By Les Cheek
The chief of planning for Fauquier County said this week she still has “a lot of concerns” over the proposed plan to turn Upperville’s Blackthorne Inn into a boutique resort that will include a 250-seat event center.
Following recent state and county agency reviews of a revised proposal submitted by the new owner, the Easton Porter Group based in Charlottesville, Holly Meade, the county’s chief of planning, indicated that “a number of things still must be addressed for a project like this in a rural area. It’s the overall scope, the traffic, the noise and the environmental impact, the water supply and drain fields.”
Meade has received all state agency reviews of the plans for the 57-acre property off Route 50—the state’s health and emergency services departments—and said she expects to receive them by the end of this week.
She also said there has been considerable interest in the project both from residents in the neighboring Greystone community as well as other county residents and environmental and conservation organizations like the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Goose Creek Association.
“I think there’s a lot of concern in the community based on the number of calls I’ve received,” Meade said. “Several a week.”
Greystone 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 and the others are all within a mile of its entrance.
Kevin Ramundo, a Greystone resident who remains skeptical about Easton Porter’s ultimate plans for the property, also is among those leading the community’s effort to assess the plans for the proposed resort. Eventually, the project must be approved by the county board of supervisors.
He and others in the community have studied the available state agency reviews and “in my opinion, they demonstrably indicate that this is an incredibly inappropriate operation for an area that is zoned rural/agriculture. There are 10 different aspects of the operation that compare with what the board (of supervisors) approved in 2014 for the previous owners. It indicates that what is proposed (by Easton Porter) is two to three times larger than what was approved by the board in 2014.”
Ramundo, a past vice president of communications for the Raytheon Company, prepared a chart based on the agency reviews that spells out a number of increases from what the board allowed three years ago. Among them are an increase in large events from 30 in 2014 to 64 in the latest proposal, an increase from 3,600 maximum annual guests at large events to 11,000, an increase from seven structures to 24, and from 17 bedrooms to 38.
“In going over the reviews, these agencies have pointed out discrepancies and omissions and some errors,” Ramundo said. “The setback requirements for a road are ignored. The traffic issue is significant but there is nothing about the volume of traffic, the timing of the traffic and how some of their estimates were even arrived at…On the water issue, the developer says they’ll use 9,049 gallons a day….The agency review staff says it could be 2 1/2 times that amount.”
Easton Porter founder and owner, Dean Porter Andrews, said of the state agency reviews that “I would characterize it as more questions and clarifications that have to be addressed. We have narrowed the scope and we’ve handled the key issues on water use and water treatment.
“I do understand the concerns about it being a rural area, I totally understand it,” he said. “Everything our company has done is in an interesting place—historic places, properties in conservation easement. I get it. That was one of the attractions of Blackthorne. It’s in a beautiful area of rural protection. People who will come there want to experience this area.”
Porter also indicated that even by adding up the total square footage of what his company proposes, “it only covers about two percent of the property…My concern at this point is that some people are going out and trying to come up with fear-mongering tactics…If you sense an amount of frustration in my voice, it is because I’ve shared every single piece of this with everyone…The way we’ve built this company is to have a transparent agenda.”
Andrews said he plans to be in the Upperville area at the end of next week and is open to meeting with local residents and groups like the PEC and Goose Creek Association. Ramundo said he and his fellow residents would welcome another meeting as well. Andrews did have a session with Greystone property owners last November.
“Hopefully, we can have a substantive discussion, ask questions and get answers,” Ramundo said. “This is not just about Greystone. What I’m hearing in our own outreach is that a lot of other people are interested, too. We’re trying to educate people so they know what’s going on.”
Once Easton Porter amends its final proposal, county planning chief Meade said the next step will be a public hearing, followed by a planning commission recommendation to the board, with another public hearing and then a final vote by the Board of Supervisors.
Lori Keenan McGuinness, who lives in Rectortown and is the Fauquier County chair of the Goose Creek Association, has also read the agency reviews and said “we’re cautiously optimistic” about the planned resort.
“The quality of their other properties has been good,” she said of Easton Porter. “It would be a welcome addition if it can be consistent with the neighborhood and deal with these concerns. If they’re sincere in this, I think they can meet all the concerns, but they still need to answer some of these questions.
“We are concerned about the size and scope of it—the number of events, the size of the events, the water issues… I’m not going to say no way Jose… I believe in trust, but verify. The county also has to be careful about setting precedent… Some of these things definitely have to be massaged.”