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(updates – company to seek sand and gravel mining)
The Silver Companies, owners of 1,209 acres adjacent to the historic Moss Neck plantation and Fort A.P. Hill, is the business that is behind the decision by Caroline County officials to seek a zoning amendment that would allow the development of rural resorts.
If the county amends its zoning ordinance to allow rural resorts, Silver Cos. will seek approval to allow it to develop a corporate retreat center on its property, according to Jud Honaker, president of the company’s commercial development division.
In addition, the company plans to seek county approval to allow sand and gravel mining on the property.
The property, which Silver Companies also refers to Moss Neck, was the subject of a lawsuit that recently was dismissed.
It is bounded by Fort A.P. Hill and Burma Road and also is near the historic mansion, Moss Neck Manor. Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s army camped around the manor during the winter of 1862-1863, and Jackson was visited there at Christmastime by Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. The restored historic home is owned and occupied by Gilbert Shelton and his wife, Judy, who oppose both the concept of a retreat center for a neighbor and plans to mine the neighboring property.
The Silver Cos., which has offices in Fredericksburg and Boca Raton, Fla., is a real estate investment firm. It has acquired and developed more than $1.3 billion of real estate in the past 20 years, according to its website.
The Silver Cos. envisions a 12-room lodge being built on the property, Honaker said in a phone interview last week. The retreat center would represent an investment of about $6 million, according to initial estimates.
“We’re talking about a real high end, upscale facility,” said Honaker.
Silver Cos. hired Scott Little, former general manager of the Inn at Little Washington, to oversee the development of the retreat center, said Honaker. The Inn at Little Washington is a well-known luxury inn and restaurant in Rappahannock County.
The sand and gravel mining would be performed by Chaney Enterprises, which is based in Waldorf, Md. The company’s application may be ready within 30-60 days, indicated Honaker.
Chaney Enterprises has a good track record for its work to reclaim mined lands and has won national awards for environmental stewardship, said Honaker. Some companies will leave a mined area looking “like a nuclear bomb went off,” he said.
“We don’t want to deal with that kind,” added Honaker.
The plans for sand and gravel mining dovetail with plans for the retreat center, he explained. The ponds left after the mining process would be used for recreational activities in conjunction with the retreat center.
There are three sand and gravel mines located along the U.S. 17 corridor, including one that is only a few hundred feet from the Silver Cos. property. In addition, another sand and gravel mine has been approved nearby but has been stalled and tied up in a lawsuit.
Honaker acknowledged that the application to allow sand and gravel mining, which he estimated would be carried out for about seven years, is likely to generate resistance. “Obviously, there’s going to be opposition to that,” he said.
The proposed retreat center would be marketed to attract major corporations for retreats, meetings of boards of directors, and similar activities, said Honaker. The retreat center potentially would serve about 30-40 guests at a time. It may host other special events, such as weddings, he suggested.
“An ancillary benefit…It’s a good way to recruit business to locate here,” he added. “Maybe we could convince them to expand or relocate to Caroline County or surrounding areas.”
The company’s vision for the property includes a lodge and conference areas and larger lakes, he said. Recreational activities on the property may include guided fishing and hunting, he said.
There may be additional out buildings on the property, said Honaker. If the retreat center is successful, the company may seek to add cottages to the site.
Providing the county amends its zoning ordinance and grants approval for the project, Silver Cos. would like to move forward promptly, Honaker indicated.
“We’re anxious to hopefully get approval and get going. I think it would be a great asset for Caroline County.”
Members of the Board of Supervisors and county planning officials already been briefed privately on the company’s proposal, Honaker acknowledged.
The Sheltons, however, oppose the idea. The draft zoning amendment “violates the letter and spirit of a rural preservation district,” said Gil Shelton, who owns 100 acres around the historic antebellum home.
The property also is designated a resource sensitive overlay, Shelton noted in an e-mail to The Caroline Progress, which is another level of planning protection.
“It will result in more unsightly sprawl that is the antithesis of rural preservation and sensitive natural resources,” Shelton said of the proposed project.
A development of luxury homes would not require a special exception permit and would result in a much larger investment, suggested Shelton.
“The county has tried experiments before of such special exceptions and rezonings, only to be sadly disappointed with the…lack of control over them to perform as promised,” wrote Shelton. “They have simply become uncontrollable and (an) unsightly blight in a rural preservation setting.
“This is simply another attempt by developers to gain value at the expense of the neighbors and community, violating both the zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan,” he continued.
The county’s Planning Commission has been considering proposed zoning ordinance amendments in recent months to clear the way for the development of rural resorts, although officials had not publicly identified the business that prompted the move.
The commission voted at its regular November meeting to defer action on the proposed changes, but it is expected to take them up again at their work session Jan. 9.
The proposed changes would allow rural resorts to be developed by special exception permit in areas zoned rural preservation. The proposed definition would allow one or more structures, temporary overnight lodging, facilities for conferences and meetings, spas, restaurants, and banquet facilities, and various recreational activities, including swimming, nonmotorized boating, fishing, tennis, equestrian activities, and more.
The draft standards for rural resorts call for a minimum parcel size of 250 acres, a minimum of 75 percent of the parcel in open space, and lodging units equal to the number allowed according to the density of the parcel.
A portion of the Silver Companies property, 300 acres, was the subject of a lawsuit brought by a division of the company, Moss Neck Manor Plantations Inc., against the Virginia Outdoors Foundation and the Conservation Fund.
Moss Neck Manor Plantations brought the lawsuit in a dispute over a conservation easement that would have preserved 300 acres from development. The company dismissed the lawsuit in Caroline County Circuit Court on Nov. 29.