on this application in February.”
Speaking during previous public comment periods, county residents have voiced overwhelmingly opposition to the proposal.
On Tuesday, Zoning Administrator Michelle Somers forwarded to the Rappahannock News 95 pages of comments and other materials she received regarding the application. Of the 23 citizens who wrote letters — some more than once to the Planning Commission, Board of Supervisors, and County Administrator Garrey Curry — only two were in favor of the rezoning and subsequent subdivision.
One of the most informed and eloquent statements came from James Hoben, who owns property on Pearl Lane in Sperryville. Hoben is a professional city and regional planner with almost 50 years of city rural planning experience. His Dec. 8, 2020 letter has been referenced many times in written and public comments from local residents.
Hoben takes issue with Taylor’s claim that he can provide affordable housing on two-acre lots. “Affordable housing isn’t feasible financially… without gifted land or larger densities,” he says.
He also feels that “two-acre homes would be very different from Sperryville’s current development character. Think suburban sprawl.”
And he wonders about the impacts to the county budget and the Sperryville sewer capacity. The Rappahannock County Water and Sewer Authority has negotiated with an engineering firm to conduct a system capacity study, but the results will not be known for some time. (Also among the documents provided by Somers is a letter to then-chair of the Planning Commission David Konick from Alex Sharp, chair of the RCWSA, reporting that the Authority “has capacity for 13 more dwelling units” — the maximum number that studies indicate the Taylor property could accommodate.)
Woodward Road residents and property owners, such as Chip and Susan Johnson, Lisa Jones, Jeb and Kate Wofford, Bethany Bostic, Bob and Kathy Trafton, Michael Phillips and Julia Bucknall, and Keith Hansen, have also written to the county in opposition to the rezoning.
They cite concerns about pedestrian and vehicular safety caused by increased traffic on the narrow gravel roads that access the property, as well as the effects on Rappahannock’s rural viewshed and water resources.
“This is one of the most iconic views in our county,” the Woffords wrote. “The view across the rolling farmland to the Blue Ridge of the Shenandoah National Park is nothing less than extraordinary.”
They and others also cite the increasing number of people who use narrow Woodward Road for “walking and bicycling this beautiful stretch of road … so they can enjoy the views and the limited traffic it affords.”
Bostic brings up the question of precedent: “If this is approved, why wouldn’t others’ rezoning applications be approved as well? Wouldn’t that be fair?”
Although some would like to subdivide to provide family homes, she says, others might have the opportunity to subdivide “to ultimately make a bigger profit.”
Other Sperryville residents also oppose the rezoning, including Sperryville businessman Kerry Sutten of the Sperryville Community Alliance.
“I would request you deny this application at this time,” he wrote, “to allow time for a community planning process to help define what we, the residents of Sperryville, want to be our future. This approach is commonsense and particularly appropriate given a vast majority of the residents of Sperryville oppose this zoning change.”
Editor’s note: Written comments are no longer posted on the county’s meeting website BoardDocs. Letters and emails for this application are kept in Zoning Administrator Michelle Somers’ office at 311-H Gay Street, Washington, and are available to the public. Somers has announced that those attending Wednesday night’s meeting remotely and wish to make comments may use a Zoom connection. See the meeting details on BoardDocs for connection information.