The Tides Inn received a special exception to develop boardinghouses in Weems for up to 60 employees.
New Tides LLC, the company that owns Tides Inn, has 16 parcels zoned as R-1 off of Weems Rd. The company applied to be able to use six of those parcels for a workforce housing project that will be part of the new Taylor Creek Park neighborhood.
Each of the six half-acre lots is slated to have a pair of two-story, wood-framed houses with an adjoining roof, and each of these duplex units will have a total of 10 bedrooms. Downstairs, each house will have a kitchen, dining room, and living room as well as a covered front porch.
New Tides will bring water and sewer to each property and operate a wastewater treatment plant sewer that’s 50,000 gallons. Run off will be taken care of with a stormwater basin as DEQ has required them “to treat every drop of water that is on [the] site,” according to Marston Smith with New Tides. During a presentation to the Lancaster Board of Supervisors, he also noted that they had already gotten VDOT approval.
Why boardinghouses, why now?
Smith described the project as “very necessary,” He noted that the Tides Inn is the second largest employer in Lancaster County. Annually at peak, the company has about 150 employees. Within the next five years, the company plans to add 30 more guest rooms and expects its staff to grow.
“This is the number one need we face and that we hear most often from our staff within the local area—a real need to have suitable housing and in proximity to where we work,” Smith said. Oftentimes, the company’s employees have to come from quite a ways outside of Lancaster County, and New Tides is hoping to change that.
Currently, the Tides Inn is using its Garden House building to provide employee housing, but those structures are past their useful life and set for demolition in 2024 to 2025. At that point, the company will need other housing to accommodate its staff, Smith said.
The plan for the property off of Weems Rd. has always been to use site for employee housing, and that idea dates back to 2007. “It’s the most suitable of all of our sites because of utility availability, and we also think it’s going to create a major public amenity with public water access,” Smith said.
“This is a housing type we feel is critical to Lancaster County sustaining a working age population,” he added. The boardinghouses will provide the flexibility to get staffing right for all of the various family groups, whether that’s seasonal employees, year-round individuals that need a place to live that’s closer to work, or traditional families.
A project that benefits the county
Smith told the board that New Tides have been good partners with Lancaster County and they have been good stewards.
Not only did New Tides give Lancaster County the two parcels closest to Weems Rd. in 2007, the company also deeded the county 11.1 acres immediately behind its lots for a park and public water access.
Smith said the company was very excited about Taylor Creek Park. They have done site clearing and mulching, which includes mulching a pathway through the 11-acre park so the county has access to go through and envision what they want to do with the park.
Once New Tides builds the road, Smith said the county will have full access and will be able to open the park. So, this plan “aligns with all sorts of county objectives” and “will catalyze the development of the park and public water access for the county.” The public access is for everyone in Lancaster, said Smith.
Many neighbors opposed
Many people in the neighborhood opposed having the boardinghouses or were upset with how the notification was handled.
In this case, the Code of Virginia defines an adjoining property owner as one that abuts any of the lots in question. If a property does not touch, you are not an adjoining property owner and are not required to receive a mailing,” Lancaster County Administrator Don Gill explained to the board of supervisors.
Concern was also raised about no signage being posted on the property to advise to the public that this special exception was being considered. The Code of Virginia does not require that, and although some localities choose to do so as an additional means of notice, Lancaster County has never done that, said Gill.
“So I can tell you without a doubt that advertising and adjoining owner notification has been conducted as required by law,” he added.
“There’s something different between what’s legally required and what’s ethically desired. Many more people should have been informed. You have not been transparent about this,” said Linda Hamilton, who lives close to the project area.
Further, “My son worked, as a young man, at the Tides Inn and routinely hung out with the transient employees. There was a lot of drinking, a lot of noise, a lot of partying,” said Hamilton. And when she called her son to discuss the project, he warned her that it would be noisy, affairs would run late into the night, and she could bet that the new residents would be at the dock her community owns, she told the supervisors.
Others also expressed concern about the “type of people” that would be living in the boardinghouses.
Forest Ward, who is by definition an adjoining property owner, said he was aware of New Tides’ plans to build residential units when he purchased his land in 2009. But he thought it would be vacation cottages or family homes in line with the character of the neighborhood. If New Tides’ truly always planned to use the land for employee housing, they would have put it in the 2007 agreement, he said.
“This isn’t families. This is a dorm on a good day,” said Ward. “We were absolutely shocked to find out last weekend that the county plans to give New Tides a boardinghouse exemption. What’s now proposed is intensity of development beyond any magnitude that we could have imagined...”
He also warned that if the county didn’t limit it, there’s nothing limiting the living arrangements in the boardinghouses to one person per bedroom, so there could be more than 60 people. That level of density in Weems “is completely inconsistent with the nature of the neighborhood and the lot sizes and restrictions and property owners nearby,” he said.
William Thornton, who lives across Taylor’s Creek, went as far to say, “This is spot zoning.”
Supporters in the house
Supporters, such as Weems resident Claudette Henderson, pointed out that the project would “ensure decent and safe housing for employees,” “support quality job retention and growth,” and it had “relevance to the Taylor Creek Park project.” She noted that workforce housing is one of the strategies in Lancaster’s 2035 initiative.
Outlining first-hand experience with workforce challenges, Jeff Superski, a Weems resident and member of the 2035 committee, said his business had to purchase a 50,000 square foot facility in Norge because they could not find the workforce in Lancaster. There has been a 10% decrease in workforce over the past three years, he said, adding he supports the project because it hits two pillars of the 2035 plan—workforce and housing.
William Hubbard noted that it’s clearly outlined in the comprehensive plan that Lancaster needs more affordable or workforce housing. “I mean that says it all right there, and we have a project before us tonight for consideration.” He added that the comprehensive plan says Lancaster has a problem with unemployment and underemployment, and this project can also help address that problem.
Keith Butler said he started working at Tides Inn in 1981 and went from sweeping floors to director of maintenance. “If you’re worried about the people that are going to be living beside you, you’re looking at one,” he said.
Many employees at Tides Inn work double shifts, and they currently live on property at the Tides Inn where some guest rooms run over $1,000 a night, Butler explained. “So I wouldn’t think we would have a bunch of party people living on a property making noise all through the night. “I can’t imagine that anybody wouldn’t want me to live next door to them.”
Supervisors weigh in
Supervisor William Smith asked Marston Smith why they wanted boardinghouses versus other types of housing. He explained that the zoning ordinance doesn’t specify how many non-related parties could live in a duplex so they pursued boardinghouses, which are allowed in R-1 with a special exception. Gill added that an apartment use would have required rezoning to R-4.
Addressing the resistance to the project, Marston Smith said he believes using the word “boardinghouses” is partially responsible for the fears. I agree it’s a rather archaic term. I don’t see it in most counties but it’s the county’s designation for non-related housemates, and that type of housing already exists throughout Lancaster, he said.
Supervisor Smith said he received 18 phone calls in the two days up to the meeting, all in opposition. He noted that it was only two years ago that the Tides Inn was planning to leave Lancaster, and that would have been a disaster, he said.
Supervisor William Lee said he was “deeply disturbed” by opponents, some who he knows, that are talking about concerns of who is going to live beside them. Lee said he couldn’t believe in the 21st century, the people of Weems were using terms like “transient people” and still have this type of attitude.”
He told the crowd they have to stop thinking about themselves and worrying just about the bubble they’re in because people out here are struggling to find housing.
Supervisor Craig Giese said he also believes a lot of the opposition is “unproven fear.”
The special exemption was unanimously approved with the condition that occupancy be capped at 60 people and that the project be built in accordance with the details outlined in the plans submitted with the application.