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April 14, 2017

High-end resort proposal for Upperville faces hurdles

Illustration/Easton Porter Group
The resort would include a restaurant, 24 guest cottages, an events center and a vineyard on almost 58 acres along John S. Mosby Highway (Route 50), just west of Upperville.
Photo/Don Del Rosso
Dean Porter Andrews says his company will do “a complete reconstruction” of the stone house that dates to 1763.
Some people you’re just never going to convince, because they’re convinced that everything should be horses and hounds, and that’s it. This is a reasonable, low-impact, high-end businesses coming to Fauquier County.
— Dean Porter Andrews, applicant
New Blackthorne Resort
• What: Proposed resort with events building, restaurant, pub, wine cellar, 24 overnight cottages with 38 bedrooms, small vineyard.

• Where: 57.8 acres at 10087 John S. Mosby Highway, just west of Upperville

• Landowner: Easton Porter Group LLC

• Applicant: Dean Porter Andrews, principal, Easton Porter Group LLC

• Application: Mr. Andrews seeks board of supervisors’ approval of five special exception permits for the proposed restaurant, pub and wine cellar, which would seat 147 people; an events building that could accommodate up to 250 people; 24 cottages with 38 bedrooms; 34 weddings per year with up to 250 people each; 30 “social events” per year for up 140 people; and a water and sewer system to serve the project. Fauquier’s board of supervisors will decide whether to approve the proposal.

• Next: Mr. Andrews plans to conduct a public meeting on the proposal in about two weeks in Buchanan Hall at 8549 John S. Mosby Highway in Upperville.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The hospitality entrepreneur has big plans for the old Blackthorne Inn property near Upperville.

Dean Porter Andrews, a founding principal of property owner Easton Porter Group LLC near Charlottesville, wants to turn the site along John S. Mosby Highway into a high-end resort.

The 57.8-acre property has agricultural zoning. The county ordinance allows resorts in that zoning district if Fauquier’s board of supervisors grants a special exception permit. The proposal calls for:

• A “top-notch” restaurant, a pub and wine cellar, which together could seat up to 147 people.

• A 13,700-square-foot events building for weddings.

• 24 cottages with 38 bedrooms. The total includes four existing cottages and construction of 20 more.

• 34 weddings per year with up to 250 people each; 30 “social events” per year for an average of 140 people.

• A spa, which would be housed in a renovated, 2,400-square-foot stable.

• A four-acre vineyard.

The resort’s peak season would run from May to November, Mr. Andrews said.

To generate business during the offseason, the New Blackthorne Resort would offer “weekend packages,” he said.

“We’re going to be doing everything from spa packages to cooking schools,” Mr. Andrews said. “And, we’ll be bringing in visiting chefs and photographers and painters, and all that kind of stuff.”

During winter, the resort would will market the property for mid-week corporate “retreats,” he said.

His expectations run high for the project.

If built as proposed, “it’ll end up being named the top resort” of its kind “on the East Coast,” predicted Mr. Andrews, whose family has a controlling interest in the Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards that includes a restaurant, winery and tasting room on 50 acres near Charlottesville.

His family also co-owns several Charleston, S.C., properties, including a boutique hotel, two restaurants and an events building.

The Upperville project represents a $15 million investment and eventually would create 100 full- and part-time jobs, according to Mr. Andrews.

A portion of the site, which George Washington surveyed, features a two-story, 1763 Georgian-style stone house listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We’re going to be doing a complete reconstruction of the 1763 house,” Mr. Andrews said. “All of the additions that have been added in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s we’re going to be taking off. We’re removing it back to the original footprint of the stone house.”

The pub associated with the stone house would be retained, he said. But, a two-story restaurant that could seat up to 147 would be added to the back of the house.

“We are using the very traditional materials in keeping with the original construction,” said Mr. Andrews, 64. “It’s going to be a handsome space.”

The plan also calls for demolishing a nearby events building and replacing it with a two-story, 13,500-square-foot structure toward the rear of the site.

The Blackthorne Inn and Restaurant, which closed Jan. 1, had 17 bedrooms in various buildings.

Mr. Andrews’ proposal replaces most of those rooms. He plans to use four existing “cottages” and construct 20 more. That would create 38 bedrooms, which could serve up to 70 people.

Mr. Andrews and the company’s Business Development Director Brandon Davis have met repeatedly with county planning staffers, other review agencies and area residents in the last several months.

An updated, 20-page county staff report raises lots of concerns about the application.

> Staff report at bottom of story

“There are numerous discrepancies in the application materials, which make it difficult to fully evaluate such items as traffic, parking, adaptive reuse, level of activity, (building) square footage, water usage and use of some structures,” the county report reads.

The proposal also raises fundamental concerns about its compliance with the county’s comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance, according to the report.

Mr. Andrews estimates he has met at the property with more than 80 citizens, in small groups and one-on-one, to discuss the proposal.

“The initial reaction is, ‘It’s a rural area; we don’t want any kind of commercial development in a rural area’,” he said. “But, the reality of it is this is a very soft footprint on almost 60 acres.”

Mr. Andrews hired Gray Coyner of Upperville to help coordinate “communication” between Easton Porter Group and citizens.

“I think generally it’s been positive, with reservations,” Mr. Coyner, a longtime Fauquier resident, farm manager and former Warrenton-based Piedmont Environmental Council employee, said of citizen reaction to the proposal.

But, “you know, it’s Fauquier County,” he added. “People are going to raise legitimate questions, particularly from neighbors.”

Kevin Ramundo lives in Greystone, a subdivision of 50-acre lots that adjoins a portion of the New Blackthorne site.

Mr. Ramundo, a 63-year-old retired corporate communications executive, has met three times with Mr. Andrews to discuss the proposal.

He noted that the board of supervisors in 2014 granted the property’s previous owner a special exception permit for 30 events a year with up to 130 people each. That permit also limits the number of people on the property to 200 at any time.

In some instances, the number of proposed events and attendees would be “two to three times more” than those allowed under the 2014 special exception permit, Mr. Ramundo said.

For those and other reasons, Mr. Ramundo said he, his 11 Greystone neighbors and many others oppose the plan.

“Unfortunately, (Mr. Andrews) wants to do it at a scale that is inappropriate for a rural/agricultural area,” he said.

Julie Bolthouse, PEC’s Fauquier field officer, shares those and other concerns.

The application raises “more questions than there are answers at this point” about water use, wastewater treatment and traffic implications, said Ms. Bolthouse, agreeing with the county planning staff, that it needs plenty of work.

The use of buses and vans would limit vehicle trips to 24 per 140-person weddings, the application states.

Ms. Bolthouse dismissed that idea as wildly unrealistic.

“At this point, I’m not sure anybody is taking their traffic analysis seriously.”

The 2014 special exception allowed a “little” expansion of uses “to make” the inn and restaurant “more financially viable,” Ms. Bolthouse said. “And nobody came out in opposition to that — not PEC, not the Greystone community — because it was reasonable.”

But the Easton Porter Group proposal “has crossed the line of not being reasonable, within a rural area.”

While he understands and appreciates such concerns, Mr. Andrews said his business model requires the proposed mix and intensity of uses to sustain a year-round operation.

“We have sized that stuff to be as small a scale as is economically feasible to support a resort of this nature,” he said. “This is what we need to make it economically viable and have it be a decent investment return.”

If approved, the project would be an asset to the county, Mr. Andrews said.

“I have not seen any area where this level of a resort has anything but just a positive impact on the image of the community,” said Mr. Andrews, who worked as an executive for Orient Express Hotels until 2007, when he started his company.

The project also would create jobs and expand the county’s tax base, he stressed.

Mr. Andrews knew the project would encounter some resistance.

“Some people you’re just never going to convince, because they’re convinced that everything should be horses and hounds, and that’s it,” he said. “This is a reasonable, low-impact, high-end businesses coming to Fauquier County.”

Mr. Andrews plans to host a public meeting on the project in about two weeks at Upperville’s Buchanan Hall.

An advisory panel, the county planning commission will hold at least one work session and public hearing on the project before making a recommendation to the board of supervisors for a final decision.

Mr. Andrews outlined an aggressive review and decision-making schedule.

He believes the commission will conduct a June 15 work session and public hearing on the project. Mr. Andrews hopes the commission that night will recommend approval to the supervisors.

That would allow the supervisors to conduct a July 13 work session and public hearing, after which they immediately could approve the proposal, he said.

County government seldom moves that quickly on major land-use issues.

Mr. Andrews believes he can obtain site plan and other administrative approvals to break ground in September on the 12- to 14-month construction project.

Asked whether that schedule seems ambitious, Mr. Andrews said: “We move pretty quickly.”

FC Staff Report on New Blackthorne Inn Application by Fauquier Now on Scribd

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FormerlyofFauquier · April 19, 2017 at 11:58 am
It is not about wanting to keep it "all horses and hounds" (can we please dispatch with that tired cliche used by every developer who's ever experienced any pushback from Piedmont/Blue Ridge folks???) It's about not wanting large scale glitzy development in this country place. Not wanting a ton more traffic, big buses and vans, etc. This proposal is totally out of scale and out of character with this sleepy corner of Fauquier. This is starting to sound more and more like Salamander. No thanks.
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