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Conditional use for bed, breakfast granted

By Staff | Jul 24, 2015

A controversial request by a Shepherdstown couple had members of the Falling Spring Community Homeowners Association appearing before the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals for a final decision.

Residents Dave and Peggy Humphreys to use their home as a Bed and Breakfast found themselves before the BZA as part of the process to develop the business in a residential growth area.

The call to transform the home into a commercial business goes against the Homeowner’s Association covenants say neighbors opposed to the business.

A compatibility assessment meeting was held on May 22 on the matter where several points of contention were discussed.

The homeowners proposal was for a three-unit (five bedroom) bed and breakfast with no changes to the existing structure. Five parking spaces will be created on the current driveway area. A sign will be placed at the entrance of the property. In addition, resolving some issues that were addressed at this meeting, the homeowners agreed to pay double the HOA dues to cover additional impact on the HOA maintained road and to advise clients of an 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. Speed bumps are to be installed at the expense of the applicants and the applicants agreed to pay for additional liability insurance to cover costs of visitors in the common area including the road.

Thursday’s BZA hearing was the final step toward approval or disapproval of the project and that meeting focused on two unresolved issues. One issue centered on a request by a neighbor that a 75 foot fast growing hedge row be planted while the second called for the applicant to widen the road to 20 feet the entire length without negatively impacting the historic trees growing alongside.

Tyler Quynn, chair of the BZA, first called for comments from the homeower/applicants. Their representative, Paul Raco, a local land use consultant, spoke for the Humphreys, spoke to the lack of need for a buffer which was specifically requested by neighboring property owner Diana Suttenfield.

“There is already a buffer between the properties,” Raco claimed. “It would be a problem to add non-native trees where there is already a natural buffer.”

He went on to speak on the negative aspects of widening the roadway, including inviting increased speed.

Quynn then called for those who wished to speak for or against the issue. Community resident Jan Hafer shared that she had no objection to the property becoming a B and B. With regard to the buffer, she indicated there was already a buffer between the two properties so it was not needed to plant another.

“I have no problem navigating the roadway when there is oncoming traffic,” Hafer said in regard to the call for widening the road. “I have no objection to keeping the road the way it is.”

When the parties who were opposed to the project stood to speak, Quynn vehemently advised them that they could only speak to the two issues that remained unresolved, the buffer and the roadway. While Quynn encouraged audience members to not be afraid to come forward and speak, he often interrupted their comments and threatened a time limit to several who were opposed to the granting of the conditional use permit.

A longtime resident Suttenfield, who testified during the public meeting that the B&B is incompatible with the community. She called it a way to “exploit our residential neighborhood, some of which is in the historic districts, as an advertising tool to get tourists,” she said.

Suttenfield, along with HOA president John Barrat, spoke against widening the roadway; however, their reasons went more to opposing the entire project than just the widening of the road. They expressed safety concerns with potential increased traffic due to the commercial nature of the B&B. Quynn, however, quickly shut down comments on those issues, again stating that the concerns between the HOA and the applicant were not a concern for the zoning board.

“No more about covenants or HOAs,” he said to Barrat in a louder than conversational tone.

When Raco, who questioned whether attorney Braun Hamstead, who represented both Barrat and Suttenfield, could speak since both of his clients had already spoken, Quynn’s adversarial tone returned as he instructed Hamstead to have a seat or be removed by the bailiff who had been brought in for the meeting.

“My understanding of the ordinance is that every group has 15 minutes, and if you have a group, then each member of it is entitled to speak for five minutes. But I suggest you consult with staff rather than taking Mr. Raco’s advice,” Hamstead said. No word came from the county staff who was on hand for the meeting. Hamstead left the podium under objection.

After hearing all testimony, the board entered a private deliberative session. When they returned to public session member Matt Knott moved to approve the Bed and Breakfast without requiring the called for hedgerow buffer and without widening the roadway. The vote passed 4 to 1 with Ted Schlitz voting against the approval. Other members voting for the conditional use were Quynn, Jeffrey Brannon and Jeff Bresee.

Following the meeting, Dave Humphreys shared his pleasure that the board approved he and his wife’s request.

“We don’t think it will disturb anyone,” he said. “We are very pleased with the decision.”

The couple says they hope to have the B&B up and running around September.

“We believe this will provide a peaceful respite for those who come to enjoy events in the community such as the Contemporary American Theater Festival and Freedom’s Run,” Humphreys continued.

Suttenfield, on the other hand, has fears that the approval will open up the area to tourists who do not respect the quiet of the neighborhood or the historic nature that has led to some parcels being placed on the National Register.

“Unlike downtown Shepherdstown with its streets lined and dotted with historic houses/buildings, our neighborhood does not offer any tourist sights, only contemporary houses,” Suttenfield wrote in comments to the BZA.