After a contentious public hearing on July 27 that lasted more than three hours, the Middleburg Planning Commission voted unanimously to delay its decision to approve or reject Banbury Cross Reserve, a development of 38 homes on 570 acres located near the town’s eastern boundary. An estimated 70 to 80 people joined for the meeting, including 40 who provided comments. All but four or five of the speakers were very opposed.
A special Planning Commission meeting has been scheduled for Aug. 10.
Postponing the decision until then was wise. There are serious unanswered questions about the project. Leading the list is whether the Planning Commission has the authority to reject the subdivision. The developer’s law firm has sent a letter to the town stating that it must approve the subdivision or face a lawsuit. The attorney working with the citizens group opposed to the project believes the commission does have the authority to reject the project under the town’s subdivision ordinance and Loudoun County’s ordinance. This legal opinion deserves careful consideration.
The most frequent concern of those speaking against the development is its impact on the quantity and quality of water. Speakers shared real-world experiences about wells going dry and the difficulty of finding new sources of water. A former town official emphasized that water has always been an issue. Loudoun County staff also concluded that the new wells could go dry, and a contingency water supply plan was needed. And a firm Middleburg hired to review conflicting hydrogeology studies agreed in its written report with the citizens group’s expert that there were technical shortcomings in the developer’s approach and risks to the water supply.
Then there’s the 10 “rural economy lots” that comprise more than 200 acres of the site. While each is currently designated for a single home, the developers, or subsequent lot owners, could decide to use one or more of these lots for a brewery, winery or event center. These or other allowable uses would generate more demand on scarce water resources and increase the risk of accidents on the narrow, winding country road leading to the development and its intersection with Route 50.
Based on comments made by the developers at the Planning Commission meeting and previous plans for the property, commercial uses are likely. If that happened, Middleburg would have no review authority and the county could approve them as “by-right” uses.
Finally, there were also concerns voiced about the possible loss of historic African American and Civil War resources.
When the Middleburg Planning Commission decides the subdivision’s fate on Aug. 10, it should give highest priority to the welfare of Middleburg residents and those who live near the development. If approved, Banbury Cross Reserve could have serious, negative consequences.
Kevin Ramundo of Upperville is a former communications executive who serves on the Land Trust of Virginia board and is active in various preservation and conservation efforts.