By Alex Bridges
Neighbors' fears of squatters and trespassers tanked a couple's hopes of opening a hiker hostel near the Appalachian Trail in Warren County.
Last April, Warren County and Front Royal celebrated its inclusion as the nation's 15th official Appalachian Trail Community. The trail crosses Remount Road just outside Front Royal town limits.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday denied two requests that would have allowed Scott and Lisa Jenkins to open a hostel for hikers on land previously approved for a bed-and-breakfast. The Planning Commission had forwarded the requests to the board and recommended approval.
The Jenkins filed a request with the county to add a definition for "hiker hostel" to the zoning ordinance and allow such an operation on land zoned for agricultural purposes with a conditional-use permit. The county code does not define hiker hostels.
The Jenkins also filed a request for the conditional-use permit to operate a hiker hostel on 3.6 acres of the land at 3471 Remount Road. The parcel lies adjacent to federal land and property zoned for agricultural use under county regulations. The application indicates the vacant property includes a home that needs work.
Supervisors voted 4-1 to deny the request to add hiker hostel to allowable uses. Supervisor Richard Traczyk voted against the board action. Denial of the first request rendered the permit matter moot.
Scott and Lisa Jenkins recently bought property at 3471 Remount Road that lies approximately 700 feet from the Appalachian Trail.
Lisa Jenkins told the board at the public hearing held on the matter that she and her husband had invested in the property in an effort to rehabilitate the buildings on site.
"Clearly we care about keeping it in good shape and making it a safe place for people to visit," Lisa Jenkins told the board.
Scott Jenkins added that they see the hostel as an extension of a bed-and-breakfast they intend to also run on the property.
The Jenkins sought to build a hostel that would offer five beds for hikers using the trail. The hostel, operated in an existing tenant house on the property, would have included a full bathroom. Lisa Jenkins told the board that the list of hiker hostel rules includes the required presence of an attendant on site. She said the hostel would not be a shelter. As the Jenkins explained, hikers would register and pay for services and only be able to stay at the hostel for a short time.
But dozens of residents, many of whom live in the Lake Front Royal subdivision, signed a petition that stated their opposition to the proposed hiker hostel. The petition states that the signers were concerned with "problems that occur in hostels such as squatters, trespassing into our private community." The signers asked the board to deny the Jenkins' request.
Cindy Tewalt, who lives behind the Jenkins' property, voiced concern that hikers "would have access" to the children who gather at the bus stop on Remount Road near the entrance to the proposed hostel. Tewalt said her research into hostels showed that crimes happen in or around such operations. She also expressed concern that some conditions of the original permit for the bed and breakfast were not met before the document was transferred to the new owners.
Alyson Browett, of Freezeland Road, serves as the 2013 ambassador for the Front Royal Warren County Appalachian Trail Community. Browett, who also serves on a local steering committee, said her panel endorses the Jenkins' requests. Browett told supervisors some of the parts of a letter circulated in the community near the Jenkins' property are "misleading and false." Browett said she has never seen a squatter at the shelter at Manassas Gap a mile off Freezeland Road.
"In addition, during my time on the trail, I have never encountered a serial killer, a murderer or rapist," Browett said. "I often encounter many hunters with loaded weapons who could easily threaten me, rape me or shoot me. However, I have not once felt threatened by a hunter or hiker."
Browett refuted the letter's statements about a shelter in Loudoun County that she has used. The shelter sits on a much larger piece of property because it lies near Blue Ridge Mountain Road, a commuter parking lot and Va. 7, she said. Browett commented that more than 70 hostels operate along the trail and such a use would be low-impact on the property.
Browett also explained that rather than a lean-to shelter, the Jenkins proposed a house with walls, roof, windows and a door they could lock when the hostel is not in use.
Browett said if a hostel operated near the trail, hikers would be less likely to trespass and leave trash near or in Lake Front Royal as residents have claimed.
The applicants bought the property recently. A conditional-use permit to operate a bed-and-breakfast approved in 2010 for the previous owners transferred with the sale, according to a county staff report. The property, dating to 1842, has been accepted into the Virginia and National Registries of Historic Places.
Planning Director Taryn Logan told the board the applicant withdrew the original request that included tent campsites on the property.
The Virginia Department of Transportation had required that the property owners construct an entrance into the hostel operation. The owners also faced meeting other conditions and requirements before opening the operation.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org