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Planning commission delays decision on Pippin Hill inn expansion

Pippin Hill Farm and Winery wants more room at its nearby inn, but it will have to wait until Feb. 28 to find out whether it can add new rooms after facing pushback from its neighbors.

The Albemarle County Planning Commission voted after hours of public comment and debate on Tuesday to defer a decision on whether the owners of the North Garden winery can expand operations at the neighboring historic inn it owns.

Pippin Hill, which owns the 203-year-old Crossroads Tavern and Inn next door to the winery’s operations, has requested a special use permit to increase the inn’s size from seven to 19 units with the addition of four cottages. One of those cottages would be a residence for Pippin Hill’s owners, husband and wife Dean Andrews and Lynn Easton.

Wilda Savarese, a resident in the nearby Bundoran Farm development, said she moved to the area for its natural peace and beauty. The proposed addition at the inn would change that, she said.

“I lived in New York, and I wanted to get away from New York because of the density and the aggression,” she told commissioners. “Here, it’s the kindest people, and people speak more quietly and more slowly.”

Many complained about increased traffic along Plank Road and the noise and light pollution a 19-unit inn would produce.

“Additional traffic should be a big concern to the Board of Supervisors for the safety of rural Albemarle County,” Bundoran Farm resident Betsy Stuart told the commission.

“Let’s be clear about what this proposed development is,” Mac McKee, another Bundoran Farm resident, told the commission. “It is a party venue, plain and simple.”

Bundoran Farm, a residential development amidst a 2,300-acre working farm, was constructed in 2009.

Commissioners on Tuesday noted that Bundoran Farm itself prompted complaints from neighbors with similar concerns when it was initially developed.

Planning Commissioner Karen Firehock objected at one point to note that some comments from the public appeared to suggest that what was good for Bonduran Farm, or any other development, wasn’t good for Pippin Hill and the Crossroads Tavern and Inn.

“There’s been an argument here tonight that, ‘Well, that’s an OK thing at my house, because it is perfectly fitted into the landscape, but not this other use,’” said Firehock. “We’ve all had an impact.”

Matt Lovelady, Pippin Hill’s director of operations and its representative before the planning commission on Tuesday, said he was willing to work with the community members who opposed the development.

“I hear a lot that the community talks to each other, but I don’t really hear from you personally,” said Lovelady, who encouraged those who spoke out to also speak to Pippin Hill directly.

County staff, which has recommended the commission approve the special use permit, said the extra rooms at the inn would not only aid in the preservation of a historic resource but boost tourism in the county.

The additional rooms would contribute to an additional 49 car trips per day on Plank Road generated by Pippin Hill, for a total of 163 trips, according to staff estimates.

The stretch of Plank Road between U.S. 29 and Miller School Road, which passes in front of Pippin Hill, had an annual average daily traffic count of 2,000 in 2021, according the most recent figures from the Virginia Department of Transportation. By comparison, the stretch of Half Mile Branch Road between Hillsboro Lane and Jarmans Gap Road, which passes in front of King Family Vineyards in Crozet, had a count of 1,300. On the other side of the county, the stretch of Gordonsville Road between state Route 22 and the Louisa County line, which passes in front of Keswick Vineyards, Castle Hill Cider and the 80-key Keswick Hall hotel, had a count of 6,000.

In order to limit disturbances, staff recommended prohibiting amplified sound outdoors at the inn and limits on the number, size and location of the additional cottages. The four new cottages could not be taller than a single story under the conditions and the owners could add no more than 19 guest rooms at the site.

Staff also recommended getting an assessment by the Virginia Board of Historic Review.

The Crossroads Tavern and Inn is both on the National Historic Register and is a Virginia Historic Landmark.

Since it was built in 1820, the tavern has provided overnight lodging for a variety of historic figures under a number of different owners, according to its website.

In the spring of 1823, it hosted a meeting between the country’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, and the country’s eighth president, Martin Van Buren. President Theodore Roosevelt visited the tavern for supper after a day of birding while visiting his Pine Knot cabin in the county. And President Franklin Roosevelt visited the tavern in 1936 and delivered a speech from the front porch prior to dedicating the George Washington National Forest.

Planning Commissioner Julian Bivins said the county needs to look to similar localities that can serve as role models, such as the California wine country. Those places, Bivins said, have better systems for striking a balance between development and preservation, between community members and landowners.

“We need to figure out how to tie tourism and the winery business and breweries and distilleries into a place that lifts and preserves the beauty of the county,” Bivins said. “If you go to Napa Valley or Sonoma, they have figured out a way.”

Planning commissioners said on Tuesday they needed more time to decide the fate of the Crossroads Inn and Tavern. The commission meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month. Its next regular meeting is scheduled for Feb. 28.


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