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Planners defer action on rural resort

Posted on Friday, April 19, 2013 at 5:13 pm

MILFORD – The Caroline County Planning Commission deferred action until May on proposed zoning ordinance amendments that would pave the way for the development of rural resorts.

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 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 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.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously on Wednesday to defer action on the proposed amendments until its regular May 15 session. The panel has a work session scheduled for May 1 and likely will discuss the measures further.

“All this does is allow someone to apply,” Jervis Hairston, project manager for the Silver Cos., told the Planning Commission during a pubic hearing on the measures. “You can make decisions” on a case-by-case basis.

However, Port Royal resident Alex Long, a member of the Caroline Count Countryside Alliance, called the measures “dead on arrival.”

“The language is so wide open that it gives a developer a blank check to write our ordinance,” Long told the panel. “It’s a good concept, but it needs work.”

Long, a real estate agent and land planning consultant, gave the Planning Commission a 22-page document suggesting changes to the proposed amendments. The amendments should reflect the Bible’s ‘Golden Rule,’ he suggested, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Long suggested modifying the proposed definition of rural resorts and adding language requiring the Board of Supervisors to approve activities. Under his suggestions, the Board of Supervisors would have to consider “impacts to neighboring properties and their owners and impacts to the overall rural character of the area,” among other things. He also urged language that would prohibit lodging facilities from being visible from adjacent properties or a state highway.
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.

Long’s wife, Nancy, president of the alliance, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to conserve the county’s rural character, also spoke against the proposed amendments and questioned them. “This amendment needs to go back,” she said. “Right now it’s a big balloon that can explode.”

She questioned how big the rooms would be in a lodging facility. “One person per room or 10 people? No limitations?” She also suggested stricter definitions of open space and passive recreational activities.

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.

Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s army camped in the vicinity of Moss Neck Manor, a restored antebellum home that is a National Historic Landmark, during the winter of 1862-63.