By Sarah Vogelsong
At its June 10 meeting, the Board of Supervisors voted to expand the list of permissible uses of and events that can take place at Meadow Event Park.
In two votes that split 5-1, with Reedy Church Supervisor Reggie Underwood dissenting on both, the board approved amendments to the zoning proffers—the conditions that an applicant agrees to put in place regarding issues such as permitted uses and site development and design—and the special exception permits regulating Meadow Event Park in Doswell.
The most significant changes to the proffers and special exception permit concern the removal of a number of items from the list of prohibited uses of the property. For example, Commonwealth Fairs and Events, the owner of Meadow Event Park, was previously barred from constructing or operating full-service restaurants, an outdoor stadium or amphitheater, or a convention or conference center on the 331-acre property. Under the new proffers, depending on the particular use, Commonwealth may build or operate these premises either by right or by applying to the Planning Commission and then seeking approval from the Board of Supervisors for a special use permit
“We … hope that these changes will allow us to produce more family-friendly events as we go forward in the future,” Meadow Event Park executive director Jeff Dillon told the board.
County director of planning Mike Finchum also noted that the amended proffers allow the relocation of certain uses to different areas of the property. The most obvious outcome of this amendment will permit Meadow Event to set up stages for concerts at up to three locations on the property. Under the prior conditions, all outdoor concerts were required to be located at the north end of the parking lot.
Speaking to the board, Dillon portrayed the request to modify the stage location conditions as a matter of public safety.
“Imagine trying to have an event in the month of June and having thousands of people out on the hot asphalt,” he said. “It’s not a situation that lends itself to a lot of safety.”
In a phone conversation, Finchum noted that events such as music concerts will still require a festival permit from the Board of Supervisors.
“So there’s still an opportunity for board review … to make sure (they’ve) done everything they can to address noise concerns and things like that,” Finchum said.
Other amendments to the proffers and special exception permit include what Finchum at the June 10 meeting described as “procedural changes”—cleaning up terminology and eliminating improvements that have already been completed—as well as alterations to requirements regarding public safety and security.
Several of the public safety amendments allow local officials to be involved in emergency planning and response procedures. These modifications were put to the test during the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival, which ended in tragedy on May 9 when a hot-air balloon collided with an active power line and crashed, killing three.
The revised proffers allow local fire and rescue to collaborate with Meadow Event and the Virginia State Police in handling security issues.
“With that partnership, there’s no event we can’t handle together,” Caroline Major Scott Moser told the Board of Supervisors. During the public hearing portion of the May 10 meeting, he further stated that “it has been a good move to change that proffer for public safety, and it certainly has made us more efficient in what we do.”
Two of the original changes requested by Commonwealth Fairs & Events concerning fireworks and full-service camping were not recommended by the Planning Commission and were therefore not forwarded on to the Board of Supervisors for their approval.
Regarding the fireworks request, Finchum stated, “There were still concerns at the Planning Commission related to the magnitude of those changes and how that might impact the surrounding area.”
Camping is still prohibited at Meadow Event Park, although the terms of the original special use permit outline limited situations, such as the Virginia State Fair, in which people associated with the event are permitted to stay on the Meadow Event property at designated locations. These terms have not been changed. With the exception of the period during which the Virginia State Fair is held on the grounds, fireworks are also still prohibited.
During the public hearings held on the proposed amendments to the proffers and the special exception permit, Karen Lambert, a Doswell resident whose property lies close to Meadow Event Park, spoke out against the changes.
“When those (original) proffers were made, they were made so that we could enjoy the rural preservation and our way of life, and we have watched one by one these proffers removed or changed,” Lambert said. “And it not only affects our way of life, it also affects the value of our homes.”
Lambert told the board that a nearby home had sold for $70,000 less than its assessed value after being listed since 2009 and that the refinancing of her own home has been put on hold.
During board discussion, Madison Supervisor Wayne Acors pointed out that all home values in the county have gone down in the past few years.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with Meadow Event Park and what has gone on at Meadow Event Park,” Acors said.
Several other county residents spoke out in favor of the amendments.
“Caroline County is a very business-friendly county,” Lynwood Broaddus, a Bowling Green district representative and president of the Caroline County Farm Bureau, told the board. “The fair is a business. It’s in the entertainment business, and it brings a lot of revenue to the county, as well as a lot of enjoyment to the community.”
The Caroline County Farm Bureau is part of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, which in 2012 partnered with Tennessee-based Universal Fairs to create Commonwealth Fairs and Events, the owner of Meadow Event Park.
Underwood, in whose district Meadow Event Park is located, ultimately proved the lone holdout against approving the amendments to the proffers and the special exception permit.
“(We’re) caught in the middle of what’s good for the residents (and) what’s good for the county overall,” Underwood said. “I’m not against all of the changes, but some of the changes, I do have a concern.”
Underwood voted against the amendments. All other members of the board voted in favor.
Later in the meeting, the Board of Supervisors approved the festival permit for the upcoming K95 Countryfest event to be held at Meadow Event Park on June 28. In light of the amended proffers and permit approved earlier in the evening by the board, the festival requested that it be allowed to place two stages next to the Farm Bureau Center, closer to the front of the property.
Underwood again expressed concern, saying, “Now we are going to encroach even more upon those residents who disagree with the change (in the proffers and permit). These are good events. It’s not a question about the activities that they want to put on. … It’s a question of the location again.”
The supervisors briefly discussed the issue of the noise impact that the concerts would have on the residents. The amended proffers specify that all speakers must be turned toward the center of the Meadow Event property.
All of the supervisors voted to approve the Countryfest permit.