An application to establish an events and banquet center on Catesby Farm Lane northwest of Middleburg has caused a storm of protest among neighbors, as well as opposition from historic preservation and conservation organizations in western Loudoun.
The Board of Supervisors has scheduled an Oct. 12 public hearing on the minor special exception request by Robert and Michelle LaRose—heirs of businessman and philanthropist Robert LaRose, who died in 2010. They seek permission to hold 24 events annually at the 167-acre site, limited to 200 participants per event. The applicants propose to erect semi-permanent tents for that purpose.
On Monday, Mosby Heritage Area Association Chairwoman Wendy Bebie wrote to the Board of Supervisors reiterating the organization’s view that such a facility is “incompatible in scale, use, and intensity with its dominant rural, agricultural neighborhood.”
She also cited the farm’s historic significance, including the Battle of Unison in 1862 and the Battle of Upperville in 1863 which took place in the area, and nearby properties—Rose Hill, Crednal and Welbourne—that are listed on the Virginia and National Register of Historic Places. The nearby village of Willisville is currently under consideration by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to be eligible for the national and state registers, in part because of its significance as a historically black community.
The proposed uses would have a negative impact on the area’s historical resources, Bebie wrote, urging the board to deny the application.
Representatives of other organizations, including the Goose Creek Association and the Land Trust of Virginia, have raised similar concerns.
The traffic, lighting and music would “disturb the peace and tranquility of what we’re trying to preserve,” said MHAA founder and president Childs Burden. He said it is the association’s mission to preserve the “sense of place” of the area, not just for its Civil War history but also as a relatively unchanged rural and scenic area.
The application has been vetted by the Department of Rural Economic Development, which supported it as a valid rural economic use, according to Agricultural Development Officer Kellie Hinkle. But the Department of Planning’s staff report for the Oct. 12 hearing said concerns remain about vehicular access to the proposed event facility and circulation within the property. However, the report said staff was working with the applicants to identify alternatives. Read the staff report here.
About 80 people turned out at a recent neighborhood meeting with Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) to protest the application.
After the meeting, resident Anna Dees said the Catesby Farm issue fails to recognize the importance of the traditional rural economy, despite what is called for in the county’s Revised General Plan.
Buffington said this week that the residents had wanted him to agree to deny the application, but said he needed to listen to all sides before coming to a decision.
He also told the residents he had serious concerns that if the board denied the special exception, the property owners could switch to a by-right use as a bed-and-breakfast operation, that would allow them 20 events per year, with unlimited attendance. In addition, as a B&B, the applicants could have up to 50 people there every day of the year.
Buffington said there is a struggle between ensuring quality of life for existing residents in western Loudoun and supporting economic uses for the rural land.
“I’m trying to find a balance, trying to figure out what we can do on the larger level,” he said. Buffington hopes to work with the REDC and residents to come up with recommendations to address these types of conflicts, “so we don’t have them popping up continually.”
Buffington said he has met with the applicants, who have agreed to a number of his suggestions, including moving their planned 92-car parking lot to a location not visible from Welbourne Road. They have also moved to purchase two parcels to the west of Catesby Farm to provide access from Willisville Road, which is a two-lane rather than from Welbourne Road.
The applicants also have agreed to install a buffer at two homes near the new access and to take over maintenance responsibility for the shared driveway, he said.
Buffington also suggested reducing the number of events to 20, and the applicants had agreed to have no more than one event in a given week.
“If all that comes to fruition, and is contained in the staff report, I’d have a hard time voting no,” he said Tuesday.
Buffington wants to see a strong rural economy that maintains the quality of life for existing residents.
“We may be a bit off on that, so that’s why I’m looking at how best to address it,” he said. “There is a real need to find the right balance.”
MHAA’s Burden agreed. “This is a wider issue.”
Area wineries and vineyards protect the open spaces of western Loudoun, but the rising use of tasting rooms as entertainment centers contribute to problems of increased traffic, noise and light pollution, he said.