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June 23, 2017 · OPINION

Promising “responsible development” in Upperville

File Photo/Don Del Rosso
Dean Porter Andrews at the Blackthorne Inn.
By Dean Porter Andrews
Charlottesville

The Easton Porter Group is excited to be investing in the dynamic and promising Upperville community and, more importantly, to be actively preserving and enhancing one of the region’s important assets, The Blackthorne Inn. We have been enchanted by the area’s rural character and natural beauty, and indeed this is why we are certain that putting a $15-million investment in the Blackthorne property is not only worthy and wise, but will reap benefits for the broader community.

We are heartened that many Upperville business leaders and neighbors support our vision for the project and share our excitement about the economic growth that a small luxury retreat will bring to the area. Yet we also understand that some members of a small rural community are, and should be, wary about change. You care about this land and this region, and that’s to be celebrated.

We care as well, and first and foremost, I’d like to convey Easton Porter Group’s absolute commitment to responsible development and to growing the region’s economic base. Secondly, I’d like to clarify misrepresentations of the scope and impact of our investment.

Easton Porter Group is a small family company; we are not “developers” who come in, build, sell and leave, but owner-operators, who are involved in the community and fully invested in its long-term success. Our impressive track record of responsible investment in rural communities and sensitive environments speaks for itself. Consider Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards on a 2,300-acre conservation-based community outside of Charlottesville, as well as the 12 significant historic properties in Charleston, S.C., that we have restored and turned into award-winning destinations, garnering national accolades for our high design and sustainability standards. We maintain personal residences in proximity to both; we are neighbors as well as entrepreneurs.

The economic impact resulting from a revitalized Blackthorne Inn cannot be minimized. Our investment will create an estimated $2.2 million in county and state taxes over the next four years of operation and an estimated $500,000 in taxes with our total investment of $15 million. This will be urgently needed bolstering of the county’s schools, EMS teams and other public services. Fauquier County needs quality business investment. That is how we strengthen communities, provide employment and improve quality of life for those seeking jobs and opportunity.

As stated above, we are entrepreneurial owner operators, not “developers,” as we have been portrayed. We own the adjoining residential home to Blackthorne. Our company culture is one committed to our employees; we hire locally, promote from within, reward high performers and underwrite culinary scholarships in both cities, and will offer similar added-value benefits to our valued team at Blackthorne Inn. In the last five years our Easton Porter Group has created more than 250 well-paying jobs emerging from the recession.

Easton Porter Group has a proven track record designing and operating award-winning hospitality businesses. Our Zero George Hotel in Charleston has won top awards from Travel + Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler and Food & Wine. The new Blackthorne resort will be positioned as a small-scale boutique resort and will be recognized as one of the top resorts on the East Coast, elevating Fauquier County’s profile and reaping downstream revenue and benefits for the region.

Throughout our planning process, we have thoroughly detailed our plans. Transparency has always been a core Easton Porter Group value and is simply the way we do business. Despite that, we are concerned about misrepresentation of the scope and impact of our investment. We’d like to clarify and provide the true facts countering some of the exaggerations and inaccuracies that have been suggested:

• In terms of density, we are proposing a density less than 2 percent of the 57 acres, while improving the previously abandoned woodlands and polluted pond. The Fauquier code requires 85 percent open land for a site our size in rural areas, and our plan is 98 percent open land. Our boutique resort is low-density impact and significantly smaller in scale – one-fifth the size of nearby resorts such as Salamander Inn. We plan only 24 cabin suites and two designated entertaining spaces.

• In terms of traffic and usage impact, our proposal is to host a limited number of high-end private events annually – only two more than what Blackthorne was previously entitled. The proposed Hillside events barn is three rooms with 6,375 square-feet of public guest meeting space, far below what some have inferred as a 19,000-square-foot public event space facility.

• In terms of water usage, some have falsely suggested that our application underestimates water consumption. Our water estimate usage is based on and consistent with documented sources including the Virginia Department of Health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, American Water Works Association and water studies done in Virginia at similar rural resorts, restaurant and event venues. Our preliminary engineering studies show limited increases on net groundwater use and significant improvements to the water treatment process, protecting the aquifer.

While we believe that the proposed scale and environmental impact for a restored and improved Blackthorne Inn are more than reasonable and well within the Fauquier County requirements, the project’s positive economic impact will be felt more broadly. Our investment is a critical boost for citizens needing jobs, for students in our schools, and for other businesses and service providers who will benefit from working with Easton Porter Group and from those who come visit.

In summary, Easton Porter Group takes seriously our role as good, responsible neighbors, and we look forward to being long-term members of a prospering and revitalized Upperville community.

As we move along in the process, we will continue to host neighborhood meetings and public forums as well as keep our plans on the website up to date (visit Blackthorne Inn via EastonPorter.com). We appreciate the opportunity to share our plans and engage with the county and look forward to the revitalization of Blackthorne Inn.

The writer is a principal in the Easton Porter Group.
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