– By Andrea Gaines
Easton Porter Group, LLC has submitted a plan to Fauquier County to convert the modest Blackthorne Inn & Resort to a significantly larger resort and spa.
If approved, by this fall the approximately 60-acre Rt. 50 property will be under construction with a 13,700-sq. ft. events center, 20 new cottages with 38 bedrooms accommodating 70 people, a 2,400-sq. ft. spa, four-acre vineyard, and a restaurant/pub. The new owners will host 34 weddings a year, winter weekend retreats, and other events.?
In 1984, the owners got a special exception to operate the historic home as restaurant known as the 1763 Inn. A second special exception approved limited accommodations.
In 2007, that special exception was amended to operate the property as the Blackthorne Inn & Resort – and could now accommodate 28 guests.
By 2013, Blackthorne was holding regular, unauthorized special events. A series of public hearings and proceedings added resort and restaurant capacity, and authorized specific events.
Extensive, agreed-to restrictions related to noise, hours, lighting, guest numbers, traffic, etc. accompanied the 2013 approval. Neighbors and Blackthorne – everyone – seemed happy.
Enter the Easton Porter Group – with an even larger vision for the property and the historic house. Now, a much, much larger resort complex with potentially non-conforming structures, alterations to the historic house, huge septic and parking requirements, and more is planned. This challenges the criteria designed to protect the rural nature of a place, while accommodating the new.
This new proposal requires special exception approvals in no less than five categories: adapting reuse of an historic structure, using the site as a resort, holding Class C events, building an above ground sewer and water pumping station, and operating a sewage treatment system.
The property’s new owners want to break ground in September, and to meet that date they are asking Fauquier County to do everything it needs to do – including engage the public – on a scant two-month schedule.?But neighbors, the PEC, and preservationists in nearby Unison will be demanding answers and clarifications on a whole range of issues between now and when, and if, the project is approved. An April Fauquier County Planning memo raises serious issues with respect to the early application materials submitted, including:
Protecting Greystone House. Adaptive reuses of such structures cannot increase the size of the building by more than 30 percent. According to the memo, the “footprint on the Concept Development Plan appears to far exceed the expansion allowed …”
Traffic, entrance/exit, levels of activity, setbacks, and noise problems related to the new 13,000 sq. ft. events building abound – details are missing, numbers are inconsistent.
Parking. The applicant provides only 25 employee parking spaces for a resort that may employ up to 120 people; just 34 spaces for a 147-seat pub/restaurant/wine cellar; and just 54 spaces for overnight guests.
Wastewater and sewage. The applicant estimates a total property usage of approximately 9,000 gallons per day. Planning estimates that the actual usage will be 2-1/2 times that.
The Easton Porter Group planned to hold a community meeting at Buchannan Hall in Upperville at the end of April. Next stop, the Fauquier County planning department.