A public hearing for ‘Castle’ uses?

Published 12:53 pm Wednesday, March 29, 2017

No, maybe, yes

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

A neighboring Windsor Castle property owner’s questions about transparency surrounding plans for the manor house led to an email exchange involving the project manager and Town Council member Milton Cook.

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Former Town Council member and Windsor Castle neighbor John Graham had raised questions about the need for a special use permit if the manor house was to be used for events and overnight guests — as had been stated recently at a Historic Windsor Castle Restoration LLC meeting.

Graham had read in The Smithfield Times that the manor house, after it was restored, was to be used as a revenue-producing facility with overnight guests.

“It was my understanding that there would be a public process and a rezoning before the manor house would be converted into a B&B,” wrote Graham in the initial email to Cook. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Cook deferred the question to Historic Windsor Castle Restoration LLC Project Manager Rick Bodson.

“There is no plan to covert the manor house into a B&B,” wrote Bodson to Graham.

The second floor, with bedrooms, is seen as a place for those opting for a “wedding package,” Bodson said.

“Because of its configuration, the options on the second floor are very limited and not suitable for a B&B arrangement,” said Bodson.

Curiously, the historic preservation application sent to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and completed by Bodson, states that the future use of the manor house as “B&B/Event.”

In an accompanying document, the state was informed of the future use: “The second floor will retain three bedrooms for use as a bed and breakfast associated with on-site events such as weddings.”

The plans were also characterized as a “Bed and Breakfast” in town committee meeting minutes.

In an email to The Smithfield Times, Bodson characterized the B&B description as “generic” and that the manor house would only be used for wedding parties and not as a traditional bed and breakfast.

Graham continued to question the path taken so far by the town concerning the future use of the manor house.

 “I don’t understand the reluctance to have an open process regarding Windsor Castle,” said Graham in an email to Cook.

Graham wanted to know the revenue projections, hours of operation and other details.

“The taxpayers are investing in this venture and deserve to be informed. Is the Foundation raising money based on a use that has not been approved?” asked Graham.

The town has pledged $2 million in taxpayer money, along with a $1 million pledge from Smithfield Foods.

Smithfield Town Manager Peter Stephenson said Thursday that staff is working on a revenue analysis as to how many times the property would have to be rented to cover the cost of use and maintenance.

Earlier this year, Smithfield Planning and Zoning Administrator William Saunders had indicated a special use permit will be necessary for a bed and breakfast, and to go along with that process, a public hearing.

The property is currently zoned community conservation.

Cook joined the conversation with Bodson and Graham.

“I wouldn’t classify a location that allowed bridal parties to spend Saturday night in the house maybe five times a year to be classified as a B&B,” said Cook, adding that he would check on that with town staff.

Cook checked with town staff and reported back to Graham.

Cook said he was unsure if a special use permit would be necessary, but would assume it is.

“If I am still on council I would push for that,” Cook said, adding in a later email to The Smithfield Times that a special use permit would be required.

 “I then told town staff that if so, then I would like to go ahead and get it done so as to be able to proceed with a clear understanding of our direction,” Cook said.

“It is not my job to think if a special use permit is needed or not. I am sure there are coding rules for when a special use permit is required and when it isn’t.  The town is to follow the same rules as any other entity/private citizen would,” Cook said.

Bodson was confident that the special use permit would not describe the proposed use of the manor house as a bed and breakfast.

Graham thanked Cook for his assistance in the matter.

“Thanks for the update. It is difficult to understand why you would not want to have a public hearing on this. There is no downside. You are going to vote to approve the special use permit unless something unforeseen comes to your attention. I have no objection to overnight guests,” said Graham.

And he added, “Advertising on Airbnb may be a good idea.”


Windsor Castle details

Windsor Castle was once owned by Smithfield founder, Arthur Smith IV and dates back to the 18th century.

The town of Smithfield acquired the Windsor Castle manor house in 2009 as part of a multi-million dollar package from former Smithfield Foods President and CEO Joseph W. Luter III to develop the public park.

The manor house is under an historic easement with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources that places limits on the property.

About two years ago, the town announced that it would receive $1 million from Smithfield Foods to restore the manor house. The town agreed to pledge $2 million in taxpayer money to the effort.

Smithfield Foods contracted with Frazier Associates to complete a detailed set of plans, or a feasibility study, that included the restoration of the manor house, as well as the caretaker’s house and outbuildings. Other items were included, such as an events barn that is not part of the current plans. 

The Smithfield Town Council held a public hearing last year on the newly formed Historic Windsor Castle Restoration LLC, and after issues were raised, made changes to a lease between the town and the LLC. The LLC is tasked with overseeing the restoration work. The town still owns and manages the property. Revenues from the future use of the manor house will be used for the property’s maintenance, according to LLC Project Manager Rick Bodson.

Smithfield Town Council member Milton Cook is also a member of the Windsor Castle Foundation and the LLC. Project Manager Rick Bodson is a volunteer assisting the LLC.  {/mprestriction}