Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sounds of silence part deux

An application for a conditional use permit to create a commercial event venue at the 30,000 square foot Dover Hall estate on Manakin Road drew a good bit of neighborhood comment during the February 21 planning commission meeting.

Dennis and Cynthia Pryor, owners of the 55 acre site of Dover Hall, which was built in 1999, have come to the realization that the structure is not suitable as a private residence and its best use is hosting large events. The Pryors currently live in modest home nearby.

Pryor explained that Dover Hall has been the site of many large events including fund raisers for political and philanthropic causes. Some of those galas have drawn more than 600 guests. The CUP limits the head count of attendees to 299 inside the home and 400 for the entire site. Under no circumstances will fireworks be allowed.

He contended that Dover Hall is an asset to the entire Central Virginia region and is an excellent way to showcase the finest that Goochland has to offer. In the past decade, said Pryor, approximately 70 eventsb took place at Dover Hall with no problem--except maybe those unfortunate fireworks--in the past decade. The only difference is that a fee would be charged for the venue, he said. Pryor has retained a professional event planner to ensure the quality and integrity of operations.

"It is expensive to run a house of this size,"Pryor said. Proceeds from commercializing Dover Hall will fund its upkeep and enable him to complete the formal gardens. The site must be brought into compliance with fire and other building codes for a commercial use before it can go into operation.

Although Pryor contended that he is sensitive to his neighbors, they were quite skeptical.

Dover Hall is about one third of a mile from the Deep Run Hunt Club, one of the nation's most prestigious equestrian organizations. It is surrounded by horse farms and expensive homes. Manakin Road is narrow, winding and heavily traveled.

Several neighbors objected to what they characterized as the spot zoning of plunking a commercial establishment, whose use is intended to attract hundreds of people, to. A rural residential area. These people will drive to Dover Hall, exacerbating an already dicey traffic situation, and they will probably hoist a glass or two at Dover Hall before getting behind the wheel to leave.
Then, there is the noise.

Ross Mackenzie, whose editorial contributions are sorely missed, and his wife Jennie live a few miles from Dover Hall. They are terrified of the havoc that noise from loud music, which is an integral part of the contemporary upscale wedding, will wreak on the area.

Mackenzie told the commissioners that, until the county has a solid, enforceable noise ordinance on the books, uses like that hoped for at Dover Hall should be prohibited.
The high cost of decibel meters, the only reliable and defensible measuring noise, has kept the county from enacting a noise ordinance.

Mrs. Mackenzie said that a neighbor with a penchant for horribly loud music destroyed the quality of life in her home. She fears that commercial use of Dover Hall will bring those bad old days back

We all know how sound carries in Goochland. Everyone can hear train whistles from time to time regardless of how close they live to the railroad tracks. Peace and quiet is a foundation of rural character too. Perhaps it's time to hold a bake sale--maybe at Dover Hall-- to buy decibel meters for the Sheriff.

Pryor said that music played inside the ballroom could hardly be heard in other parts of the house and said that adding sides to tents erected outside would contain noise.

Commission chair Courtney Hyers, District 5, said that the intrusion of a commercial use in this area represents a radical change in "the heart of horse country." She acknowledged the generous support of many organizations by the Pryors but wished Dover Hall were located elsewhere.

Darvin Satterwhite, acting as counsel for a Dover Hall neighbor, stated that Goochland has no zoning law that allows what Dover Hall wants to do. The A2 zoning category makes no provision for establishment of a place of public assembly.

Now that the supervisors have dealt with the TCSD debt, it's time to craft zoning for bed and breakfasts, country inns and event venues. Cramming cramming square pegs into round holes zoning wise only causes heartburn down the road.

The application also asks to operate a bed and breakfast without serving food. Pryor explained that provision would allow members of a wedding party, for instance, to spend the night in one of Dover Hall 's magnificent bedroom suites.

Steve Hughes, who lives across the street from Dover Hall, echoed many of his neighbors in asking that no turn lanes be required on the property. He contended that Pryor's proposal is the least impactful scenario for the property and raised the specter of a field filled with houses.

Dover Hall had been listed with a prestigious real estate firm for many years, with, apparently, no takers. There is some speculation that a CUP to operate an event venue would make the property more attractive to buyers.

Objections to the CUP included difficulty of enforcement of some provisions and many variations on noise and traffic issues.

However, issuance of a CUP enhances the county's ability to regulate activities at Dover Hall.Currently, it has no say, beyond issuance of large crowd permits.

The commissioners voted 3-2 ( commissioners Matt Brewer At large and Derek Murray District 3 were absent) to recommend approval of a CUP that allows no more than five outside music events--all other music must be indoors--for a duration of five years that terminates at sale of the property. The Board of Supervisors will have the final word on this matter following another public hearing.

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