The Warren County Planning Commission held a regular 3.5-hour meeting on July 13, short of two members, after commission member Joe Longo’s sudden resignation last month and Kaylee Richardson’s absence from the district of South River. This proved a problem early on when the commission considered the former case of an amendment to Warren County Code Chapter 180 relating to data centers. The amendment provides a right of use for data centers in industrial (I) and light industrial (LI) zones. Chairman Richard Myers reminded members that he had recused himself from consideration of the change of ordinance due to his previous jobs, so the 2 remaining members, Vice-Chairman Hugh Henry and Commissioner Scott Kersjes , could no longer form a quorum.

A much-abbreviated county planning commission with the absence of Kaylee Richardson and the resignation of Joe Longo meant a single recusal by the president and a delay in approving a data center ordinance.

Chairman Myers’ recusal applied only to the data center and not to the committee’s other business on the agenda. After consulting with Assistant County Attorney Caitlin Jordan, the Commission voted to defer action on amending the ordinance until next month’s meeting. Hopefully by then there will be enough members present to form a quorum.

Fortunately for the commission’s workload, the chairman did not withdraw from the rest of the agenda, and the eleven, yes, eleven public hearings were able to take place. As has become standard fare for the commission, the first seven hearings were conditional use permit (CUP) applications for short-term tourist rentals:

  • Joseph Muniz for accommodation at 499 Rome Beauty Drive in Linden, a residential property in the Happy Creek neighborhood.
  • Yulia Svetlichnaya for residential accommodation at 610 Jones Quadrangle Drive in the Shenandoah District.
  • Thomas Cho for an agricultural property at 4359 Remount Road in the South River District.
  • Andrew Sickle for a residential zoned dwelling at 298 Worlds End Lane in the Happy Creek district.
  • Jennifer Harp for housing at 608 Venus Branch Rd in the Shenandoah District. The property is zoned Residential.
  • Lyndsey DePalma and Amanda Shipe for their farmland property at 1945 Panhandle Rd in the South River District.
  • John Clarke for farmland property at 938 Fetchett Rd, also in the South River District.

Muniz’s application was the first to be opposed by neighboring owners during the public hearing. Wayne Baxter told the commission that his primary concern was fire safety. This led the commissioners to suggest that a ban on open fires could be added to the conditions of approval. In each case thereafter, the open fire ban was included in the motion to recommend approval.

Apple Mountain resident Wayne Baxter explains his concerns about open fires being allowed in short-term tourist rentals by guests who are unaware of the dangers of wildfires.

More opposition emerged during the public hearing for Svetlichnaya’s application for 610 Jones Quadrangle Road. Five nearby property owners approached the commission with concerns about increased traffic, added strain on already inadequate roads, open fires, endangerment of neighborhood children, the introduction of commercial activities in a residential area and the use of community-owned common area facilities by Bed and Breakfast Guests.

President Myers reminded speakers that the Virginia General Assembly has determined that short-term rentals are a residential, not a commercial activity. Vice President Henry added that short-term tourist rentals are by definition short-term, and in the absence of a conditional use permit, an owner can rent a property long-term as of right, and the neighboring owners have no say in the matter. He then asked planning director Matt Wendling how many complaints had been made against short-term tourist rentals since the practice began. Answer: A case of guest parking on the street in violation of the owner’s rules.

A recurring theme in the community’s response to short-term tourist rentals is concern over open burning, given that many properties are in forested mountainous areas. Customers may not realize how dangerous an open fire can be with so much wood nearby. Vice President Henry suggested that a general ban on open fires along with fireworks and ATVs as part of the list of permit approval conditions could be at least a partial solution.

Ultimately, the seven CUPs for short-term tourist rentals were recommended for approval with the additional condition of an open fire ban, and will be forwarded to the County Board of Supervisors.

Larry Himelright, owner of Royal Oak Estates, LLC, addresses the planning commission and outlines his plan for a cluster housing development on a 180-acre parcel on Reliance Road.

The Board also considered a CUP application by Royal Oak Estates, LLC, for a cluster housing development on Reliance Road in the North River District. The property is currently zoned agricultural and should be rezoned for development. The development plan would contain 40 lots of less than 10 acres (averaging one acre each), seven lots of 10 acres or more, and 64 acres of preserved open space. The applicant indicates that the reserved open space may be placed in a perpetual easement for agricultural or forestry purposes, deeded to the county to prevent future development.

The conditional use license is only the first step in the approval process. Larry Himmelright gave the commission a detailed explanation of the plan before the public hearing. The property is located between Reliance Road and Interstate 66. Two residential housing areas are nearby. Two speakers addressed the Commission to voice their opposition to development. The two speakers, Bonnie Snyder and Joyce Dunlap, expressed their concerns about the impact on wildlife which is abundant in the area. According to speakers, Reliance Road is a busy rural highway between Route 11 in Middletown and Routes 340 and 522, and the addition of traffic from a new subdivision could adversely affect the neighborhood. After some discussion among the commissioners and a review of the subdivision design, the commissioners voted unanimously to recommend approval of the application.

The Planning Department has proposed an amendment to the zoning ordinance to add additional definition and regulations for outdoor recreational activities as a right authorized by a Special Use Permit (SUP). After a brief discussion, commissioners voted unanimously to recommend approval.

Cole and Danielle Haase applied for a CUP for an outdoor recreational operation for their property at 19959 Fort Valley Road in the North River District. The Haases purchased the 10-acre former church property in April 2022 to turn it into a sports and events center, primarily to support local and traveling softball/baseball leagues, Little League softball and baseball , and personalized teaching opportunities for young people. Their plan includes a phased plan to provide indoor and outdoor batting cages, practice areas that can be used in inclement weather, and possibly regulation-sized Little League fields as part of a future conditional use license.

The Haases described their years of involvement in local youth sports and their hopes for the facility as a service to local communities.

The public hearing yielded four intervenors, all opposed to the permit. The complaints followed a familiar pattern – increased traffic on a rural highway, noise, safety and negative impact in a quiet rural neighborhood. Susie Poe, whose beautifully manicured farmhouse is across from the Haase property, supported the mission the candidates are trying to accomplish, but not there. After all speakers were heard, the Commission voted in a 2-1 split decision to recommend denial of the permit. Vice-President Henry and President Myers voted to refuse, and Commissioner Kersjes voted against the motion to refuse. The request will go to the Supervisory Board on July 26 for a final decision.

Cole Haase is defending his plan to develop an outdoor recreation operation in the former Waterlick Church on Fort Valley Road. The Planning Commission, on a 2 to 1 decision, voted to recommend denial of the permit.

The Shahi Food Group is applying for a CUP for a food processing facility at 426 Baugh Drive in Stephens Industrial Park. The property is in the North River District and is zoned industrial. The applicant applied for the permit for a 60-day study period, so the permit could be approved upon closure of the facility. They hope to begin manufacturing there in late fall.

In its consent program, the commission approved authorizations to announce public hearings for conditional use permits for seven short-term tourist rentals:

  • Michelle Moriarty for 96 Cappy Rd. in the Happy Creek neighborhood
  • Michael Merrill for 319 Rocky Mount Road. in the Shenandoah District
  • Kendra Hanson, Kathryn Stuart, Simon Sarver and Michael Cherubin for 97 Overlook Rd. in the Shenandoah District
  • CAZA Legacy, LLC, for 241 Wildcat Dr. in the District of Shenandoah
  • Matthew Williams and Jay Gilbert for 244 Delicious Rd. in the Happy Creek neighborhood
  • Matthew Williams and Jay Gilbert for 115 Lonesome Flats Rd. in the Forks neighborhood
  • Thomas L. Pigeon for 540 Lakeside Dr. in the Fork District.

These requests will be announced for a public hearing at the next regular meeting of the Planning Commission on August 10.

Finally, Terra Site Constructors requested a building and parking lot setback waiver for their warehouse project at 6986 Winchester Road. The variance is necessary due to the planned widening of Routes 340 and 522, which impacts the design of the front parking area. The variance means the structure will be 89 feet from the freeway right-of-way, rather than the required 100 feet. With no objection, the Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the waiver.

The meeting adjourned at 10:30 p.m.