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July 31, 2017 · OPINION

Major concerns about Blackthorne Inn proposal

Photo/Google Earth
The 60-acre Blackthorne Inn property lies on the south side of Route 50 just west of Upperville.
By Julie Bolthouse
Piedmont Environmental Council

County zoning regulates the use of land to ensure organized and compatible development. Zoning is a legislative act. Therefore, when somebody asks for a rezoning or special exception, they are asking to have the law changed for them. Sometimes it is a reasonable request; sometimes it is not. But each such request deserves scrutiny and careful consideration, from both the county and from existing residents, who live with and abide by the existing law.

When it comes to Blackthorne Inn, nearby residents have taken a hard look at what the developer is proposing, and they don’t like what they see. Soon it will be the county’s turn to review the proposal. The new owners, Easton Porter Group LLC, are looking for a number of special exceptions to significantly expand the facility.

The 60-acre property in question is located along Route 50 between Upperville and Paris. Until it was closed in 2016, Blackthorne operated as a small restaurant and resort with just four cabins. At that point, the site was allowed to have 30 events per year with a maximum of 120 people. (That permit has since expired.)

Now, with its new proposal, Easton Porter is requesting a large event building, an expansion of the current restaurant, 38 new units, three new support structures and a spa with a gym. It also includes a new sewage treatment system, because they expect to be treating more than 1,200 gallons of wastewater per day.

Which brings us back to the need for scrutiny. From our point of view, the Blackthorne Inn request raises several concerns

• The application is inconsistent with the community-supported Comprehensive Plan. It represents a major commercial use in an area planned for agriculture, as opposed to within the towns, villages and service areas of Fauquier County. In support of agriculture, state and municipal governments have allowed event venues associated with wineries. However, what Easton Porter is proposing is not an agricultural endeavor.  

• The scale of the expansion is excessive. This is 38 units, a large restaurant and bar, event hall, spa and other support facilities on land that, under traditional agricultural zoning, would only allow one residence. The event space planned could rival that of Salamander Inn near Middleburg. As for events, the pre-application included a total of 108 events as a part of a Class C special exception: 34 large events with a maximum of 250 people, 30 small events averaging 140 people and 44 corporate/social events with 25 to 75 guests. The developer recently said this number will be reduced, but a new application has not been filed with the county yet.

• There are significant issues related to water and sewer. The county staff believes the water consumption of such a large facility could be two or three times what the applicant has estimated. Given the expected use, if this were a subdivision, the developer would be required to do a drawdown test to determine possible impacts on nearby private wells. (The developer has not expressed a willingness to do this.) As for septic, the entire site would have to rely on alternative septic systems because of shallow, poorly draining soils on the limited acreage. If not perfectly maintained, this increases the risk of contamination to groundwater.

• Traffic impacts on Route 50. The applicant says they will use a “bussing model” to reduce the number of vehicular trips. However, the massive parking lot they have included right along the border of the property and the adjacent property indicate otherwise.

To learn more about the application and access Blackthorne’s application materials and the county’s comments on the project you can visit our webpage on the matter: pecva.org/blackthorne.

If you would like to weigh in, the county is currently working with the applicant to finalize their application for review by the planning commission. You can contact Chief of Planning Holly Meade at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with your thoughts.

The writer is PEC’s Fauquier field officer.
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