A plan for a banquet and events facility in the middle of horse country sparked an outcry from residents of western Loudoun County who attended a public hearing in Leesburg this month to voice their objections.
Nearly 30 people spoke against the proposed business at Catesby Farm, about five miles west of Middleburg, arguing that the noise and traffic it would generate would disturb neighboring farms and overwhelm the narrow roads in the area. Some said that the traffic would also disrupt nearby Willisville, a small village settled by freed slaves after the Civil War.
The Board of Supervisors is considering a request by Michelle LaRose, who owns Catesby with her brother Scott, for minor special exceptions to the county’s zoning ordinance that would allow the events facility. The business would host up to 20 “celebratory” events annually, such as weddings and banquets, with a maximum of 200 guests at each.
Reading a prepared statement at the Oct. 12 meeting, LaRose said that she and her brother inherited the farm from their father, who had purchased it in 2003 and used it as a personal retreat until his death in 2010.
“It’s a very beautiful piece of land, and they want to keep it that way,” said Frank Stearns, an attorney for the property owners. “But they need some income to do that, and they can get that level of income through the limited proposal they’ve made.”
“They’ve tried from the beginning to have as minor an impact on this neighborhood as they can,” Stearns said. “I’m greatly surprised by the level of hostility that’s arisen when they tried to approach it in that fashion.”
Most of the speakers disagreed.
“An event center will ruin the serenity and dramatically lower our property values,” said Bill Ferster, who lives near Catesby. “People come to this county seeking the beauty of what it is now. Inappropriate commercialization will ruin that forever and will kill the goose that laid the golden egg for western Loudoun.”
Several speakers said that the roads are inadequate to handle hundreds of guests and vehicles used by caterers, musical groups, waste disposal companies and other businesses that would be associated with the events.
“I do not welcome the increased traffic, the increased dust as I sit on my front porch, or the increased noise from the events,” said Nan Lewis, a lifelong resident of Willisville.
Others argued that Catesby Farm, a Civil War battlefield site, is “hallowed ground.”
“Catesby sits in the heart of an area so well preserved to date that a Civil War soldier brought forward 154 years from the day he fought there . . . could recognize exactly where he was,” said Richard Gillespie, executive director of the Mosby Heritage Area, who noted that the farm “sits smack on Phase Seven of the Battle of Unison.”
Many of the speakers said they would prefer that the property be used as a bed and breakfast or country inn, either of which would be allowed under current zoning.
“There are other bed and breakfasts in the area, and they are not a problem for us,” said Susan Ferster, a neighbor of Catesby. “It would seem unfair that one property owner could tip the scale of what could dramatically change rural western Loudoun forever.”
“If you allow this, I think you set a precedent . . . and you would have these loud outdoor . . . events all over the county, and slowly you see what you prize most begin to spiral downward,” said Stanley Dees of Middleburg.
Several supervisors appeared to be perplexed by the opposition to the application. Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge) pointed out that a bed and breakfast would also be able to host 20 events a year, with an unlimited number of guests.
“That use is much more intense than what they’re proposing,” Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) said. “It defies logic . . . that that’s what you would want, because you’re going to get worse.”
In an interview after the meeting, Dees said that bed and breakfasts are common in western Loudoun and fit into the area.
“We’re used to that,” he said. “A pure wedding [or] banquet center, where you just bring 200 people in, have a lot of noise and light for six or eight hours and then leave, is different from the way [bed and breakfasts] usually operate.”
The board of supervisors is scheduled to vote on the application Nov. 17.