First it was not restrictive enough. Then it was too restrictive. Comments during the second public hearing on a zoning amendment ordinance allowing rural resorts in the county varied from those made at the first hearing.
The amendment, which was developed over several months and 12 meetings, would add “rural resort” to the list of special permitted uses in the A-1 Agricultural District. A “rural resort” is defined as “a destination designed to provide recreation, entertainment and accommodations to transient guests.” Permissible activities at a rural resort include conferences; weddings; retreat facilities; educational and entertainment facilities; dining and picnicking facilities; camping and glamping facilities; resort store; indoor and outdoor athletic and physical fitness facilities; hiking, cycling, fishing, canoeing, rafting, tubing, wildlife observation shelters; boat landing/docks; equestrian trails and facilities; administrative, utility service, laundry and construction facilities and staff living quarters.
Rural resorts must be situated on lots that are a minimum of 100 acres with at least 50 percent remaining open space. Buildings cannot exceed 48 feet, four stories.
In addition, the state’s definition of “agritourism” would also be added to the zoning ordinance, as well as “cabin,” “glamping,” “music or entertainment festival,” “resort store” and “transient guest.” A new article would be added to establish policy, procedures and requirements for rural resort special use permit applications.
The amendment was tabled after a public hearing held last month in which numerous citizens voiced concerns, not over the currently proposed project by Barbara Miller that would be allowed under the amendment, but over what else could be allowed in future years.
Miller’s project would create an event venue, or rural resort, on 762 acres off Rt. 231 previously known as Ken-Walt Farm. Her business would be a mix of glamping with a multipurpose venue space promoting the environment and a love of the land. It’s one of the two big pushes for amendment, along with a change in language limiting seasonal or brief uses from 17 days per month to only 15 days per year. Previously, event venues were able to operate under the old language, but with the new day restriction, that’s no longer feasible. Plus, they aren’t actually currently allowed in the county since there’s no specific language in the zoning ordinance related to them.
Those first comments focused on the open space requirement, noting it should be more than 50 percent. Commissioners disagreed, leaving the minimum in place. There were also comments about density of lodgings, gasoline sales, dust, abandoned structures, light and noise pollution, transient guests, event restrictions, transportation and more.
And while two speakers during last week’s public hearing again suggested a stricter open space requirement, the bulk of comments made suggested the amendment might be too strict.
Robert Malone said he worries about the impact the amendment could have on his facility. Malone and his wife operate a 27-acre equestrian facility on Hebron Road complete with two residences for those staying on the property while receiving specialized training.
“As we read your language, [it’s] real broad,” he said. “One could construe that we’re suddenly in trouble. The language when we read it, is extremely threatening.”
Malone said on the other hand, it could also be viewed as exclusionary since lots of things go on at small farms that are less than the 100-acre minimum required in the amendment.
“From time to time [you] have neighbors that can make trouble,” he said. “This language directly impacts my facility. You risk creating something that can be weaponized in an exclusionary manner.”
Wife, Jill Malone, also took issue with the language in the amendment.
“Five years from now, it could apply to someone with five acres and an Airbnb with fishing,” she said. “If the neighbor doesn’t like it, shut it down. Lots of people fall under this definition.”
Town resident Clarissa Berry, whose family owns a large piece of land, had a similar issue with the amendment as the concerns raised by the Malones.
“I understand what this is designed to do and in respect to that particular property it’s very good,” she said. “But I believe the fix is much narrower [and involves] adding a definition for an event venue. [The amendment] means [this type of project] can only be offered in A1 with 100-acres. If you want to do it in C1, you can’t.”
However, Berry said, by-right a person can have one dwelling per 10 acres in C1.
“You’re taking something I can do by-right and limiting it,” she said. “I’m not sure this is where we want to go.”
She noted that in C1, a property owner could put up yurts and have hunting and fishing, but when combined, it would fall under a rural resort which won’t be allowed in C1.
“You’re taking people’s rights away and that concerns me,” Berry said.
“As I read it, the clauses that describe my business meet the criteria [for a rural resort], so now I’m going to have to get an exemption,” Robert Malone said.
However, planning commissioners noted that the language doesn’t take away rights, but instead adds rights to encompass a commercial enterprise like Miller’s. Also, agricultural uses are heavily protected by the state.
“This is adding rights,” Justin Shimpp, who is involved with Miller’s project, said. “We could have done seven separate special use permit applications, but it’s better to have one package. Also, the county couldn’t take away agricultural rights if they tried.”
Planning commission chairman Carty Yowell said if something is already allowed by-right, that supersedes the need for a special use permit.
The planning commission unanimously recommended the amendment to the board of supervisors for approval.
Supervisors approved the amendment, 4-0. Supervisor Amber Foster was absent.