Supervisors Approve Contentious Catesby Farms Special Exception

Supervisors Approve Contentious Catesby Farms Special Exception
A large crowd gathered to attend the Board’s Dec. 6 meeting, largely in opposition to the proposed Catesby Farms Special Exception

At its Dec. 6 meeting, the last of the year, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors approved Catesby Farms’ Special Exception application, allowing for an event facility on the property in St. Louis.

The 8-1 vote, with Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) opposed, was in spite of vocal opposition from dozens of community members.

The Minor Special Exception allows the property, located on the south side of the intersection of Welbourne Road and Quaker Lane, to host up to 20 events a year with up to 200 attendees. No new facilities will be built on the property.

The property owners, siblings Michelle and Scott LaRose, previously said if they had not been granted the exception they would look to monetize the property by turning it into a bed and breakfast, a by right use.

Supervisors were convinced a bed and breakfast would likely attract more people to the property and that the special exception was the best way to assuage much of the community’s concerns about increased traffic and disruptions to the area.

That wasn’t enough to alleviate the fears of some in western Loudoun who see Catesby Farms as the latest intrusion on the rural integrity of the west. As the County undergoes a major Comprehensive Plan review, county officials have repeatedly said they will make no major changes to the west.  Those still concerned have seen massive development and population growth transform the eastern part of the county and do not want it happening in the west.

“The goal again, day one, was to insure the least intrusive use on the subject property,” said Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) whose district includes Catesby Farms. “That being said, I’m confident we’ve reduced those impacts to the greatest extent possible and I’m confident that a ‘no’ vote would result in a more intense use.”

Buffington said he was assured the Catesby owners would in fact make their property into a bed and breakfast if denied the exception and that would assuredly lead to a more intense use. He further explained that by granting the Special Exception, Catesby Farms would forfeit all rights for any bed and breakfast type uses or event hosting beyond the 20 granted.

Further, the applicants agreed to restrict events to one day, to maintain the historic property, to limit the event area to a small section of the nearly 241-acre parcel and to provide a cash contribution to the volunteer fire and rescue station in the area, among other conditions.

“That said, almost every concern that has been brought to my office’s attention has been mitigated and addressed,” Buffington said.

That didn’t stop vocal opposition for months leading up to the vote.

Several opponents of the special exception audibly hissed from the audience section of the board room during the comments of supervisors who supported the motion, leading Chair Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) to reprimand the crowd.

Earlier, 14 opponents spoke during the Public Comment part of the meeting, citing fears ranging from danger to the historical integrity of the property to threats to the integrity of the rural nature of western Loudoun.

Six people spoke in favor of the special exception, including Kelly Foltman, president of the Loudoun Equine Alliance. When she said the parameters of the special exception had alleviated all concerns, someone shouted from the crowd “no it hasn’t”, which also drew a rebuke from Randall. Several other proponents of the exceptions were met with hisses.

Prior to the meeting itself, two public hearings were held near the property for community members to address their concerns.  Dozens spoke out against the proposal at these meetings, as well as 31 at the Board’s monthly Public Hearing on Oct 12.

In also voting for the special exception, Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin), much of whose district is also comprised of the west, said the property was already zoned for an event and banquet type use.

“I don’t know how you could find a better location for something like this and if we’re not going to allow it at this property under a Minor Special Exception, where would you allow it,” Higgins said. “I don’t think you would be able to allow it anywhere.”

In opposing the motion, Umstattd said the government shouldn’t dictate people’s lives and she would follow the wishes of the public.

“We also have a real challenge as we try to do what, though well intentioned up on the dais, is perceived by so many in the community as trying to fit in uses that are not compatible with the lives people have created for themselves,” Umstattd said. “I view what’s going on here as a philosophical debate. Do we allow the neighbors, the community, to decide what’s best for them or do we tell them what’s best for them?”