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MILFORD – Concerns about future weddings at proposed rural resorts surfaced last week during a work session of the Caroline County Planning Commission.
Commissioners also indicated that they feel pushed to hurry and put together proposed zoning ordinance amendments that would pave the way for the development of rural resorts. So they agreed to take the matter up again at their June 5 work session.
Commissioners told county planner Angeline Pitts and zoning technician Lisa Zech that they would take the proposals home and tweak them and send their recommendations to the planning staff.
“I felt like this was pushed on us quickly,” Pete Davis, chairman of the commission, said at the panel’s May 1 work session. “I’m concerned about how it affects adjacent property and environmental issues. Things need to be tweaked.”
It is up to the commission to make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors on whether the supervisors should adopt amendments that would allow companies like Silver Cos. to develop rural resorts – by special exception permit in the rural preservation zoning district – on property that is at least 175 acres.
Silver Cos. owns 1,209 acres off U.S. 17 north of Rappahannock Academy, near historic Moss Neck Manor. It wants to build a corporate retreat center on the property and also has said it will seek permission from the county to allow sand and gravel mining.
The Silver Cos. envisions a 12-room lodge being built on the property, according to B. Judson Honaker, president of the company’s commercial development division. It would serve about 30-40 guests at a time and it may host other special events, such as weddings. The retreat center would represent an investment of about $6 million, according to initial estimates.
The commercial real estate development firm is involved in a brewing dispute with Gilbert Shelton and his wife, Judy, whose home is Moss Neck Manor and who oppose the company’s plans.
Silver Cos. recently rented a portion of the property to a farmer, and swine farming operations have been established on the property along Burma Road, which the Sheltons must use to access their home. Shelton informed the Planning Commission of the swine farming operations in a letter opposing the proposed amendments.
During the panel’s May 1 work session, commissioner Milton Bush expressed concern about a rural resort that might have swine farming nearby. He didn’t name any specific project proposal.
Pitts reminded commissioners that the ordinance is not site specific. There are 288 parcels in Caroline that would be affected by this ordinance, she noted.
“Our task is to look at how the ordinance affects the whole county,” Davis said.
“What if there is a pig farm next to it (a rural resort) or mining next to it?” asked commissioner Bob Fiumara. “What if a bride has a wedding at a rural resort and she goes outside to get photos and pigs are in the background?”
Commissioner Les Stanley asked if the county could require developers to guarantee a project with a performance bond.
“Legally, I don’t think we could do that,” Pitts said, adding that the county could review projects through special exception requirements.
“I just don’t want us to have to clean up a mess,” Stanley said.
“You’ve got to have good surroundings” at a rural resort, suggested Bush.
Davis suggested the county use the services of a consultant in drafting a recommendation for the Board of Supervisors. He mentioned that it would be an issue if a rural resort was built near Fort A.P. Hill and soldiers did maneuvers that disturbed guests at a rural resort.
Special exceptions would cover standards, such as noise, dust, glare, noxious odors and traffic, Zeck said. “We can’t cover those in a text amendment” to the ordinance.
When scouting for a wedding reception site, “you look for a nice place without noise and smells,” Fiumara said. “Some way, we have to look at this closer.”
The proposed definition of a rural resort is a detached structure(s) that provides temporary lodging and provides on-site recreational activities, such as non-motorized boating, tennis, and equestrian facilities. Allowed uses would include banquets, conferences, meetings, weddings, and other special events. Primitive camping and recreational vehicles would be prohibited.
Pitts pointed to Marriott Ranch as an example of a Virginia rural resort. It’s actually four separate and distinctive event venues on a 4,200 acre working cattle ranch. Located in Fauquier County, it is part of the Marriott International portfolio. The pavilion area of the ranch will accommodate large corporate picnics for over 1,000 guests or a small department outing for just a few.
Pitts told commissioners that the planning staff “took a lot of basics” from the Loudoun County ordinance on rural resorts. “We looked at several counties, but Loudoun was one of the main ones,” she said.
After the meeting, Davis said the rural resorts issue will come up at the May 15 planning commission meeting “and we will defer it until June 5.”
The Planning Commission has been working on the proposed amendments since last fall. In addition to paving the way for rural resorts the proposed amendments also would allow general stores and museums on the property by special exception permit.
In a memorandum dated April 29, Port Royal District residents Champe and Mary Corbin asked the commission to reject the proposed amendments. The Corbins say the concept is “detrimental” to the county’s rural preservation district and the resource sensitive overlay district, which “seeks to protect and promote public health, safety and general welfare and to conserve natural resources along the Route 17/Rappahannock River Valley corridor.”
The Corbins also said in the memorandum that a special exception permit for a rural resort “will simply open the door for an application to mine the property in order to create ponds and open land for recreational use, with no guarantee that the facility ever will be constructed or operated.”
In a letter dated April 30, the Caroline County Countryside Alliance (CCCA) said, “The requested amendment as written has no controls, structure, protections, or promise. The Planning Department will say that structure is added upon request for a SPEX (special exception).” The CCCA “feels that’s too late. As it currently stands, the amendment is totally open to interpretation.” The mission of the nonprofit organization is to conserve the county’s rural character
A few months ago, “members of the CCCA were asked to meet with Silver Company representatives along with our Board of Supervisors representative, (Supervisor Calvin Taylor),” the CCCA said in its letter. “During the meeting we looked at pretty lodge drawings and heard about Larry Silver’s lifelong ‘dream.’ ”
Alliance members asked about plans for sand and gravel mining on the property. “When faced with that question, they admitted that they had met with a mining company. A short time later, the Silver Company was caught illegally mining the property without a SPEX.”
The CCCA, whose directors include Shelton, Port Royal Mayor Nancy and fellow councilors Bill Wick and Jim Heimbach, says the commission should “define the term ‘open space’ as land to be placed under an open space easement in perpetuity or land required to be kept or placed in agricultural production.”
The CCCA also asked, “Where is the language defining the types of events that can be held or prohibited at these resorts? How are the number of people calculated or controlled for a rural resort and special events? How do we keep someone’s ‘dream’ from becoming our nightmare?’ ”