Riders with the Keswick Hunt Club pause on a bluff during a foxhunt at Ken-Walt in early 2018.

A zoning ordinance amendment to allow rural resorts, or event venues, in the county will have a second public hearing after more than a dozen people raised questions and concerns last week.

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 40 feet or four stories in height.

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.

A big push for the amendment was the change to the seasonal or brief use language in the zoning ordinance, limiting brief activities to no more than 15 days per year and requiring they be consistent with by-right or special use regulations in their zoning district. Previously, seasonal or brief activities were allowed 17 days per month. Another push was a project introduced by Barbara Miller, an entrepreneur seeking to 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.

Many of the speakers during last week’s joint public hearing of the planning commission and board of supervisors showed support for Miller’s vision, but questioned the overall impact the zoning ordinance amendment could have on the county.

Madison resident David Cooper said Miller has a well thought out proposal, but said the amendment opens up the potential for lesser applications. He said even though guidelines are setup in the amendment, they become precedent and are often litigated. He asked that the county take another 30 days to work on the amendment.

Catherine Lyons said the 100 acre minimum in the amendment and the 50 percent open space requirements seem excessive. She said they would prohibit those of lesser means from having an event space or rural resort type of business.

Doug Hill, who lives adjacent to Miller’s property, said while he wasn’t worried about his new neighbor, he was worried about what could occur down the road. Like Lyons, he took issue with the open space requirement, but for the opposite reason.

“Fifty percent minimum open space scares me,” he said. “If you have 800 acres, 400 can be developed. I worry about the future for my family and my son if he continues to farm.”

Via letter, Peter Rice agreed with Hill, saying 50 percent seems very small and is simply not enough. He suggested 80 percent as a better target.

Also via letter, David Crowe said the open space should be contiguous. He also suggested a cap on the size and number of cabins allowed and that timeshare type situations be discouraged.

Susannah Spencer said she lives on a dirt road near Graves Mountain with properties that could have events. She said those things on a little gravel road would have an impact. She also questioned why there were no regulations about lighting, cell service and internet. She said her internet slows to a crawl when Graves Mountain Lodge has an event.

“Make sure it’s restrictive enough that some things that could be overwhelming for the county be prevented,” she said.

Former planning commissioner Kim Beach said the amendment should address three things—light pollution, noise pollution and architectural standards. He said light should be done in a way that it’s not directed all over the place, noise pollution should be minimized and architectural standards would prevent a junky looking property.

“Write an ordinance that allows for development of good business in Madison County, but with protections around it,” he said.

Susan Bramley said while she didn’t oppose Miller’s particular project, she had issues with the amendment process and the wording contained within it. She questioned the speed of the development of the ordinance and like Hill, asked more time be given to consider it.

Barbara Beach agreed.

David Cooper took issue with the allowance of four-story structures in the amendment. He said he wondered why it was included when there are nearly no others in the county, except for those at Woodberry Forest School.

Bonnie Dixon said she’d like to sell her home, but doesn’t think it will be possible due to neighboring properties.

“The things people do affect those around them,” she said. “It’s a ripple effect. Take the time to make sure there are not things that make life difficult because of the businesses that come in.”

Christopher Hawk with the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) urged the county to make sure the language in the amendment is protective and that agritourism remain tied to agriculture. He encouraged specificity as to the number and type of events allowed, the number of guests allowed per event and that fuel sales be prohibited and road standards be included.

Graves Mountain Lodge owner Jimmy Graves spoke in favor of the amendment.

“Tourism will have to be one of the big things you do in Madison,” he said. “There are lots of things here for people to do.”

Former planning commissioner Danny Crigler also supported the amendment, stating via letter that he thinks it’s a good ordinance that serves the purpose of having businesses in the county where people come, spend money and leave. He said it’s the perfect opportunity to show that the county is business friendly.

Justin Shimm, engineer for Miller, pointed out that the amendment has been well-vetted and has protections in it. He said it only gives the ability for someone to apply for a special use permit and that county officials will then have the opportunity to impose regulations during the site plan phase.

Planning commissioner Peter Work also noted that the design of any project would be considered at two points.

“This gives the board great discretion,” he said.

Planning commissioner Mike Mosko pointed out that contrary to some of the comments, the amendment has not been rushed. He said it was started in January and developed over several meetings which were open to the public. He said as for some of the other comments, something could be added specifically about time shares and the number of events could be limited by supervisors. He noted that architectural standards are covered by building code as are parking and loading standards and roads would be evaluated by VDOT as part of their approval.

Planning commissioner Pete Elliott agreed with Mosko that a lot of time and effort has gone into developing the amendment.

“I believe if there was something in this that was bad for the county, our attorney would say,” he said. “It’s not just for one property. The comprehensive plan says this [type of business] is what we want. [Someone] could build 25 houses [on a larger parcel] and not have to ask for permission. This is all about bringing business into the county [that’s] not building it up with stores.”

Elliott noted that between taxes paid on Miller’s property as well as transient occupancy tax and sales tax, her project would bring a lot of money into the county.

“We need income in the county,” Elliott said. “If there’s none and we keep raising taxes, the little 80-year-old lady [on a fixed income] won’t be able to afford to live here. [This] is still keeping it rural.”

Elliott made a motion that the planning commission recommend the amendment to the supervisors for approval. It was seconded by Mosko. However, the motion failed 3-5 with Elliott, Mosko and planning commissioner Nan Coppedge voting in approval of it.

Work made a recommendation that the amendment be tabled and tweaked before being brought back to the board. The motion was seconded by planning commissioner Francoise Seillier-Moiseiwitsch and approved 5-3 with Elliott, Mosko and Coppedge casting the dissenting votes.

The planning commission plans to discuss the amendment at its next worksession meeting April 17 at 7 p.m.

Supervisor Kevin McGhee said he hopes the commission and boards will act quickly, saying he hates stringing out the potential applicant.

Supervisor Amber Foster agreed stating that the amendment hasn’t been rushed and was not created for just Miller. She said any projects under the amendment will have to apply for a special use permit and will undergo evaluation by the supervisors, VDOT, health department and others.

“I’d like to see it pushed through as fast as it can so she can start her business,” supervisor Charlotte Hoffman said regarding Miller’s project.

Supervisor Jonathon Weakley pointed out that businesses are needed. Like Foster, he said the amendment hasn’t been rushed and was made for the future, not just for Miller’s project. He said businesses bringing in transient occupants are probably the best scenario as they don’t impact schools and other services.

“Agritourism is the county’s niche,” he said. “We’re not asking for big box stores. These businesses—that’s where we’re at.”

He and board of supervisors chairman Clay Jackson said they’re big on property rights.

Jackson said a special use permit allows the county to regulate any projects under the amendment. He noted that meanwhile, farm breweries can go anywhere because the governor has green lit them.

“The budget is super tight, we need a [broader] tax base and revenue coming in,” he said. “I’m glad to see people coming into Madison and investing.”

However, he said he was glad the supervisors wouldn’t be voting on the amendment at the close of the meeting.

“It validates the public process,” he said.

A new public hearing on the proposed zoning ordinance amendment has been scheduled for May 1 at 7 p.m.

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