By Sarah Vogelsong
Rural resorts are back on the agenda in Caroline County.
At the July 22 Board of Supervisors meeting, the supervisors voted 4–2 to put to public hearing text amendments to the county zoning ordinance that would allow rural resorts, general stores, and museums to be built in rural preservation districts with a special exception permit.
The amendments define a rural resort as “an establishment consisting of a detached structure or structures in which lodging units are offered to transients for compensation as the principal use, along with onsite recreational activities.” A resort could also be rented out for use as conference, meeting, restaurant, and banquet facilities or for private parties, including weddings. Camping would be prohibited.
Properties applying for a rural resort special exception would be required to be a minimum of 200 acres, with at least 75 percent of the parcel remaining open space. The number of rooms permitted in the resort would be tied to the size of the property, with properties ranging from 200 to 249 acres being allowed a maximum of 25 rooms, and properties of 1,000 acres or more being allowed 150 rooms plus an additional room for every 25 acres above the 1,000.
Rural resorts have been a contentious issue since 2012, when the county first began to develop the amendments in response to an application from Silver Companies to build a rural resort on its 1,209-acre property adjoining Fort A. P. Hill and Route 17. This is the same property that is currently under discussion as a possible site for a sand and gravel mining operation.
The text amendments presented July 22 are the second set of amendments forwarded from the Planning Commission that the Board of Supervisors has considered. The issue was previously deferred from the May 13 board meeting for further discussion.
Supervisors focused on two main issues: a provision in the amendments that would prevent the construction of a rural resort within one mile of Fort A.P. Hill’s boundary, and the question of what consequences the county would face in the event that a rural resort failed.
Port Royal supervisor Calvin Taylor identified the one-mile buffer zone as his primary concern, pointing out that this provision was not included in the original version of the amendments. He also stated that there are towns and subdivisions located within a mile of A.P. Hill already.
“Are we saying that a rural resort is going to bring about more traffic than a town, or it’s going to bring about more issues than a 45-, 50-house subdivision?” he asked. “It makes no sense.”
Reedy Church representative Reggie Underwood said that he thought that the provision didn’t fit with the amendment.
“I’m just kind of concerned that it wasn’t in the original discussion, and…if it just somehow, by happenstance, only affected that person (who came forward with the amendments), then it kind of looks ugly to me,” he said.
“I think the recommendation was made to impact one,” Madison representative Wayne Acors agreed, pointing out that the buffer could prevent the development of rural resorts in areas along the Rappahannock River that would support recreational activities.
Western Caroline representative Jeff Black and Bowling Green representative Jeff Sili disagreed, expressing their support for the one-mile buffer. Sili particularly emphasized the security concerns that could arise from the establishment of such a venture so close to the boundary of Fort A.P. Hill.
“I think we need to in this day and time look forward into what the potential for those facilities are in the future when you approve a special exception, because once it’s built, there are any number of things that can go there,” Sili said. “And I think we need to be mindful of Fort A.P. Hill.”
The supervisors also discussed the question of would happen to a rural resort with multiple structures if the business were to fail. County director of planning Mike Finchum stated that if the resort didn’t operate for a 12-month period of time, the special exception would become null and void, and any attempts to re-establish such a use, or a similar use, would have to come back to the board for its approval.
“You have a situation where you could…have structures out there that are unusable,” Finchum said. “And the board would be faced with the issue of what to do with that property.”
Chairman Floyd Thomas argued that this situation didn’t differ from that of any other applicant.
“We can’t guarantee anything will be successful,” he said. “Am I to require a bond from every business or every venture that comes into the county and say, If you fail, I need to have $1 million so I can tear down your building? We just don’t do that.”
The supervisors voted 4–2, with Black and Sili dissenting, to remove the one-mile buffer provision from the text amendment. A proposal to return the new version to the board for a second reading failed. In a third vote, also 4–2, with Black and Sili opposing, the supervisors then moved the amendments to a public hearing, which will be held Sept. 23.