The developer of the Blackthorne Inn in Upperville met for two and a half hours Feb. 26 with a dozen property owners from the neighboring Greystone community and representatives of four local conservation and preservation groups to address their concerns about a proposed 67-acre resort.
Dean Porter Andrews, founder and CEO of the Easton Porter Group based in Charlottesville, came to the Warrenton headquarters of the Piedmont Environmental Council for the session. When it ended, several attendees said they were still skeptical about his plans to develop the property as a boutique resort.
On Feb. 23, Andrews resubmitted his latest proposal to the Fauquier County Department of Community Development. It’s now being reviewed by various county and state agencies. The county’s planning commission will hold a public hearing on the company’s proposal and make its recommendation to the board of supervisors, which has the final say.
The Blackthorne project has raised objections from neighbors and groups like the PEC, Goose Creek Association, Mosby Heritage Foundation and Citizens for Fauquier County. Their main concern: The land is zoned as rural agriculture and the resort would fly in the face of the spirit of that use.
Marshall Supervisor Mary Leigh McDaniel, who represents the area that contains the Blackthorne property, did not attend the Feb. 26 meeting but is closely following the situation.
“When they (Easton Porter) first expressed interest in that property a few years ago, we met with them,” she said. “We were very clear it was a rural agriculture area and they needed to get the neighborhood to buy in. We’ve been trying hard to keep commercial and industrial development in our service districts.These rural agricultural areas are not for that use.”
One issue has been the impact on the water supply and the aquifer in the area. Andrews said he’s agreed to do an extended draw-down test on the wells and add an ultra violet system to the water treatment so the water would be essentially potable after its use. He said the system was “signed off” on by the county’s health department.
“My fond hope,” Andrews said, “is they will recognize that we have spent the time and money on a plan that in the end will produce a state-of-the-art resort that will be part of a larger collection of upscale properties.”
He also said he has reduced the number of planned Class C (more than 125 attendees) events by 20 percent from his original proposal to 52 per year. Traffic, he said, would not impact Upperville because it would mostly be coming from Interstate 66, up Route 17 to Route 50 in Paris, a short distance from the planned resort. He said the Virginia Department of Transportation agrees with his assessments.
“PEC is still studying the impacts of the proposal,” a spokesperson said in an email, “but remains concerned about the impacts on the hard-won traffic calming improvements on Route 50, which has done so much to better the quality of life and efficient flow of traffic.
“Likewise, the use of Fauquier County’s adaptive re-use special permit provisions to allow for an effective 30 percent increase in size of the existing approved use is of concern on this site and as a precedent for intensive developments throughout the rural areas of the county.”
Andrews indicated he’s also aware there is some objection to a restaurant on the property because it’s a rural agriculture area.
“It’s the only argument I want to give thought to,” Andrews said, adding that the restaurant is critical to making the business work. He said the new resort will have about 40 regular employees and another 30 for bigger events.
Andrews said he hopes the county will balance any objections with the nearly $3 million he said it will pay to the county in taxes over the next four years and $1 million it will spend locally in salaries, purchases and services. If infrastructure work can begin this summer, he said the resort could open in October 2019.
“If they (the supervisors) take a position that this is not an appropriate use,” he said, “I’m not going to win that argument.”
Andrews was asked during the PEC meeting about a “Plan B” if the project is not approved by the supervisors.
“He said the answer is ‘there is no Plan B,’” according to Kevin Ramundo, a Greystone resident in attendance. “It follows that he’s intent on building this commercial operation on the scale he’s indicated….I would say that after two and a half hours, the fundamental issues still remain. This is out of scale and has no place in a rural agriculture area.”
Ramundo said he and others still have significant concerns about the number of events, including those with 70 or fewer guests. Route 50 traffic also remains an issue, as does the adaptive re-use of the historic main building housing the resort’s dining facilities.
“Everyone came to the meeting trying to understand more about their proposal,” he added. “What made it frustrating is we couldn’t get clarity on the number of events, on Route 50 and the adaptive re-use of a historic property. The scale they’re proposing is two or three times bigger than what the board has previously approved. That is inappropriate.
“The four conservation groups have opposed this before and there’s no indication their position has changed, and the landowners are the same.”