New Market Planning Commission OKs two conditional use permits

NEW MARKET — The New Market Planning Commission opened the way Tuesday evening for the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation to convert a parsonage into a museum/archive center with a gift shop attached.

The commission’s approval of two conditional use permits, with a single dissenting vote, will allow the use of residential land for retail purposes when the foundation finishes the process of purchasing the parsonage at 9276 N. Congress St. from Reformation Lutheran Church.

Conditional-use permits allow landowners to use their property for purposes outside regular zoning regulations.

“We don’t see this as being a money-maker,” said Terry Heder, foundation director of interpretation, education and history. “But also it’s kind of signpost. If you stop there, you’re more likely to come shop at businesses downtown.”

Also at the meeting, The Good Life Corporation was seeking a permit to convert the property at 178 Early St. to a multi-family dwelling unit and office space. Good Life’s application wasn’t met with any resistance from the public. The commission voted unanimously to approve the application.

Some contention swirled around the battlefield foundation’s as questions about security, lighting, ownership and a lengthy discussion about a potential conservation easement dominated most of the evening.

Jim Weissenborn, a church trustee, urged the commission to table the vote until the sale is final. A private loan to the church is holding up the closing, Weissenborn said.

“The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation does not own the property yet,” Weissenborn said. “We’re not opposed to what they want to do, but the application is premature.”

Despite Weissenborn’s request to table the discussion, committee members allowed the vote to take place. General concerns from the public focused on side issues, which fell short of preventing the commission from approving the permits.

Deborah Dralle, a neighbor, raised questions about lighting and water run off from expanded parking, but made it clear she supported the battlefield foundation’s vision.

While the commission approved the battlefield foundation’s application, some members were concerned about future uses of the property.

Tim Palmer, a commission member, noted the property is in the middle of expansion territory north of New Market.

Previously, the battlefield foundation submitted a letter to the Town Council seeking support for funding that requires placing the property in a conservation easement — severely limiting the possibility of future development.

Commission member Sonny Mongold represented the single dissenting vote on the application. He insisted the commission shouldn’t move forward until the question of the conservation easement is resolved.

“If we are in favor of economic development, we have to be opposed to it,” Mongold said. “If I owned property adjacent to [the property], I’d be opposed to it.”

Mongold and Palmer’s concerns about the conservation easement and the future use of the property dominated staff discussion. However, Alex Berryman, town planner and zoning administrator, insisted the conservation easement was a different issue altogether.

“The conservation easement is a question of ownership,” Berryman told the commission. “The Planning Commission’s role in issuing a conservation easement is limited … this use is a separate matter.”

Town Council will address the conservation easement issue at its next meeting on Sept. 17.