Walker Drive and East Lee

Walker Drive Project: Oversold and Underplanned

By Sally Semple

In the last three years Warrenton Town Council has become stunningly pro-development. Unless significant numbers of citizens make their voices heard at a public hearing, there are sufficient votes on council to give a green light to the controversial Walker Drive development.

This is a car-intensive commercial project with multifamily dwellings, shoehorned into an established lower density residential neighborhood, within steps of the Historic District.

Touted as a mixed-use, planned neighborhood center — the crown jewel of which would be a movie theater — the proffers contain no movie theater, replace professional offices with generic multifamily housing, and undermine the opportunity for a balanced mix of employment.

Acres of parking lots to accommodate over 11,750 daily vehicle trips would flank the approach to Old Town, and green space would be relegated to narrow strips around the parking lots and storm water management pond.

The developer manipulated the zoning allowing for dense, multi-family housing, totaling 116 units on a site that even when rezoned was supposed to contain more industrial office than housing space. Weak proffers permit the developer to construct two condominium buildings before contributing a dime to road improvements. And when the developers eventually are required to help pay for the critical roundabout on East Lee Street, they will contribute less than their fair share.

Town Council, at a work session, ignored the Warrenton Planning Commission’s 6-1 vote to deny the Walker Drive application. The town’s dwindling sewer capacity, absence of need to change the zoning, and the sheer volume of traffic are being overlooked for the allure of dense, Gainesville-style development.

Major Issues:

Even without the Walker Drive development, and even after completion of a $2.4 million project to reduce inflow and infiltration (I&I) into the sewer system, the Town projects that it will not be able to serve all of the town and out-of-town customers and remain in compliance with Virginia Department of Environmental Quality planning limits. Any new I&I events could put the sewage treatment plant over its capacity.

Upzoning properties without a plan in place to comply with future sewer commitments puts Warrenton taxpayers at risk for:

  • Increased treatment costs
  • Flooding during and after rainstorms (overflowing manholes, sewer backups)
  • Discharge of untreated or inadequately treated waste

This project is estimated to bring 11,751 cars per day – over one quarter of the total daily traffic volume on the Eastern Bypass – to neighborhoods at the Eastern gateway of Warrenton’s Historic District.

  • Backups on the Route 29 exit ramp at Meetze Road/E. Lee Street could be more than 20 cars deep at rush hour.
    Three intersections in the small area from the US 29 ramps at Meetze Road/E. Lee Street to the site entrance on Walker Drive would need to be signalized.
  • The developer has offered to pay for the necessary improvements at only one of these intersections – their site entrance.
    The developer has proffered $200,000 — a fraction of their pro rata share —towards the $1 – 2 million roundabout needed at East Lee Street.
  • Traffic at the intersection of Hidden Creek Lane with Walker Drive would increase more than 180 percent.
    The project’s traffic study underestimates impacts by neglecting to include traffic from an adjacent housing development, Warrenton Chase, accessed via Meetze Road.

Approval of the Walker Drive project is contingent on rezoning the land from low density Industrial to high density Industrial Planned Unit Development. (I-PUD). The town greased the skids for approval of this project long before critical project details were publicly available. For example:

  1. At the developers’ request the Town changed the I-PUD zoning laws to allow 20 percent more housing in I-PUD developments.
  2. Council appears poised to grant the developer a waiver of all the land use mix requirements of the I-PUD. Only 12 percent of new space is devoted to general office use — a far cry from the 50 percent industrial use specified in the I-PUD ordinance.
  3. Although land rezonings are required to conform with the Comprehensive Plan, an entire section of the plan was omitted from the Town’s analysis. The missing section warned against upzoning properties without solving the town’s future sewage shortfall.

Blackthorne Inn Resort Project Alarms Rural Upperville

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.”


CFFC: Making a Difference for 50 Years

By Chris Bonner

Since the 1950s, developers have looked at productive, agricultural Southern Fauquier and the mountains, forests and pastures of Northern Fauquier and imagined a paradise for commuters seeking clean air, clean water, dark skies, less hassle and lower taxes.

And for just as long people in Fauquier have been resisting development that would erode the rural character of the county and turn it into just another suburb of strip malls and tract houses. Since 1968, Citizens for Fauquier County, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, has been reminding residents and, especially, decision-makers in government, that growth should be confined to service districts in conformity with the 50-year-old Comprehensive Plan.

Not long ago, Loudoun County was like Fauquier — rolling hills, open fields, fertile soil and a sense of place. Today Loudoun is gated communities, helipads, a furiously growing school system, expanding police and fire departments and sharply rising taxes to pay for it all. Loudoun’s board became development cheerleaders in one election, and the county will never be the same.

Fauquier’s residential growth has been incremental rather than explosive, in part because prudent landowners have placed a commonwealth-leading 100,000 acres into perpetual easement. And the county has embraced the purchase of development rights program to protect Fauquier’s farming base.

Fauquier’s success in curbing promiscuous development is a function of the political will of the people expressed through the board of supervisors. The current board is informed and even-handed when it comes to managing the public trust that is Fauquier County. While the CFFC is non-partisan, you may be sure that many of our members are actively involved in politics.

The CFFC is effective because our members are informed and involved. Experts on planning, zoning and development study complex proposals each month, attend planning and supervisors’ meetings and make our voices heard. CFFC’s highly respected Land Use Report, analyzing the pros and cons of development proposals, is distributed to the supervisors and is available to everyone who signs up at citizensforfauquier.org.