The Middleburg Town Council has given approval to Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, to develop a luxury hotel complex, ending three years of debate that included two premature groundbreaking ceremonies.

The 4 to 3 vote late Thursday followed three hours of contentious discussion and last-minute negotiations about the 120-room Salamander Resort and Spa to be built on 340 acres once owned by Pamela Harriman, the late socialite and U.S. ambassador to France.

According to the agreement among Loudoun County, Middleburg and Johnson's company, Salamander Hospitality, the firm would design and build a $4 million wastewater treatment plant and give it to the town. Middleburg, in turn, would adjust its boundaries to incorporate the 252 acres of the hotel site that now are part of Loudoun.

Middleburg Town Manager Mike Casey endorsed the agreement, primarily because it ensures that about 75 percent of the new land would be protected as open space.

"It gives us much more control over land use, and it's also financially advantageous," Casey said.

Casey estimated that the complex would generate $560,000 in taxes annually and $309,000 in sewer and water fees per year. In addition, the town's treatment plant is more than 20 years old and needs to be replaced anyway.

Opponents of the project included environmentalists who said it would have an adverse effect on the Goose Creek watershed and add to a water shortage. In addition, a number of Middleburg residents who spoke at Thursday's meeting -- including Sam Huff, a Redskins radio announcer and former football star -- voiced concern that the scale of the development would ruin the town's quaint, historic character.

Others countered that the high-end hotel was more in keeping with the town's rural ambiance than the dense, residential housing that otherwise might find its way to the site.

After the vote, Johnson, 56, hugged supporters and wiped away tears.

"The Town Council members who approved the [agreement] years from now will be remembered for being visionaries for the town of Middleburg," said Prem Devadas, president of Salamander Hospitality.

Although Loudoun County still has to agree to cede the land, county officials have signaled that they would. Salamander also must seek approval of a special exception for a 120-room hotel; last fall, the county approved a 58-room facility.

Devadas said construction is expected to start early next year and continue through fall 2007.

"I do anticipate there will be a true groundbreaking ceremony," Devadas said. "More importantly, there will be a grand opening ceremony."