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Planners set hearing on rural resort proposal

Posted on Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 11:46 am

MILFORD – The Caroline County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing next week on proposed zoning ordinance amendments that would allow Silver Cos. to develop a rural resort on property it owns near historic Moss Neck Manor.

The panel has been working on the proposed amendments since last fall and took them up again during a regular work session April 3. The public hearing will be held at its regular meeting 7 p.m. April 17 at the Community Services Center.

Silver Cos., a commercial real estate development firm that has done major office and retail projects in Spotsylvania and Stafford, owns 1,209 acres fronting U.S. 17 near Burma Road. The land is adjacent or near Moss Neck, the area where Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s Army camped during the winter of 1862-63. The restored antebellum home is owned and occupied by Gil Shelton and his wife, Judy, who oppose the company’s plans.

Silver Cos. also has said it will seek permission from the county to allow sand and gravel mining on its property – which Shelton also opposes.

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 proposed amendments would allow rural resorts, general stores, and museums by special exception permit. A rural resort would provide temporary lodging and onsite recreational activities, such as swimming pools, non-motorized boating, fishing, tennis, and more. Conferences, meetings, weddings, and other special events also would be allowed. The draft amendments prohibit campgrounds, primitive camping, tent camping, and recreational vehicles

A rural resort would require a minimum parcel of 175 acres and a 200-foot vegetative buffer along adjoining property lines. At least 75 percent of the parcel would have to remain in open space, although open space could be used for recreation. The number of guest rooms would be tied to the acreage; a resort with a minimum of 175 acres would be allowed 25 rooms, 250 acres would be allowed 50 rooms, and so on. Lighting would have to conform to the rural character of the property and be no more than 0.5 foot candles at property lines and rights-of-way.

The standards for the general store specify that retail space will not exceed 4,000 square feet, and building materials will be in keeping with the area’s rural character.

The planning staff distributed a letter to the panel from Shelton, who raised several objections to the proposed amendments. Revisions made to the proposed amendments have made them more “confusing ambiguous, and vague,” wrote Shelton, who also wrote a letter  to the panel in March with objections.

However, the planning staff dismissed two objections he raised. The draft proposals would let someone build a stick or modular room on a flat trailer and park it at the rural resort on a monthly or year basis, argued Shelton. Also, Silver Cos. would be able to excavate sand and gravel without obtaining a special exception permit in order to provide ponds for swimming, boating and fishing, he wrote. When asked about those objections by a member of the commission, planning technician Angeline Pitts said neither would be allowed.

Shelton urged the commission in his letter to clearly define and list allowed recreational activities. “I see the current definitions of allowed and prohibited activities as ambiguous, vague, and open-ended, which could result in a most undesirable situation for neighbors and the county at large,” he wrote in his April 2 letter.

He also questioned the addition of new language allowing a museum to be developed in a rural preservation zoning district.

Shelton additionally criticized the proposed standards for rural resorts and the standards for the general store. Under the proposal as drafted, Silver Cos. could have 158 rooms, but about 40 percent of the property is unbuildable, estimated Shelton, so the rooms would have to be sited on about 720 acres. If each room was a separate cabin with one bedroom, that would create a density of less than 5 acres per room, but the zoning ordinance requires 25 acres per dwelling on the site. Shelton also noted that there are no specific standards related to the size of the rooms or number of occupants. Under the proposed amendments as drafted, over 600 people could stay at a conference center, according to Shelton.

“The reasons to simply abandon the texting of rural resorts are numerous and persuasive,” argued Shelton. “It is a bad idea for Silver’s parcel and the entire county as well. Neither is there any indication of a need for such an entity, especially  in this economic recession that shows no sign of relenting.”

Shelton also cited a risk of terrorism. Allowing a rural resort to be developed on the Silver Cos. property would put people within 30 feet of Fort A.P. Hill, he noted.

In a statement provided to The Caroline Progress, Fort A.P. Hill commander Lt. Col. Peter Dargle said that changes to the proposed amendments considered by the Planning Commission appear “positive.”

“We believe increased specificity in the language better defines the range of possibilities of what can be conducted,” he added.

Dargle, who did not attend last week’s session but was represented by Terry Banks, chief of the installation’s environmental and natural resources division, also referred to his January letter to the panel and noted the Army prefers “precise parameters and language.”

“The proposed amendment would make many properties near the installation eligible

to consider similar endeavors,” said Dargle. “Protecting Fort A.P. Hill’s mission of providing

challenging and realistic training for America’s Warriors and ensuring the safety

and security of those living, working or training here is our foremost concern.”