Supervisors Approve Rushmark-Rockland Industrial/Commercial Rezonings and OK Move to 2-Year Real Estate Reassessments
The Warren County Planning Commission was back up to full strength on Wednesday, August 9, with the addition of Commissioner William Gordon, who previously served on the Town’s Planning Commission. Commission Chairman Robert Myers welcomed Commissioner Gordon aboard. Following some more routine business to be covered in a separate story, Gordon got his tenure on the County Planning Commission off to what may be a brewing firestorm. That firestorm appears to revolve around the County avoiding adhering to its own zoning regulations, including what it would seem as they apply to Sanitary Districts.
The Commission turned its attention to five proposed text amendments to the County’s zoning ordinance. The first and potentially most controversial of these involves Section 180-6 (Application of Regulations) and adds an exemption for county-owned properties from the provisions of the Zoning Ordinance. The rationale given in the application cited a recent Conditional Use Permit application initiated by County planning staff for a public protection facility (fire station) on County-owned property. County Attorney Jason Ham had advised the Board of Supervisors to remove all Planning Commission-recommended conditions due to the potential conflict of the enforcement of those conditions by County staff on County-owned property. Following the approval of that Conditional Use Permit with no conditions by the Board of Supervisors, the county attorney advised planning staff to proceed with an ordinance amendment to avoid this issue in the future. The text as proposed reads:
“Properties owned by the County of Warren, Virginia, or the Board of Supervisors of the County of Warren, Virginia shall not be subject to the ordinances, regulations, and requirements set forth in this chapter.”
Predictably, there was some immediate resistance to that text amendment language. Even with explanations by Planning Director Matt Wendling and Senior Deputy County Attorney Caitlin Jordan that the language was an attempt to avoid a conflict inherent in the county enforcing provisions on itself, both Commissioner Hugh Henry and Commissioner Gordon questioned whether this language was unreasonably broad. The County is charged with enforcing the Zoning Ordinance for all property owners.
Some quick research could not find any other examples of this exemption in Virginia. At least one county, Loudoun, exempts only “those areas determined by law to be under the sovereign control of the United States of America or the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
After some lively discussion, Vice-Chairman Henry, Seconded by Commissioner Gordon, moved to send the proposed text amendment back to the planning department with the intent of refining the language prior to advertising for a public hearing. That motion passed unanimously.
Short-term Tourist Rental codes
The second Zoning Ordinance text amendment presented to the commission relates to the Short-term Tourist Rental provisions in the Ordinance. Zoning Administrator Chase Lenz explained the proposed text amendments. The short-term tourist rental use was originally added with supplementary regulations to the Warren County zoning ordinance on April 17, 2012, as a use permitted by right for properties over five acres in size in the Agricultural (A) Zoning District and as a use permitted by Conditional Use Permit in the R-1 Zoning District and for properties under five acres in size in the Agricultural Zoning District.
The zoning ordinance was amended on November 18, 2014, to amend and add to the supplementary regulations for short-term tourist rentals and to modify the listed uses in the A Zoning District to make all short-term tourist rentals permitted by Conditional Use Permit in the A district. On January 17, 2017, the Board approved an amendment to add short-term tourist rental as a use permitted by Conditional Use Permit in the Rural Residential (RR) Zoning District. In the years since these amendments, the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors have identified the need for additional supplementary regulations and for amendments to the existing supplementary regulations. The planning staff was tasked with preparing options for amending the supplementary regulations in response to uncertainty regarding certain requirements.
- Subsection A: amend the language to clarify conditional use permit and certificate of zoning procedures and remove confusing language.
- Subsection E: amend language for clarity and add a provision for a small identification sign.
- Subsection H: amend the language to require a property management plan to be submitted as part of the application for the conditional use permit, add language to require local points of contact primarily located within 30 miles of the property used for short-term rentals available to respond immediately to complaints, clean up garbage, manage unruly tenant and utility issues, etc., and to move separate existing supplemental regulations applicable to the property management plan to this subsection.
- Subsection I: amend language related to HOA/POA approval/disapproval to better reflect the Planning Department’s standard procedure of requesting comments from local agencies.
- Subsection J: add language to allow for other reliable means of telecommunication in lieu of a physical landline phone.
- Subsection K: move the existing requirement of an emergency evacuation plan to be supplied as a supplement to the property management plan to subsection H and replace it with a restriction for outdoor burning and use of fireworks by transient guests.
- Subsection L: move the existing requirement of the noise ordinance to be posted with the property management plan in the dwelling used as a short-term tourist rental to subsection H and replace it with a restriction for the discharge of firearms and hunting on the property by transient guests.
- Subsection M: move the regulation regarding revocation of the conditional use permit for failure to comply with approved conditions or supplementary regulations to subsection O and replace it with a restriction for the use of All-Terrain Vehicles on the property and on state, county, and subdivision roads by transient guests.
- Subsection N: remove the requirement for outdoor burning to be in compliance with Chapter 92 of the Warren County Code and replace it with a requirement to register for a business license and transient occupancy tax account with the Commissioner of Revenue prior to establishing the use.
- Subsection O: remove the requirement for 100 feet of separation between the short-term tourist rental dwelling and all neighboring dwellings and replace it with a regulation regarding revocation of the conditional use permit for failure to comply with approved conditions or supplementary regulations.
The proposed amendments to subsections A, E, I, J, and N are recommended by Planning staff for the purposes of clarification and organization in response to points of confusion in the supplementary regulations identified by Planning staff and brought to the attention of Planning staff by confused applicants.
The proposed amendment to subsection H is recommended by Planning staff in response to a request from the Board that the property management plan be submitted with the initial conditional use permit application and that the meaning of “local” in local points of contact be given clear and measurable context. The property management plan, emergency evacuation plan, and County noise ordinance are required to be posted in the dwelling used as a short-term tourist rental. The Planning staff believes these requirements should all be under a single subsection for the purpose of improving the organization.
The proposed amendments to subsections K, L, and M are recommended by Planning staff in response to a request from the Planning Commission that these specific activities be prohibited for transient guests. All conditional use permits for short-term tourist rentals since the beginning of 2022 have approved conditions prohibiting guests from these specific activities.
The proposed amendment to subsection O to remove the 100-foot setback requirement from neighboring dwellings is recommended by Planning staff in response to a request from the Board of Supervisors that this requirement be reviewed and options be presented to replace the existing requirement. The current placement of this 100-foot setback requirement in the supplementary regulations allows for the requirement to be waived by the Board of Supervisors, which has led to confusion and debate among Board members when deciding whether the setback requirement should be waived. Option A and Option B of the draft ordinance propose separate options for addressing this issue.
Option, A of the draft ordinance proposes moving the requirement of 100 feet of separation between the dwelling used as a short-term tourist rental and all neighboring dwellings from the supplementary regulations to the listed use in the R-1 zoning district regulations. If Option A is adopted, the setback requirement only applies in the R-1 district, it cannot be waived, and all dwellings on properties in the R-1 zoning district which do not have 100 feet of separation from neighboring dwellings are prohibited from being used as a short-term tourist rental. As of July 26, 2023, the Board has been presented with a request to waive the setback requirement for 15 separate conditional-use permit applications for short-term tourist rentals. The Board has only denied 3 of those 15 applications; 14 of the 15 applications with a setback waiver request were for properties in the R-1 zoning district, and the 1 application for a property in the A district was approved with a waiver to the setback requirement. Planning staff has observed that the setback requirement is largely only applicable in the R-1 zoning district. Planning staff recommends if the Board is to keep a 100-foot setback requirement from all neighboring dwellings that, the requirement only be applied to the R-1 district and that the requirement cannot be waived. This will help guide the short-term tourist rental use of properties away from the higher density R-1 subdivisions and to subdivisions where the impact of the proximity of the dwellings is less prevalent.
Option B of the draft ordinance proposes completely removing the requirement of 100 feet of separation between the dwelling used as a short-term tourist rental and neighboring dwellings. If Option B is adopted, there will be no minimum separation requirement from neighboring dwellings for short-term tourist rentals in any zoning district where short-term tourist rental is permitted use.
Commissioner Kersjes observed that the 100-ft setback requirement is somewhat arbitrary, but it does serve as a guide to cut down on conflict with neighboring properties. The two options would be presented to the Commission with the public hearing next month. On a motion by Vice Chairman Henry, seconded by Commissioner Kersjes, the commission voted unanimously to approve the authorization to advertise for public hearing.
Another proposed Chapter 180 text amendment concerns property lighting. The staff has received complaints about glare and exterior flood lights aimed toward neighboring homes causing a nuisance and also excessive lighting on roadways from commercial properties. The current code has no way to enforce and regulate these issues. The staff has written this new proposed code which would give staff the ability to help all residents that are having these concerns by sending a “Notice of Violations” citing the new section. This new code also puts lighting restrictions on property lines, roadways, parking lots, and other locations in the Residential, Commercial, and Industrial districts, which would be measured by footcandles and not by the wattage of the specific bulb. On a motion by Vice Chairman Henry, Seconded by Commissioner Gordon, the Commission voted unanimously to authorize the advertisement of a public hearing.
The Commission then considered two requests to amend Chapter 180 of the Warren County Code, in this case, §180-21, to add provisions for family subdivisions and combinations of subdivisions, cluster, and family subdivisions to the zoning ordinance in the Agricultural (A) zoning district.
This request is being requested by County staff to meet the need for additional options for housing for families who live and work in Warren County and is one of the goals of the Comprehensive Plan.
The Land Use and Development Chapter #4 of the Comp Plan section #3 on Housing and Community Development states as a goal, “To provide, throughout the County, residential areas that offer quality, residential development that does not deplete County resources and protects rural character.”
The Agricultural Zoning district, which includes nearly 60% percent of the land in the County, offers more flexible housing alternatives for single-family dwellings such as manufactured/modular, modular, and standard “stick” built homes as an alternative housing type in that zoning district. This lower-density use of the subdivision of land allows for a broader distribution of residential development in the Agricultural areas to allow families who want to continue to reside in the County near other family members, be they elderly or young families. Family subdivisions are not required to have an access road built to State standards as required for Cluster subdivisions or have direct access to a state road or with frontage along as State as required by a Class A subdivision. Family subdivisions can also be a minimum of 1.5 acres which allows for the 6 subdivisions of land in a lot of 10 acres. The minimum acreage for a non-family (Class A) lot in the Agricultural zoning district is 2 acres.
The request provides a solution to property owners of Warren County who have lived and owned their properties for more than 5 years to have an additional two lots for family members who plan to stay in the County for 5 or more years once the subdivision has been approved. It also allows for parents to remain in their homes or build smaller homes on the new lot and allow their immediate family members to purchase the home they may have grown up in, providing housing for both existing and future needs of families. This allows the County to meet the goals and objectives of the Comprehensive Plan in keeping the rural character of the community intact.
The amendments to the Code now require that all Family Subdivisions of land be required to meet the rules and regulations of the health department for the approval of the subdivision by the County Subdivision Administrator.
After a brief discussion on a motion by Vice Chairman Henry, Seconded by Commissioner Kersjes, the commission voted unanimously to approve the authorization for both changes to be advertised for a public hearing.
The Meeting Adjourned at 8:45 p.m.