A special exception request to allow an event area for weddings, church retreats and other social gatherings in Madison Heights received a unanimous recommendation of approval from the Amherst County Planning Commission on June 24.
The application from Peter and Melanie Traber also seeks short-term rental of four existing cabins on the 15-acre parcel at 2554 Stapleton Road. The site also includes a former church, a single-family dwelling and a cemetery and is zoned A-1, or agricultural residential.
Melanie Traber told the commission the property is perfect for her family, as her two children are attending Liberty University, and the event venue will cater to gatherings of 25 to 50 people.
“It will only be used during daylight,” she said. “… It’s not set up for nighttime.”
Jeremy Bryant, director of community development, said any events drawing more than 75 people would require a parking attendant to direct traffic. “This is a common condition that we’ve placed on other special events or wedding venues,” Bryant said.
Melanie Traber said the cabins previously had more than a dozen beds and they are lowering the number who can stay in cabins to two beds. County documents state the maximum number of occupants per unit for overnight accommodation is two adults per bedroom.
The Trabers have gone all out in renovating the cabins and are focusing on attracting families whose children are in college, Melanie Traber said.
Several residents raised questions about the proposal during a public hearing.
“We choose to live where we live because it’s rural, it’s quiet, it’s peaceful and we’re a little bit concerned that may be under threat,” said William Callahan, who lives about a mile from the property, adding: “Good neighbors are really important … we all watch out for each other.”
Callahan said events drawing major crowds and heavy traffic would bring a challenge for Stapleton Road. Neighbors in the area want to the event center to become part of the community there and not a detriment, he said.
“We want good neighbors,” Callahan said.
“You got ‘em,” Melanie Traber said in response.
Addressing concerns raised about care for and access to the cemetery, Melanie Traber assured neighbors gravesites would be properly looked after.
“I was a mortician and a funeral director,” she said. “No one is more in love with cemeteries than I am.”
Cindy Henderson, who lives near the property, said her great-grandparents were founding members of the former church on site and are buried there.
“Our overwhelming impression is these new property owners wish to be good neighbors,” Henderson said.
The special exception request now heads to the Amherst County Board of Supervisors for review. Melanie Traber said the short-term rentals are aimed at attracting families with children in college and insisted her family wants to be good neighbors and respect neighbors’ properties.
“I’m from Texas,” she said. “I love fences.”
Commissioner Jim Thompson said he visited the property and was astounded at how well kept the inside of the church is. “I was very impressed with everything I’ve seen so far,” Thompson said.
Henderson said her family is delighted the Traber family wants to bring new life to a property she grew up near and is sentimental to her and loved ones.
“I’ve been a big proponent for saving a lot of our historic buildings, churches in particular,” Henderson said. “To see this building used for the good of the community … is very exciting to me.”
Reach Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.