The new owner of the former Blackthorne Inn last week re-filed an amended application with the Fauquier County Planning Commission for a transformative expansion of the Upperville facility into a boutique resort that will include a 250-person capacity event center for weddings, parties and other functions.
The latest application, submitted by the Easton Porter Group based in Charlottesville, has definitely captured the attention of the nearby Greystone community as well as the Warrenton-based Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC). Both entities have significant concerns about the increased size and overall scope of the proposed project located on 57 acres along Route 50.
“The big issue is simply that we have serious reservations about what Easton Porter has proposed,” said Kevin Ramundo, a Greystone resident whose wife, Anne D’Ignazio, is president of the community’s homeowners association. “Our biggest concern is the scale of what has been proposed. It has been significantly increased.
“From what the (Fauquier) Board of Supervisors approved in 2014 (for the previous owner), it now doubles the number of overnight guests, triples the number of guests allowed on the property at any given time and increases the number of special events by 350 percent. Put it all together—the traffic issues, the noise issues, the environmental issues—and it’s much larger than what what was there before. Is that scale appropriate for what was supposed to be a rural, agricultural area?”
Included in the latest Easton Porter application are 24 guest cabins with a total of 38 rooms, a 50-seat restaurant and 32-seat pub in what will be the renovated historic main building, with three other private dining rooms that could seat as many as 115 people. There are plans for an event center that would accommodate as many as 250 guests, in-creased parking areas, new roads, a fitness center, spa and pool, three new support buildings for laundry, storage, loading and trash removal, and a three-bedroom single family home.
The Fauquier County Planning Commission has already sent the re-filed application out to a number of state agencies for review before a public hearing on the proposal is scheduled. Following that hearing, the planning commission could either recommend to the full board of supervisors that the plan be approved, or not. The supervisors could still vote to approve the plan, even if the county’s planning commission does not recom-mend it.
The current state agency review is not expected to be completed for at least another month, according to Holly Meade, Fauquier County’s chief of planning. It will be studied by the Virginia Department of Transportation, Office of Drinking Water, Historic Resource Planner, Office of Emergency Services, and Department of Health, among others.
“There are so many moving parts,” Meade said. “And there is definitely a lot of interest in this.”
That would very much include the PEC.
“Right now,” said PEC president Jean Perin, “the PEC is taking the position that we’re there to enable our constituency, and their neighbors, to voice their concerns about the repercussions of the size of the project, the water, the drain fields, the environmental issues.”
Julie Bolthouse, the PEC’s head of land use in Fauquier County, has reviewed the latest Easton Porter application and said “my biggest concern in looking at it is just the scope, all the new buildings. They’re adding a 13,700-foot event building. There’s a new spa, three new buildings for storage and trash removal. There are four new cabins and that will have a big impact in terms of water usage. That’s definitely eye-opening … At this point we also have concerns about the impact on the environment. There’s a lack of detail on the septic system, the wells they’ll be providing and how much water they’ll be using.”
Bolthouse said it’s too soon in the process for the PEC to take an official stance. Before deciding on any formal action, she said, the PEC will wait to see what the various agencies recommend after the review. She also indicated “I’ve been contacted by a num-ber of people opposed to it, and several of them, maybe a half-dozen, are nearby resi-dents.”
The Greystone community is spread over a 2,000-acre tract that includes 12 property owners with parcels of 50 or more acres. Three of those properties border the 57-acre resort.
“This is sort of like a tale of two cities,” said Ramundo, a past vice president of communications for the Raytheon Company. “The reality of it is that the Easton Porter Group has done some very successful and aesthetically pleasing developments in Charlottesville and Charleston (South Carolina) that are first class. But as much as we appre-ciate their skill, we definitely still have these reservations.
“We also wonder about their future plans. They’ll cap (events) at 250 now, but will they try to support events larger than that later on? What are the implications for traffic and noise? Down the road, will they add more cabins? If this is Phase 1, what’s is there a Phase 2. Our concerns also have to do with the broader community in terms of health and public safety.”
Company founder and owner Dean Porter Andrews is out of the country until March 12 and was not available to comment for this story. Marketing director Curry Uflacker provided a written company response addressing some of the Greystone and PEC concerns.
“We intentionally delayed our submission to the county,” the company wrote, “to allow us to reach out to our neighbors, the community and to complete the details of our water sourcing and treatment plans, integration of our environmentally sustainable build-ings and infrastructure and operational and design plans.
“The community will continue to be engaged with scheduled meetings and presen-tations and we will integrate the feedback in our investment plans as feasible. As part of our ongoing communication we will conduct these meetings as a public forum to address any questions in person.”
Asked specifically about community concerns on the expanded scope of the project, the company wrote that “our plans are to develop on only two per cent of the land with existing and new buildings, leaving 98 per cent of the land woodlands, fields and ponds. We are increasing the total number of rooms from 17 to 24 cabins (38 rooms) to accommodate small social and corporate groups and have scale for the summer leisure transient guests. Blackthorne (the previous owners) can host 32 events a year of up to 150-200 guests. Our plans are for 64 private Class C Events, and eliminating all ticketed public events—not four times the number of events.”
The company’s response also indicated plans to continue to meet with residents and the PEC to discuss their concerns and that “our focus is making sure that the plans we present are sound, reasonable, and economically viable. We’ve presented to the county what we believe is necessary to make the project successful.”
Ramundo said that over the last four months, there have been several meetings involving Greystone residents and company representatives, though not with Andrews, with more discussion expected.
“The Easton Porter Group appears to be a reputable, high-quality firm that, when they undertake something, does it well,” Ramundo said. “The question is whether what they’re proposing is appropriate for this area. If you look at the county’s strategic plan, it’s for this area to remain rural and agricultural in nature. So how is that strategy at all consistent with this project?”