The developer behind the Afton Depot Project has changed his strategy after the Nelson County Board of Supervisors voted against approving a special use permit for the construction of six one-bedroom cabins.

Todd Rath, partner with Rockfish Valley Events, LLC, went before the board of supervisors with a third special use permit (SUP) request for the Afton Depot Project last week. The request was to build six one-bedroom cabins on the property at 9485 Rockfish Valley Highway, in Afton. After the request was denied, Rath said he would build the lodging by-right, which does not require county approval. Five individuals spoke during the public comments portion of the public hearing, all of whom were against the development and urged the board to deny the requests.

Shirley McGatha, an Afton resident who shares a property line with the proposed development site, voiced her concern over multiple issues, including possible well contamination. McGatha told the board she and her daughter hired an environmental engineer over the summer to determine how her well will be affected.

“What guarantee do I have and my neighbor’s supply that the water supply will not be compromised?” McGatha asked the board. After the public comment portion of the meeting was over, Ernie Reed, Central District representative, said he was upset the project had come this far because he believes the answer is simple; the primary use of the property, which is zoned A1, should be agricultural, which Reed believes the Afton Depot Project is not.

“To me — and I apologize to our planning department, I apologize to Todd, I apologize to everybody who has had to go through this — to me, this is simple: This is the wrong thing, in the wrong place and it should have never gotten past first base,” Reed said.

Thomas Bruguiere, Jr., West District representative, told Reed most of the county was zoned A1 because when the zoning was done, the county officials didn’t imagine anything else would go in the county. Bruguiere said SUPs are here to allow development in areas zoned for agriculture.

“The only way you can get around it is rezone the whole county. We can’t do that; it’s not feasible. Therefore we have SUPs to allow development to occur in agriculture zones,” Bruguiere said.

Tommy Harvey, newly appointed vice chair of the board and North District representative, made a motion last week to delay voting on the SUP for three months. Harvey and Jesse Rutherford, East District representative, voted to approve the delay. Larry Saunders, newly appointed chair of the board and South District representative; Bruguiere, and Reed voted against the motion. The motion failed to pass 3-2.

Harvey made a second motion to deny the SUP request. Harvey, Reed, and Rutherford voted to approve the motion. Saunders and Bruguiere voted against the motion.

Rath said in an email on Jan. 10 he would now build the lodging he wants on the property by-right, along with the Blue Toad Hard Cider and the future brewery, which he can legally do.

By-right developments do not require action by the board of supervisors, zoning appeals, or planning commission and do not require a public hearing. Although the property is and has always been by-right, Rath pursued an SUP so he could get the support of neighbors and the county before proceeding with his project. “The only time you will see me in front of any board again is for the restaurant SUP and the possible future grocery store,” Rath said in an email. “I have been calm, upfront, and honest during this process and somehow that is not good enough. I find it funny the Planning Commission voted 4-2 in favor and now the board of supervisors flipped 2-3.”

The Afton Depot Project has been a controversial development since first proposed in 2017.

As of 2019, Rath is proposing to build 14 cabins, a farm winery, nanobrewery, restaurant, a possible upscale grocery store, an Asian fusion restaurant, and a garage for storage. The only elements that will require county approval are the Asian fusion restaurant and the potential grocery store. Rath already has an SUP to construct the three-suite building for the nanobrewery, farm winery, and restaurant.

Rath will be before the planning commission on Jan. 23 with an SUP request for the Asian fusion restaurant.

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Erin Conway covers Nelson County. Reach her at (434) 385-5524 or econway@newsadvance.com.

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