No recommendation to approve or deny, just consider

The Planning Commission voted four-to-three to move the Mt. Airy Field LLC rezoning application to the Board of Supervisors for their consideration. An earlier vote to send the application forward with a recommendation to deny resulted in a four-to-three vote against that action. Discussion before the votes was robust, with Piedmont planner Mary Katherine Ishee stating reasons to deny and Hampton planner Al Henry arguing not to recommend a specific action. No commission member suggested recommending approval.

Tom and Cheryl Taylor, owners of Mt. Airy Field LLC, applied to rezone 35 acres of land in Sperryville along Woodward Rd. from five-acre minimum lots to two-acre lot sizes. Tom Taylor first presented his rezoning idea to the Planning Commission in 2020 when the body was revising the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

Since then Taylor has applied for the rezoning and made known his desire to build up to 13 homes on the property. Wednesday night’s meeting marked the fourth time the Planning Commission has taken up the application at their regular meetings: November 18, 2020, the planners conducted a preliminary review of the application; and December 29, 2020, they held a public hearing after which the planners voted five-to-two in favor of tabling the application. At their January 20, 2021 meeting, the planners heard from the Taylors’ attorney Mike Brown, who presented a draft site sketch showing a possible layout of 13 residential lots.

At every meeting, many Sperryville residents spoke in opposition to the application, citing concerns about pedestrian and vehicular safety on narrow Woodward Road, as well effects on the view of Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park and the character of the village of Sperryville.

Ever since the application was filed, county officials have received dozens of calls, letters, and emails about the proposed rezoning, most in opposition.

Acknowledging the public’s and planners’ frustration over a lack of detail in the application, Whitson explained, “Under state code and the county ordinance, we are under a time constraint.” Once the Planning Commission has accepted an application, he said, it must be moved to the BOS within 90 days. To delay any further, despite a number of unknowns about the specifics of the plans, would run into March and violate the ordinance.

Whitson, knowing the planners were split on how to handle the application, tried to placate both sides by suggesting the proposal be sent to the BOS for its “further consideration” without a recommendation. Whitson noted that he is new to the commission: “The Planning Commission has wrestled with this for a period of time,” he said. “A recommendation of denial doesn’t reflect the way you’ve worked. It would more accurately reflect [the commission’s work] to send the application without a recommendation.”

Whitson, from Hampton district, is the Board of Supervisors’ representative on the Planning Commission. He was appointed to the commission in January and elected as chair at the planners’ meeting that same month.

“It’s tempting to put [the application] in the Board’s hands [without a recommendation], but it’s more appropriate to send to the BOS with a recommendation to deny,” argued Ishee. “[The Taylors] have not provided additional plans.”

“It’s inappropriate for us to vote for either approval or denial,” countered Henry. “There are too many issues that need to be fleshed out.”

After the planners’ first vote — to recommend denial — Ishee said she was “disappointed that we would not take a stand. It’s our responsibility to recommend an action.”

“You’ve done your job as you should,” Whitson said.”