A plan for what would be the first bed-and-breakfast and events venue in Varina is getting pushback from neighbors who are raising concerns about potential noise and traffic impacts.
Varina resident Jocelyn Senn is looking to use her riverside home and adjacent properties she’s acquired off Osborne Turnpike to open The Virginia Inn, which would be the first of its kind in Varina and only the third in Henrico, according to the county.
Senn is applying for a provisional-use permit to allow the new uses, which would center on an adjacent farmhouse that she recently renovated at 1520 Rustling Cedar Lane. The combined property, at 9128 Osborne Turnpike, stretches between the river and the turnpike south of its intersection with Battery Hill Drive, about a mile north of the Osborne boat landing and the Lilly Pad Café.
The county Planning Commission is scheduled to consider the request at its next meeting Dec. 10, having deferred it this month to allow Senn time to provide additional details, such as how she would mitigate sound and traffic impacts on neighboring residential properties.
Such impacts are highlighted on an opposition website called “Don’t Venue Varina,” which encourages property owners to communicate concerns about the proposal with county officials. The site includes a map suggesting a majority of nearby property owners have voiced concerns about the project.
Senn, who has posted her own website detailing the proposal and her application to the county, said the opposition runs counter to feedback she received when she initially reached out to neighbors about her plans. On Monday, she was preparing to present those plans in a community meeting that evening, rescheduled from a previous date in October.
“I know there’s a lot of people all up in arms about it. People are like, ‘She’s going to change the rural nature of Varina.’ Well, we are the rural nature of Varina,” said Senn, who has owned her residence there since the mid-1990s. “We are that character, and we’re trying to preserve that.”
Since purchasing her home in 1994, Senn, who owns Richmond-based picture frame shop PopMount, has acquired three adjacent properties that would be part of the project, including the adjacent farmhouse property, which she bought in 2017 and restored in the years since with the concept in mind.
“If the people (had) said no, we are absolutely going to oppose you, I would have never gone down this road,” Senn said. “It was three years of my life developing that house, and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I think we have something really beautiful to share with our community, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
As proposed, the property would host as many as 60 events per year, including weddings, family reunions, anniversaries and receptions. The property would be designed with six venue options, five of those outdoor and one indoor. Maximum capacities for each venue range from 50 to 250 guests, according to Senn’s application with the county.
The B&B would total five guest bedrooms between the 3,400-square-foot farmhouse and Senn’s Cape Cod-style house, which totals 1,400 square feet. The property also includes two barns, walking trails and parking areas for guests, and dock access to a pond that’s shared with neighboring properties. The site also features 1.4 miles of river frontage, also with dock access.
In a staff report to the commission, county planners said the proposal could help promote tourism in Varina, noting the site’s proximity to the historic Route 5 corridor, the Virginia Capital Trail, national battlefields and the river.
But they also noted the site is surrounded by large-lot residential properties that could be impacted by outdoor events. In light of that, planners asked Senn to provide details on how she would mitigate impacts, such as through restrictions on frequency of events, number of guests, access, hours of operation and noise.
In Monday’s community meeting, which stretched over two hours, many of Senn’s immediate neighbors and other nearby residents spoke in opposition to the proposal, several citing bad experiences with gatherings that Senn has hosted on her property in the past. One property owner said he’d sell the land where he planned to build his dream home if the project goes forward.
If approved, The Virginia Inn would join another events venue recently permitted along the river. In Goochland County, the former River Run Manor has been converted into The Estate at River Run, which started operations this year.