Loudoun County Public Hearing – Catesby Farm Minor Special Exception
Dear Friends and Rural Loudoun Neighbors,
It is important that we come together as a community to oppose changes in the Zoning Ordinance that threaten established patterns of agricultural and traditional land uses in our rural residential area and, when allowed to multiply over the landscape, will diminish the cherished agricultural and conservation values we all hold dear. Please read here about ways to help, and stay tuned for updates as this particular request for a zoning change attempts to move through the process. A Public Hearing before the Loudoun Board of Supervisors will be held on Wednesday, September 14 in the evening—please mark your calendars and plan to attend and/or speak. We will send reminders and exact times for the hearing in a few weeks. Thank you and please feel free to contact me at the email address above if you have questions. In the meantime, please: Send online comments or a written letter as shown here, below:
Submit comments online to Loudoun opposing the application for a Commercial Banquet/Events Facility at Catesby Farm: Minor Special Exception, SPMI—2015-0018
Catesby Farm has applied for permanent permission to hold up to 24 events a year (almost weekly if occurring in warmer weather) with up to 200 attendees each event. Staff and departments at the County have raised a number of concerns to which the applicant insufficiently responds. The County’s project planner has noted that there has been no opposing comment posted on the website since March! We MUST change that. Please submit comments in the manner described here below. Please, try to do this in the next one to two weeks so that the County Staff can have time to include comments in their recommendation. If you have already sent online comments, please excuse the redundancy. Here is a link to the County’s Land Use website (LOLA) where you can find the Catesby Application:
Open the site: enter the Min-year “2015”, enter the Application Type “SPMI”, Click “Update MAP.” Click on the light blue balloon on the map just above and to the right of Upperville to open the Catesby proposal. IMPORTANT: You may have to click the “update map” a few times to get SPMI-2015-0018 for comments, since the Applicant has actually two special exception requests now, one for the event/banquet facility, and, one to exempt the internal Catesby roads from the zoning width requirements, SPMI-2016-0007, which will show no documents or comments. Once SPMI-2015-0018 is opened, click on “More information,” scroll down to “Click here to leave a comment.”
If you can’t get through on the site, please send your written comments to:
Steve Barney, Planning Department
County of Loudoun
PO Box 7000
Leesburg, VA 20117
Suggest you choose one or two issues important to you, and use your own wording to personalize the message.
The major issues are below, ones that support concerns raised by County Staff and Landowners:
- 1 Historic Welbourne Road is a narrow unpaved road with ditches, steep banks and stone fences. At places, vehicles cannot pass without pulling off-road. Twenty-four annual events with the ensuing traffic (estimated110 vehicles in and 110 out often after dark, plus event trucks, service vehicles, and buses) present a serious level of safety hazard and nuisance for travelers, adjacent property owners, residences, and traditional farm, equine, and pedestrian users. Large, slow-moving farm vehicles, horseback riders, and pedestrians, particularly in the village of Willisville, are frequently seen.
- 2 The proposed use is not compatible with the scale, use, and intensity within the dominant rural agricultural use pattern. Conditions of approval mentioned by Zoning Department and Health Department are are unlikely to acceptably mitigate environmental, noise and light nuisance impacts (impact on wildlife of nighttime operations; dust and safety concerns from traffic; surface, well water supplies; and sewage disposal).
3 3 The Loudoun County Equine Study 2016, shows a $180M total annual economic impact from the County’s horse industry, and, accorning to the County’s own study, the equine industry accounts for some 2,700 jobs in the County with a $90M labor income impact. The traditional equine industry in western Loudoun is a thriving and successful rural economic sector and should be encouraged by the County as a traditional rural economic use appropriate to the Welbourne Road area. The County’s Zoning Ordinance cites a purpose and intent of the AR-2 District as, “1.(A) Support the use of land for rural economy uses consistent with the pattern of rural and agricultural land uses in the district”.
Catesby Point Paper July 16, 2016
Catesby Minor Special Exception: SPMI-2015-0018
This document presents individual factual “points” for use on the Catesby proposal:
General Description and Nusiance Issues:
Catesby Farm owners propose a new commercial use in historic rural Loudoun, an “Events/Banquet Facility,” with twenty-four events and up to 200 guests (plus service personnel and vehicles). The use requires two “Minor Special Exceptions” to the Zoning Ordinance, it is not a “By Right” use.
As described in the Applicant’s Statement of Justification 05-26-16, events “will be outdoors” and, “where outdoor tent facilities can be made available for the events for any type of weather.” Presumably, most events will occur on weekends during the warm weather months when residents in the community will also be using outdoor spaces on their properties.
These recurrent events will more than double the daily traffic load 24 times a year, introduce outdoor amplified music during the 12:00 Noon to 12:00 Midnight hours of operation, operate existing outdoor lighting and vehicle lights until or beyond Midnight. The Applicant states that noise, lights, and odors will meet County standard and “not traverse property lines.” It is not clear how this will be accomplished. During a recent “private” wedding on Catesby, loud music was easily heard on adjacent properties at 12:30 AM.
Recent independent professional noise measurements in rural southwestern Loudoun County, described during the July 13 BOS public hearing on the Zoning Noise Ordinance, show ambient noise levels at between 25—33dba in rural areas. The noise level of one vehicle on a gravel road is 75dba.
The area of Catesby is within the Middleburg Ag District and AR-2 Rural Zone of Loudoun. It is a rural, residential, agricultural neighborhood. People live there as permanent residents of Loudoun County, including immediately adjacent to Catesby.
The owner/Applicant of Catesby does not live in Virginia and is not a legal resident of the Commonwealth or the County.
County Health Department has recommended denied of approval due to inadequate studies of water supply and waste water disposal systems for the proposed new use. HealthRef3, 06-10-16.
Road and Traffic:
Welbourne Road is a narrow, unpaved rural road with steep banks and deep ditches. In response to the Application, County Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure (DTCI) states, “due to continued concerns about the substandard condition of Welbourne Road, DTCI cannot support approval of these applications.” DTCI Ref3-06-10-16.
DTCI, “continued concerns” include: “safety, width, deep gullies, severely uneven character of the roadway, use in darkness and during weather events” (“by unfamiliar users”). DTCI Ref-3-06-10-16.
The entirely residential hamlet of Willisville is adjacent and to the west with most homes closely fronting Welbourne Road. The Applicant states traffic will be directed to Willisville Road, ¾ mile to the west, through Willisville. This will place much of the increase in traffic on a narrow, dust producing, unpaved road literally at the front door of Willisville Residents.
Rural Economy and Economic Impact:
The area around Catesby has a vibrant rural agricultural economy. As an Ag District and R-2 zoned rural area in Loudoun, the community in the Catesby vicinity has 7 horse and 2 cattle operations, a sheep/wool business, 1 large grain farm, 3 hay farms, a tree nursery, a vineyard. Also, 2 National Register & Virginia Landmarks properties, 3 historic districts: Unison and Upperville Battlefields, and Beaver Dam Creek Historic Roadways District, which foster and generate heritage tourism activities.
The Loudoun County Equine Study 2016, shows a $180M total annual economic impact from the County’s horse industry, and, the equine industry accounts for some 2,700 jobs in the County with a $90M labor income impact.* The traditional equine industry in western Loudoun is a thriving and successful rural economic sector and should be encouraged by the County as a traditional rural economic use appropriate to the Welbourne Road area. The County’s Zoning Ordinance cites a purpose and intent of the AR-2 District as, “1.(A) Support the use of land for rural economy uses consistent with the pattern of rural and agricultural land uses in the district, including sustaining and nurturing the economically significant equine industry. “
*Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, Loudoun Co Equine Study,2016, UVA.
Catesby’s owners say they want to increase income production on the farm to defray expenses of maintenance. The community has prevailed on the owners to seek more uses compatible with traditional uses and ones less disturbing to the pastoral nature of the area.
Catesby Farm has a 30-stall horse barn and paddocks, and was a racehorse training facility at one time. Neighbors have offered to assist the owner in finding possible equine operators.
There are also 5 residential units on Catesby Farm that could be used for rental income.
Loudoun County contributes significantly to Virginia’s #1 industry: Agriculture.
Figures from the County’s website show how much:
The following are facts and figures from the latest Census of Agriculture for Loudoun County:
- Average size of farm – 100 acres
- Equine industry – 15,500 horses at a value of $208 million
- Land in farms – 142, 452 acres
- Market value of production – $33,807,000
- Number of farms – 1,427 The intent of the County’s rural economic development plan is to decrease the tax burden on County citizens. Recent real estate appraisal data, prepared to support an objection to a proposed craft brewery in the rural zone, hosting regular outdoor events with accompanying exterior lights and music similar to an events/banquet facility such as proposed for Catesby, shows a decrease in property values for landowners in the immediate vicinity of, conservatively, 30%. Such decrease in property values hurts the landowners and ultimately reduces the real estate property tax base, a vital source for schools, which, for the rural zone, is a cash positive gain to the County. As currently developed, the rural zone uses significantly fewer County services therefore demanding less of the County’s cash resources. Increased commercial developments such as Catesby and of the type similar to commercial events/banquets facilities will necessarily increase the demand for additional services from fire, police, rescue, road maintenance, and public utilities.The saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Clearly, the established agricultural rural economic enterprises throughout western Loudoun are economically viable uses. Landowners have a host of proven opportunities to enhance the income production of their properties without resorting to seeking “exceptions” to the County’s General Plan and Zoning Ordinance.Incompatibility with the Comprehensive Plan: Catesby Farm is protected by a Conservation Easement held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF). The easement specifies a number of allowed uses including agriculture, viticulture, horticulture, aquaculture, silviculture, equine, and canine activities. While the VOF finds the proposed use allowable, we question whether the spirit of the easement and the conservation values identified in the easement are compromised. The majority of properties adjacent to and in the vicinity of Catesby are under conservation easement; the impact of the proposed commercial use on those properties is not described.
- The Catesby Special Exception proposal for a commercial events/banquets venue is inconsistent with and hostile to established traditional agricultural uses. The proposed rural economy use is not compatible with existing permitted residential uses. The proposed use is not compatible with the scale, use, and intensity with the dominant rural agricultural use pattern. Conditions of approval mentioned by Zoning Department and Health Department are not described and are unlikely to acceptably mitigate environmental, noise and light nuisance impacts. (impact on wildlife of nighttime operations; dust and safety concerns from traffic; surface, well water supplies; and sewage disposal).
- The Community supports the vision for western Loudoun as described in the Comprehensive Plan: “The preservation of the Rural Policy Area’s unique Green Infrastructure includes the preservation of the physical environment of public open space and trails, stream valleys, floodplains, wetlands, and mountainsides as well as the scenic byways and vistas, historic and archaeological sites. The rural economy directly benefits from the protection and enhancement of the Green Infrastructure and it contributes to the quality of life of all of Loudoun’s citizens.” The community contends that Event/Banquet Facilities of the scope allowed in the Catesby proposal are incompatible with our County’s own Plan.
- To the Community’s knowledge, the Department of Economic Development in Loudoun County has no published economic impact information for rural Events/Banquet Facilities or other “event entities.“ The Applicant states in the SOJ 05-26-16, that the events/banquet facility “will greatly further the Loudoun County’s desire to support the rural economy.” How is this purported benefit to the County quantified? The economic impact of the new use is undemonstrated.