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Proposed Blackthorne Inn Development near Upperville, VA

The Goose Creek recently sent comments to the Fauquier Planning Commission regarding the Proposed Blackthorne Inn Development. See below and keep updated at Fauquier.com.

Signed GCA Letter 5 17 17

Blackthorne Inn – Cynthia Kirsch Photography

 

Holly Meade
Chief of Planning
Fauquier County
Department of Community Development
10 Hotel Street
Warrenton, Virginia 20186

May 16, 2017

RE: SPEX-16-006207

Dear Ms. Meade:

The Goose Creek Association is concerned with the size and scope of the special exception applications filed by the Easton Porter Group (EPG) for development of the Blackthorne Inn property in Upperville, Virginia. This 57acre property lies within the Goose Creek watershed, an integral source of groundwater for residents of Fauquier and Loudoun counties, as well as part of the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay watersheds. The property also lies within the Unison Battlefield Historic District.

GCA endorses the Planning Commission’s review comments on the proposed development and appreciates the professional review you, your staff and other agencies have provided. We strongly believe that the EPG should address all the issues and questions raised in your report, before any special exception permit is issued. In particular, the extensive use of water and alternative septic systems (ASS) should be scrutinized and tested before any development for their impact on the ground water.

We cannot simply accept EPG’s assertions that there will be no impact on the watershed, as we have heard this before. Marshall is facing a groundwater crisis that is being addressed with over a million dollars of taxpayers’ money, despite frequent assertions that there is plenty of water in Marshall. Fauquier and the US Army Corps of Engineers are in the midst of a multi-year study of Fauquier’s aquifers. Without the results of this study and a site-specific drawdown study on the property, we simply cannot accept the developer’s assertions that there will be no impact on the surrounding wells and watershed.

Further, the use of ASS raise issues of maintenance and the toxicity of dispersed outflow. These systems incur more frequent mechanical break-downs than regular septic systems, especially when used intermittently due to seasonal fluctuations of use, and do not resolve all toxic outflow when operating as intended, as nitrates and other non-biologicals can infiltrate and pollute the groundwater.

Finally, granting these special exception requests, as proposed, will create a precedent for all properties zoned as Rural Agricultural in Fauquier. Such zoning does not require or compel commercial development on the scale proposed, even for so-called agri-tourism. Granting this application could lead to similar development requests throughout the county with consequences that are not amicable to the peace and quietude of our countryside.

The size and location of the events center and other potential outdoor events are of particular concern given that they are likely to impose excessive noise, light and traffic burdens on the otherwise rural and residential community. Last November Mr. Dean Andrews asserted that the resort would work within the parameters of the 2014 special exception “license” approval. However, EPG’s current application far exceeds the parameters of that approval. See Fauquier Times, “Blackthorne’s new owners vow to ‘minimize impact’ on neighbors,” November 17, 2016. The proposed size and frequency of events belie EPG’s assertion. In the article, Mr. Andrews also suggests that the overnight guest accommodations would be capped at 120, not the EPG proposal’s 78. EPG’s subsequent assertion that the number of overnight residents will be fixed as proposed at 78 rather than lead to more lodging development in the future must be scrutinized. Whatever the amount of accommodations and events that are permitted, perhaps the EPG could put the property under an easement that sets the development at that level to ensure no further development by EPG or another owner occurs in the future.

The nearby Salamander Resort began as a proposed @ 70 room inn and morphed, for commercial reasons, into the size and scale it is today (168 rooms). EPG’s proposed events center size and the frequency of events requested are similar to those of the Salamander Resort and more than the Airlie Resort, both of which are located on hundreds of acres, not 57, with specially built water reserve facilities. In addition, other nearby resorts and event centers are being planned on a massive scale that will only bring more competition for accommodations and events. See Banbury Cross Reserve on Rt.50 east of Middleburg in Loudoun County.

If Fauquier County’s Comprehensive Plan for Rural Agricultural zoning is to have any meaning, our Planning Commissioners and Supervisors must address whether and where developments of this size are appropriate and credible. Promises of over one hundred full-time jobs in a seasonal business and bounteous tax revenues must be weighed against declining adjacent property values and reality.

EPG’s proposal seems to be preliminary, and they have not yet responded to staff comments, so GCA will continue to monitor EPG’s application for responses to the concerns raised here, by neighbors and by the Department of Community Development. EPG is a high quality developer and professes to be a good steward of the environment that has produced beautiful properties elsewhere. Therefore, we hope that EPG will amend its proposal to address these concerns and produce a more appropriate plan for our watershed and community.

Sincerely yours,

Lori Keenan McGuinness
Chair, Fauquier County, on behalf of the
Goose Creek Association

Fauquier Times Democrat News Article dated August 2, 2016

E. Coli levels in Goose Creek and other streams prompt action. 

Tuesday, Aug. 2 | By James Ivancic

Cows get water from a trough in a pasture at Kinloch Farm in The Plains. Kinloch has fenced off waterways, dug wells and placed troughs in pastures in an effort to keep cattle from spoiling water quality in streams. Photo courtesy of Kinloch Farm

The water quality of the areas waterways is getting more attention as runoff from the waste of farm animals, failing septic systems, and other sources have driven up levels of E. coli, the bacteria that poses a health risk.

There’s been some progress in the form of farmers digging wells to provide water rather than let cattle linger in streams. Public sewer service has replaced failing septic systems in some areas. But those involved with protecting our water say more can be done.

The problem and the next steps to address it was the focus of a community meeting June 21 at Wakefield School in The Plains. Among attendees were representatives of Fauquier County Community Development, the John Marshall Soil and Water Conservation District, Virginia Cooperative Extension.

The session focused on a total maximum daily load (TDML) plan for Goose Creek, as well as Cromwells Run and Little River in Fauquier and Loudoun counties. Excessive E. coli bacteria for the safety of recreational users was identified in Gap Run, Bolling Branch and Crooked Run in a Virginia Department of Environmental Quality report.. They’ve been placed on a list of impaired waters.

TDML is the total maximum daily load, a measure setting an upper safety limit for pollutants.

The DEQ set bacteria TMDL limits for the Goose Creek Watershed in 2003. Population growth since then (the number of households increased 9.5 percent).

That factor will be part of the action plan as will the number of current septic systems and failure rate, numbers of livestock, wildlife estimates, and household pets. All play a role in the E. coli levels found in waterways.

“That whole process – the number loading for each impaired stream we’re using to set goals for the implementation plan. Now, when we’re done with that we’ll apply for grant funds through the EPA,” said May Louise McD Sligh, a water quality specialist with the DEQ.

A second public meeting planned for September will precede the release of a draft implementation plan in December. A complete plan and a technical report should be ready to submit to the EPA in January, Sligh said.

“This is definitely not just a farm problem. We’re looking at septic system failures as well,” Sligh said. Runoff from pet waste left in yards is another source of residential pollution.

It’s an area where government tries to work with land owners cooperatively rather than heavy-handedly.

“We work with the health district to get proposals implemented. We’re getting the word out about residential cost sharing programs,” Sligh said.

Local health departments are charged with enforcement if a problem poses a public health risk.

Organizations such as the Goose Creek Association and the Piedmont Environmental Council promote good stewardship of the land.

Also, the John Marshall Soil and Water District provides technical assistance and education to land owners to protect their natural resources. It’s the first point of contact for farmers seeking cost sharing or tax credit assistance in making environmental friendly improvements to their land.

“The [John Marshall Soil and Water] District is already doing a great job. We’re glad to see the Virginia DEQ starting to do something,” said Lori Keenan McGuinness, co-chair of the Goose Creek Association.
Kinloch Farm in The Plains is among the farms that have fenced off cattle from streams.

“We have a cattle operation. Land is under conservation easement. We’ve fenced out ponds and streams. There used to be cattle running across the stream,” said Kevin Jennings, Kinloch manager.

“The first phase started over 10 years ago. We started fencing the cattle out of sensitive areas. Broad Run comes through the property and crosses under I-66,” Jennings said.

While the farm has tried to do its part, he wonders how much being under the interstate affects water quality.

“I’ve been underneath that bridge. I’ve seen bottles, cans, and plastic. There’s oil and chemicals from the road – I don’t know how much runs off into streams,” Jennings said.

“Cattle, farming, and residents do have an impact to the extent that they’re even studying the impact of pets,” noted Jennings. Wildlife also do their share of spoiling streams, but “we can’t control the wildlife as much.”

Kinloch used cost-sharing programs to dig wells, install a cistern and extend lines to bring water closer to grazing areas so that cattle didn’t get their fill of water, then linger in the streams as they defecated. Jennings and his crew have also set up watering troughs in pastures, built hardened crossings at streams, and reforested areas.

Efforts to improve water quality make sense to the Kinloch Farm manager.

“If we can stop pollutants from going into water sources we don’t have to pay so much to treat it,” Jennings said.

Government assistance programs make it “a win-win” for everyone, he said.

“The environment is winning by getting cattle out of the water source and the taxpayers are winning by getting cleaner water,” he said. “And the farmer gets a lot of infrastructure. I don’t see how a farmer could afford not to do it. I think it’s a great program. We’re actually utilizing the program to everyone’s advantage.

“People can be shy about having government comes to your place, but the local people are on your side. They want you to be successful and to protect natural resources and water is a natural resource worth protecting,” Jennings said.

“Not every farmer is doing it but I think we should be,” he said.

Hollin Farms in Delaplane is another farming operation that’s been doing its part.

Hollins a three-generation farm that invites the public to pick their own fruit and vegetables, raises grass-fed natural beef, and produces hay for horses.

Tom Davenport said they’ve done a lot of fencing off of streams in areas of high runoff where erosion can be a problem..

“We’ve been doing it on and off for 20 years,” he said.

Davenport’s son is an engineer who’s “put up fencing in an efficient and good way.”

The family has three farms totaling about 1,000 acres.

“We’re on a rocky area. We had to make do. We followed the lead of the Green family and Stribling” when it comes to growing and selling produce. “But you can’t raise strawberries and peaches here without pesticides and fungicides.” Stinkbugs also damage the fruit if not stopped.

The farm is at the headwaters of Crooked Run, which flows to Goose Creek and Delaplane.

Davenport, 77, said he’s seen more forests in areas that formerly were farmed.

“Some people have abandoned agriculture. New owners of land don’t know much about it,” he said. “The land has gone natural and owners have let everything grow,” said Davenport. The downside of that is that some invasive species, such as Russian ivy – a vine — have moved in.”

 

 

 
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