Board denies rental permit for Mint House

FRONT ROYAL – Investors who bought Warren County’s historic Mint House can’t rent the property to tourists.

The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday against a motion to grant a request made by Benjamin McMahon for a conditional-use permit to allow short-term tourist rentals at the property on Strasburg Road in the Waterlick area. McMahon is one of several investors in the property. During the public comment period, several people who live near the property spoke about the request and two asked the board to deny the request. A third speaker said at the meeting and outside after the vote that he opposed the way the investors went about seeking the permit, not the proposed use.

Supervisors Tony Carter, Dan Murray Jr. and Archie Fox voted against the request, basing much of their opposition on their interpretation that such a use constitutes as a business. Carter said he also took the neighbors’ concerns into account to make his decision. Chairman Richard Traczyk and Vice Chairwoman Linda Glavis voted in support of the request.

Glavis noted that courts have ruled a short-term tourist rental is a residential use, not commercial. Such a use would attract tourists and generate revenue for the county, she added.

Murray said he supported using houses for tourist rentals.

“I’m against someone taking a short-term tourist rental for a house and using it as a guise to have activities on the property, whether it be a reception or whether it be a reunion, because then that property is a commercial business,” Murray said. “It’s no longer just a short-term rental.”

Other issues and questions surrounding the request remain unclear or unanswered, Murray said. The supervisor voiced concern that, without restrictions, the property could be used as a shooting range. Planning Department Director Taryn Logan said the board could put conditions restricting such activities in the permit.

Carter questioned supervisors’ use of court rulings in their arguments.

“We kinda pick and choose: If we like this one, we cite it,” Carter said. “If we don’t like it, we say it and we move on.”

County Attorney Blair Mitchell explained that the Supreme Court has ruled that short-term tourist rental use is residential. Carter disagreed.

“I see that as a business in a residential neighborhood,” Carter said.

Traczyk argued that the owners can hold private weddings and other family gatherings on the property without a permit. The board can put conditions and restrictions on the permit. The board can only go so far, legally, to control what happens on the property, Traczyk said. Mitchell concurred.

Murray questioned the number of days and related events, including a brunch and reception, in connection with a wedding held on the property.

“We have to be fair to everybody in the community,” Murray said. “I don’t want to lose any business.”

McMahon told the board his brother held a backyard wedding reception and noted that brunches are popular. Investment partner Josh Petersen said weddings held on the property were for friends and family.

“We’re not trying to get around the law,” Petersen said. “Maybe we didn’t communicate well enough with our neighbors and that’s on us.”

Murray said he met with Mint House neighbors on Monday to talk about the matter. McMahon said after the meeting in an email that neither he nor Petersen were invited to this meeting.

After the meeting, McMahon criticized the board via email for stifling business.

“Each one of the County supervisors, by virtue of their election, is charged with leading and serving in a manner that reflects what is great about representative government,” McMahon states. “When elected officials fail in this regard, it is to the detriment of all of County constituents. When small business is stifled in this county, it hurts all of us, particularly when no logical explanation is afforded to the public.”

McMahon noted that short-term tourist rentals exist aplenty across Virginia and generate revenue through taxes and tourism.

“Today our county leadership failed to see above the fray, and stifled a small business without providing a logical and reasonable explanation for their decision,” McMahon states. “Elected officials, particularly at the local level, must be held accountable when poor leadership prevents our county from moving forward.

“One question that must be asked is, ‘What does today’s decision, and the manner in which it was made, say about our county government’s ability to foster economic development and entrepreneurship here in Warren County?'” McMahon adds.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com