Steven Sisson: More study needed on Waynesboro bed and breakfast issue

waynesboroAs a Waynesboro resident who is a former certified planning commissioner and former chairman of the Rockingham County Planning Commission, I am personally opposed to the proposed Conditional Use Bed and Breakfast in RS-7 district in the city’s new comprehensive plan for a number of reasons.

The intent and purpose of the RS-7 District is to establish low-density, single-family dwelling control and to allow for certain public facilities. Zoning regulations should be intended to “control density of population” and to “provide adequate open space” around buildings and structures in the district to accomplish these purposes and not to “introduce mixed business uses” in an established residential and historic neighborhood.

The Tree Street community opposition is concerned with setting precedents for other commercial uses in their residential neighborhood, along with the introduction of strangers in their neighborhood and additional traffic and noise which will diminish their quality of life.

For the homeowners, buying a home is the single largest investment of an individual over their lifetime. The Tree Street area is now a pleasant residential environment, and local zoning regulations should foster well-being of a community. After all, government officials, elected and appointed, are tasked with this mission of public service.

Currently, numerous Tree Street community throughways are inadequate for dual street parking due to a narrow width as well as the lack alley access and/or one-way alley access; these public-safety concerns only exasperate problems with emergency vehicle travel as well as city school system bus routing, weekly trash disposal pickup and seasonal leaf/snow removal.

There are public and private schools, public parks, churches and assisted living facilities who are trusted neighbors in the Tree Street community. There’s a paramount concern in relation to the introduction of strangers to the neighborhood with the end result of possible danger to senior citizens, women and children.

In addition, as drafted in the new comprehensive plan, the conditional use of bed and breakfast is vague and unregulated. Enforcement issues would only compound zoning compliance issues that are already in existence. Government officials should plan that no uses be permitted, under conditional use zoning within the proposed RS-7 District that would interfere with the health, safety, order or general welfare of persons residing in the district.

Why allow a commercial establishment in a residential district, which is regulated the same as the hotel and motel industry by the Virginia Department of Health? By Virginia State Code, a bed and breakfast is a transient occupancy business, which is a commercial establishment that provides lodging and other services that are regulated by numerous federal, state and local government entities.

The City Code as currently written does not distinguish, set guidelines or regulate a house that is a conditional use bed and breakfast. Other than occupancy and parking, within the new comprehensive plan, the existing city code is nothing more than a granting of special property rights without restrictions and standards.

The Virginia Supreme Court commands, “…the long standing and consistent interpretation of an ordinance by the local officials who are charged with administering it is to be given great weight…”

This lack of “evidence in researching when modifying and then establishing city code, zoning regulations and those conditional uses” could potentially establish the need to compensate landowners whose property rights have been taken or devalued or harmed. Furthermore, the approval of this conditional use should have been first based and mandated on the owner-applicant’s compliance with all city and state and federal codes.

This Conditional Use of Bed and Breakfast should be returned to the Planning Commission for further study and more citizen input. I would sincerely advise that a more thorough zoning and code be established before approval is requested from public citizens and the Waynesboro City Council.

Steven Sisson resides in Waynesboro.

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