By Stefanie Jackson – The Northampton board of supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday night to deny a major special-use permit (SUP) to build six tourist cottages on farmland in the county’s Capeville district, near Kiptopeke State Park.
The Northampton planning commission had recommended denying the SUP application in a 6-1 vote March 1.
Bill Parr, a local real estate broker, spoke during the public hearing on behalf of the applicant, Axios Partners LLC, a company owned by Parr’s longtime employee, Angelo Manuel.
Many Northampton residents had objected to the project, including more than 400 people who signed a petition against it, according to one speaker.
However, Parr argued that tourist cottages have been allowed by Northampton’s zoning ordinance since at least 2016, and the concept was “nothing new” but this was the first time anyone had attempted to implement it in the county.
He described the property as an ideal location for tourist cottages, with the farm on scenic Seaside Road. The farm also borders U.S. Route 13 and the public bicycle path that leads to the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. Across the highway is the entrance to Kiptopeke State Park.
The tourist cottages would be built on a small area of the approximately 50-acre parcel, of which 18 acres is devoted to crops and 30 acres is forested.
The applicant originally had requested 12 tourist cottages of 640 square feet each, but by March 8 the request was reduced to six cottages of 490 square feet each, in response to public opposition to the proposal.
Manuel also plans to build a two-story home for his family on the farm, which was indicated on the SUP application even though one home per 20 acres of farmland is allowed by right in Northampton, Parr noted.
He asserted that a tourist cottage is a “commercial enterprise,” not a full-time residence, and should not be counted when calculating housing density.
The majority of the remaining speakers opposed the project.
Chris Wilson, of the Smith Beach Road area, was concerned about safety, particularly for children who could be exposed to pesticides or fall into an irrigation pond and drown. (Manuel noted the cottages would be 30 acres away from the pond.)
Arthur Upshur, of Machipongo, who is the president of Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore, called the proposal a “real threat” to Northampton’s comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance, which “clearly violates” housing density regulations.
Ken Dufty, of the Wardtown Road area, asserted a tourist cottage is a dwelling unit because it is has utilities like electricity, water, and sewer service and must be built to code like any other dwelling.
He asked supervisors not to approve the application because otherwise “it sets a precedent that will forever destroy our rural character.”
Supervisor John Coker acknowledged that “density is the big issue” and agreed that tourist cottages should be subject to the housing density limits of the zoning district in which they are located.
Each tourist cottage would have its own bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. “If that’s not a dwelling unit, I don’t know what one is,” Coker said.
Supervisor Dixon Leatherbury observed that Northampton’s zoning ordinance does not assign a density limit for tourist cottages; therefore, the housing density limit for the zoning district should apply.
Northampton supervisors apologized to Manuel for denying the SUP after they had encouraged him to submit the application, believing the project was a good idea for promoting tourism. Supervisor Oliver Bennett said he hoped the applicant hadn’t wasted too much money on the unfinished project.
The supervisors also voted unanimously for the Northampton planning commission to consider a zoning text amendment to temporarily remove any references to tourist cottages until a conclusion can be reached on what housing density rules should apply to them.