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INDEPENDENCE — Times are tough throughout the Twin Counties and local fire departments and rescue squads are looking for new ways to bring in revenue.
Nearly a year ago, Independence Volunteer Fire Department Chief John Smith approached the Grayson Planning Commission looking for a change to the county's zoning ordinance to allow firefighters to host a lawn mower racing fundraiser.
The events draw big crowds and are lucrative events for non-profit agencies. A similar race each summer in Galax packs the grandstands with thousands of spectators.
Currently, the zoning law neither nor prohibits the races. In fact, they're not mentioned at all.
The proposed change is not only for lawn mower racing, but also for various special events held throughout the county.
After several months of discussion, the planning commission finally made a recommendation to county supervisors regarding the change.
“The planning commission has approved the change unanimously,” Grayson County Administrator Bill Ring told supervisors Dec. 11. “Our attorney has also said our zoning would be able to handle it.”
The proposed change would create a special use permit under the Rural Farm District to allow, “Rural Commercial Recreation Uses.”
In the proposed change, the requirements are as follows:
• minimum acreage for commercial recreational structures and uses shall be two (2) acres.
• on-site supervision of events shall be maintained by the applicant at all times.
• the proposed site shall have direct access to a road designated as a state-maintained hard surface road of sufficient design to meet the traffic demands of the event.
• the proposed site shall be a size and shape appropriate for the proposed use and be situated so as to provide adequate buffering to protect adjacent property from potentially adverse effects.
• the site shall be developed in accordance with an approved plan of development.
• no use shall produce sound levels which exceed 60 decibels during hours of operation, as measured at the nearest property line.
• the use shall also be subject to any additional conditions deemed necessary and appropriate by the planning commission and the board of supervisors.
• as used herein, a Rural Commercial Recreational Use means an indoor- and/or outdoor-use facility where supervised recreational activities take place.
Supervisors' Chairman Mike Maynard, who serves as the board representative on the planning commission, explained two options the commission looked at.
The first was a new recreational zoning designation to hold such events.
As they looked into the first option, Maynard said it became more obvious that it was not the solution they were looking for.
Once zoned “recreational,” property could not be used for anything other than that — in other words, a farmer who kept cattle on land zoned Rural Farm could no longer do so if that acreage were re-zoned recreational.
“That would not give the landowner or the county the best solution,” said Maynard.
The second option was to allow a one-time special permit.
“This appeared to be the best legal option,” Maynard told supervisors, to keep from having “spot-zoning” throughout the county.
Ring added that the special use permit also would help regulate how often events were held. He noted that, under option one, a person with a recreation-zoned property could host a car show or lawn mower race every weekend.
“Under that, it would always be zoned recreational,” he said.
The conditions also give the supervisors the ability to require any additional restrictions they deem necessary for each individual event.
Supervisor Larry Bartlett was concerned with the wording of that condition, saying it should be changed to say “the planning commission and/or the board of supervisors.”
The way it's currently worded, it sounds as though the planning commission and supervisors must agree on any additional regulations.
“This board can do whatever they want,” Bartlett said of the authority over the commission.
Maynard added that the county's zoning ordinance was aligned with the Virginia State Code and, regardless of the actual wording, the state code would take precedent over the county's and give the board that authority.
“Virginia Code says [the supervisors] must approve anything the planning commission approves,” he said.
Supervisor Doug Carrico questioned if each individual event would require the applicant to go through the process.
Ring said he understood that they must. However, the commission and the supervisors could say that sponsors of identical events would not need to re-apply each time.
Bartlett felt that a time period should be named for each event.
He feared that, without the actual mention of a time limit, a permit could only be taken away if the person opted to change something or the supervisors rescinded it.
Maynard agreed, saying that once a special use permit is granted, it's there until it's taken away or given up. He suggested the application process mandate that it only be for a “one-time” event.
Carrico said he was glad the proposed change had finally came up and was looking forward to helping the fire department raise additional money.
He added that he wanted it known that these events should be held once or twice a year — not every month.
With concerns about the wording of the proposed change, Bartlett motioned to postpone a decision until January, and asked Ring to have an attorney look over the wording and address those questions.
The motion was seconded by Carrico and passed unanimously.