After it seemed that The Lilly Pad’s future was clear, the popular dockside restaurant in eastern Henrico County has at least one more hurdle to clear.
The county is requiring that owners Max and Karen Walraven secure a provisional-use permit to bring the restaurant into compliance with new zoning rules that were adopted through an ordinance rewrite last year.
The new rules require the permit for a restaurant use on that property, which is part of the larger Kingsland Marina that Max Walraven took control of in 2018.
The marina has been operating on a conditional-use permit that was approved in the early 1960s, and the Walravens’ expansion of the restaurant and other improvements to the property further warrant a new permit, said Ben Sehl, the county planner handling the Walravens’ permit application.
“The restaurant, as most people have seen, has expanded a little bit, beyond the bounds of what was shown in the original conditional-use permit,” Sehl said.
“Based on our new zoning ordinance, a marina now requires a provisional-use permit vs. a conditional-use permit in that district. So, we’re just going through that process to get everything shown on the plans they have approved in the county.”
The process involves a community meeting that’s scheduled to be held at 6 p.m. April 4 at The Lilly Pad. Sehl said the case is slated to go before the county Planning Commission at its May 12 meeting.
Sehl said the county had received complaints from some neighbors about noise coming from the open-air Lilly Pad, which has hosted live bands on Saturday nights and, until recently, salsa dancing on Thursday nights.
“That’s something we’re trying to work through as part of the provisional-use permit process as well,” Sehl said.
Concerns about noise and traffic have been a recurring theme in that area of the county, which makes up part of the Varina District. Last year, a bed-and-breakfast and events venue proposed a half-mile away was withdrawn in the wake of an opposition campaign coordinated by some area residents.
Reached Friday, Max Walraven said they recently stopped the salsa nights in light of the sound concerns, and to show that they’re working with the county through the process. He deferred further comment to William Shewmake, a real estate and land use attorney with Woods Rogers who’s representing the Walravens in their application.
“I know that Max and Karen are looking to be very collaborative, because they want to be good neighbors,” Shewmake said. “I don’t see anything that is going to come of this that is going to substantially interfere with what The Lilly Pad has been able to provide. It’s more of this is what The Lilly Pad is, incorporating it into the conditions, and as part of that we want to listen to the community.”
Shewmake said they have heard a few complaints about noise but have heard more from those wanting to support the permitting effort.
“We do have some ideas of how you can make sure the music is enjoyable but isn’t too loud for neighbors. One of the things that’s come through this is a lot of the neighbors that are right next door are the ones that enjoy coming down and listening to the music,” he said.
Last year, The Lilly Pad had its best year yet, bringing in more than $2 million in business and serving upward of 50,000 people, according to Walraven. Among them were several A-list celebrities, such as actors Michael Keaton and Ewan McGregor, who dined at the restaurant while filming in Richmond.
The restaurant, which employs about 50 people, also emerged from under the cloud of a legal dispute between Walraven and Kingsland’s former caretakers that was dismissed after a settlement was reached. While that dispute played out, Walraven put $250,000 into renovating the restaurant, just as the pandemic fueled an upsurge in outdoor dining.
Sehl said some of those improvements were done without all of the proper permits, further leading to the county’s push for compliance. He said the permitting process is aimed at achieving that goal, not stopping what’s been allowed there so far.
“What has happened is it has expanded beyond what was shown in the original approvals,” he said. “It’s not necessarily where the county is looking to pull anything back, as much as making sure that everything is consistent with their approvals.”
Shewmake said the Walravens look forward to working with the county through that process.
“The restaurant, given what Max and Karen have done, has become incredibly successful,” Shewmake said, “So, from our perspective, we think it makes sense. Let’s go through the provisional-use permit to show where we are now, what the footprint will be, hours of operation. They’re very glad to work collaboratively, and I think that’s going to be borne out at the community meeting.”
Tyrone Nelson, who represents the Varina District on the county Board of Supervisors, said he likewise looks forward to seeing the process through.
“We love The Lilly Pad in Varina,” Nelson said, “and I feel that between the planning department and The Lilly Pad ownership, we can fix whatever needs to be fixed and move on swiftly so that The Lilly Pad can continue to serve the region.”