Due to concerns over state requirements and county definitions, the Nelson County Planning Commission voted to delay making a decision on whether or not it would recommend approval of a new auto repair garage in the Piney River area, and the applicant has since withdrawn his request.

On Oct. 23, after a half hour of deliberation the planning commission voted 5-1 to delay making a decision on a special use permit request to open a public auto repair garage at 172 Whispering Pines Dr. The commissioners couldn’t agree on the definitions in the county ordinance and if the applicant’s ability to meet state requirements should be factored into the decision.

Jonathan Mays, the applicant, submitted a special use permit request to open the garage on his property in order to be officially licensed and insured. Mays already fixes automobiles on the property out of a small shop. Mays said six months ago, he responded to a fire call as part of the Piney River Volunteer Fire Department. A car someone had been working on had caught fire and it made Mays more aware of the risks associated with running his shop.

“I don’t know the outcome, but if someone brings me a vehicle to work on and something happens I am liable. My family is liable. I’m trying to separate that by doing this,” Mays said.

The SUP asks for a public auto repair garage on a 4.4-acre property zoned A-1 agricultural in the West election district. According to the planning commission packet, the property currently contains a single-family dwelling and several accessory structures, where the applicant has an existing shop he uses to work on vehicles.

However, after Dylan Bishop, director of planning and zoning, along with Phil Payne, county attorney, and others reviewed his request post-meeting, it was determined he didn’t need a special use permit to open a public auto repair garage.

“There is a difference between a public auto garage as a primary use, like a full blown business, and someone living on the property who works on cars on the side,” Bishop said in a phone interview on Nov.4.

Mays’ primary use is still his home on the property, while the auto repair garage would be subordinate to the dwelling. After determining this, it was made clear Mays could have a by-right home occupation on his property without needing an SUP.

“We were OK with drawing the distinction between a primary public garage and someone working on cars on the side,” Bishop said.

The distinction between the two is something Tommy Harvey, the board of supervisors representative on the Planning Commission, said at the meeting in October. Harvey said he doesn’t think Mays needed to apply for a special use permit to begin with.

“He doesn’t need a permit. He could come under home occupation permit; that is totally allowed. He could even have one non-family member employee,” Harvey said.

Harvey suggested Mays withdraw the SUP request.

At the meeting, Virginia Department of Transportation requirements that came with the SUP were brought up. VDOT required a commercial entrance to be constructed, should Mays be awarded the SUP. Chuck Amante, East District representative, said other construction in the area may present the opportunity for a commercial entrance that would suit Mays’ need. Mary Kathryn Allen, chair of the board, and Michael Harman, West District representative, said the planning commission shouldn’t base recommendations on state requirements. Harman voted against the motion to delay the vote pending answers because of this.

“I think we are postponing because of VDOT, but that’s not our business,” Harman said.

On Nov. 4, Bishop said Mays has since withdrawn his SUP application. Bishop said the county will have the permit for his home occupation within the week and next, Mays will have to go to the Commissioner of Revenue for a business license.

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Erin Conway covers Nelson County for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5524.

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

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