What is Shireton? New proposal moves forward in Buckingham

Published 12:57 am Saturday, June 1, 2024

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A unique proposal will have a chance for a public hearing in Buckingham County. By a unanimous vote, the planning commission on Tuesday, May 28 agreed to send the Shireton request made by Matthew and Jessica Nicholas forward. 

The couple live in Powhatan, but own a piece of property in the Slate River District. Located on 23.92 acres, at 1025 Melita Road, this is where the couple want to run their Shireton project. Just after the COVID-19 pandemic, Matt and Jessica purchased the land and built a small, one bedroom, one bath ‘earthbound’ home. That is, one literally covered from top to bottom with dirt and grass. From the road, it almost looks like a small hill, except for one window. That’s where the ‘Shireton’ name comes from, as it resembles a Hobbit home in the Shire, from the Lord of the Rings books and movies. In addition to serving as a house for them and their two children, the couple want to use it in a variety of ways. 

That’s why they ended up at the planning commission meeting on a Tuesday night in May. They want to use it for everything from an AirBnB to a campsite and events center, where weddings, reunions, parties, music events, and photo shoots could take place. They also want to consider wine tastings, dinner parties and similar projects to be held there. 

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“We believe our home could be a desired destination for such events due to its unique quality,” the couple wrote in their application. They don’t currently live on the property, but hope to build a three to four bedroom home of their own at the back of the 23.92 acres. And maybe add a couple more of those “Shire” homes down the line. 

A Shireton request

Now the issue is that this property is listed as Agricultural A1 at the moment. And that zoning doesn’t allow for an AirBnb, campsites or an events center on its own. For each of those examples, the owner has to come before the planning commission and ask for a special use permit. That’s exactly what the Nicholas family did. 

And while planning commission members appreciated the creativity of the idea, they were a little hesitant when it comes to the couple’s ambition. The family hopes to bring events to the place that would draw up to 1,500 people. 

“I’m a little concerned about the event possibility, because of the parking,” said Planning Commission Chairman John Bickford. “If you’re gonna have 1,500 people, you’re gonna need some (more) parking.” 

Other planning commission members were concerned about trying to bring that many people to the site on what’s best described as winding roads. They were also worried about finding places to park. 

“I think if we had the ability to have an event with 1500 people, we would definitely address a bigger parking area,” Matthew Nicholas said. “There’s already a space with access to the road (we could use).” 

Instead of 1,500, commission members suggested something a bit smaller. 

“It just seems like 1,500 people is a ridiculous number to be on that property,” said planning commission member Pete Kapuscinski. “Maybe what we do is allow some number that seems reasonable for a 24-acre, very hilly parcel and then if it exceeded that number, the sheriff’s office would have to be notified.” 

Kapuscinski suggested capping events at a maximum of 500 people, and getting the sheriff’s office involved to help manage traffic for anything over 250. Also, commission members wanted to set the maximum number of events per year at 10 for the property. 

The couple agreed, acknowledging that 1,500 was a bit of a longshot. 

“We just thought we’d ask,” Matthew Nicholas said. 

With the unanimous vote, the proposal now goes to a public hearing. That’s set for the commission’s June meeting, currently scheduled for June 24 at 6 p.m.