Update: At the December 6 Business meeting the Board of Supervisors voted 8-1 to approve the Catesby Minor Special Exception with Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) voting against.
Unexpected Commercial Use Garners Widespread Attention
The December 6 BOS Business Meeting starts at 5:00 p.m. At that time eight individuals can sign up to speak. At 6:30 p.m. an unlimited number of speakers can sign up. To sign up in advance to speak call 703-777-0204.
The Catesby proposal, permitting by minor special exception the operation of an events center on the historic, 160-acre Catesby Farm is on the agenda for a vote at the Board of Supervisor’s business meeting on Tuesday, December 6.
In the AR-2 Agricultural District, Catesby has been in permanent open space easement since 2004. The easement provides that neither the property nor the structures on it can be modified except to further its agricultural use, language designed to accommodate a farm, an equine business, even a B&B – many of which have operated for decades in the area.
But, Robert and Michelle LaRose – heirs of tech giant and philanthropist Robert E. LaRose – hope to sidestep the easement’s agricultural restrictions – and the area’s agricultural zoning – in favor of a temporary events center model. They want a special exception to hold up to 20 events per year of 200 people each, with most necessities – from staff, to tents, to bathrooms, to shuttle buses, to catering, to music, lighting and safety/security personnel – brought in and taken out on an event-by-event basis.
The proposal has generated lots of opposition since making it to the board’s agenda.
The Mosby Heritage Association, Unison Preservation Society, Piedmont Environmental Council, Goose Creek Association, Land Trust of Virginia and others oppose the project. Said the UPS, “[We] do not oppose economic development … [but] Approving this application … would allow for hallowed ground to become a parking lot.” (The Civil War 1862 Battle of Unison was fought on the property.)
The Loudoun County Health Department notes that new wells may need to be drilled on the property, something that may not be allowed by the 2004 open space easement.
In recent months, the heirs purchased additional land adjacent to the site to address limited and narrow dirt road access and other barriers, and proposed moving the 90+ guest cars parking area. Other County meeting notes show language in a standard disclosure made by Planning Commission member Eugene Scheel during a Briefing/Work Session of that body in March noting that he had met the day before with the Catoctin Farmer’s Club “regarding a proposed resort type complex at Catesby Farm near Willisville,” information not contained in the public record that makes up the application.
With Catesby certainly on his mind, in an October 16 letter to the Rural Economic Development Committee, Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) said that the protection of the rural, historic and scenic character of the west is one of his top priorities.
Buffington believes that economic growth in the west is necessary to save it. At the same time, however, Buffington has acknowledged that on issues such as the preservation of dirt roads his constituents are “uncomfortable” with the balance that has been struck so far.
With regards to Catsby, Buffington is on record saying that he will do what the citizens want. However, he would not commit to how he will vote. This, despite the fact that hundreds of citizens spoke in support of the many profitable by-right uses available to property owners in the area, and against the new and very different use requested by Robert and Michelle LaRose.
In an onsite interview with the LaRoses as this paper went to press, Michelle LaRose recounted instances of how their family had held many many large private events at Catesby over the years. She also made clear that their preference is not to operate a traditional B&B.
In researching the water and sewer needs for the special events center proposed for Catesby Farm, the Blue Ridge Leader reviewed several memos and email communications presented as attachments to an extensive Department of Planning Staff Report on a public hearing that took place on October 12, 2016 with respect to SPMI-2015-0018, Banquet/Event Facility, SPMI-2016-0007, Road Access Standards Modification and SPMI-2016-0018, Number of Access Points Modification.
The report and attachments include ongoing issues and discussions as to how to accommodate the water and sewer, including waste disposal needs of the proposal. This includes suggestions that the applicants might consider applying to put new public wells on the property.
The full 111-page Staff Report on the October 12, 2016 hearing can be found at www.loudoun.gov/index.aspx?NID=3362.
Additional backup documents can be found below.