Owners of The Clifton want to increase the number of guest rooms at the inn, provide “glamping” and expand special events on the historic site in Albemarle County.
The owner — Richmond-based EKG LLC and Washington, D.C.-based Westmount Capital Group as Clifton Inn LLC — is requesting an amendment of a special-use permit and a rezoning to add a total of 41 guest rooms, seasonal primitive camping and new buildings for events on four properties known as Clifton Inn and Collina Farm. If approved, the permit would allow owners to add 25 rooms to The Clifton for 40 total, and 16 rooms at Collina Farm, for a total of 21 rooms.
A representative for Clifton Inn said the changes were to “serve the viability of the business” and move the operation forward “consistent with the vision of the new owners,” who acquired the property, which is on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places, in 2017.
“The owners really see themselves as stewards of this property and have every intent of upholding these designations throughout the proposed expansion process,” said Kelsey Schlein with Shimp Engineering. “This expansion is … certainly an opportunity to allow for more people to come to the site and enjoy the historic resources.”
During a virtual community meeting on Wednesday, area residents expressed concerns about water, noise from the site and other potential environmental impacts.
Lorie Hackney, whose family owns the farm across U.S. 250 from the property, said they can hear “everything” happening on the Collina Farm property, which is the 25.75 acres closest to the intersection of North Milton Road and U.S. 250.
“I can hear conversations in the parking lot, I can hear the music, I can hear who’s being announced and that’s not having your structure there now,” she said. “Once that 10,500 square-foot event structure is put up that holds 300 people and the additional accommodations [are built], the noise and the disruptions will increase. Shutting down to amplify music will not shut down the conversations or the socialization that goes on while people are on Collina Farm property.”
In documents submitted to the county, “a key motivation” for the request is to move the primary event space from the Clifton Inn property to the Collina Farm property, “so that the day-to-day operations and resources of the historic inn and restaurant are not compromised during special events.”
“Currently, all special events take place on the Clifton Inn property which necessitates closure of the restaurant to meet the spatial needs of the special event and inhibits the sale of overnight accommodations to anyone not affiliated with the special event,” the narrative document says. “The owner would like to move the larger special events to the Collina Farm property and construct a new event structure to house those events or portions of those events that do not take place outside.”
Currently the Collina Farm site has five guest rooms in a house. The owner is requesting to add 16 guest rooms in cabins, a 10,500 square-foot building for events of up to 300 people and primitive “glamping” sites. The entrance to the property would also be relocated.
The “glamping” sites were described in application materials as “simple structures, similar to yurts, with canvas walls and no indoor plumbing features.” Guests would use shared bathrooms located on the property.
On the Clifton Inn site, there are currently 15 guest rooms, a 52-seat restaurant and a limit of up to 200 people for events, guests and the restaurant. The owner is requesting to add 25 guest rooms within an addition to one of the garden cottages, primitive camping sites and a 5,000 square-foot building for a spa and events up to 75 people.
Schlein said the new building on the Clifton Inn site would be located on former tennis courts, where a tent is typically erected in the summer.
The request also includes rezoning one parcel from Planned Residential Development, which does not allow for the historic inn and restaurant use by special use permit, to Rural Areas. Seven residential lots and a private street are currently approved on that land.
“Concurrent with this special-use permit request, we’re requesting to downzone this property and vacate those development rights, rezoning it to rural areas, and having that property contribute to the overall historic inn and restaurant use,” Schlein said.
She said they don’t have a sound management plan worked out at this point. The project narrative says that the owner “is agreeable” to prohibit sound from outdoor amplified music between 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and between 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Friday and Saturday night.
In 2016, the Board of Supervisors approved changes to the county’s zoning ordinance that would allow three historic establishments currently in operation, including The Clifton, to apply for a special use permit to expand by modifying their historic structures or adding new structures on the property. The change came out of a request from the former owners of the Clifton Inn.
Rebecca Ragsdale, a county principal planner, said historic properties have some specific criteria that Albemarle considers.
“For a site like this with historic resources, we’re looking at the proposed additions and improvements and their relationship and impacts to the historic resources, along with all of the other things that we would typically look at in terms of capacity for this use, in terms of infrastructure and the other impacts,” she said.
The Clifton Inn had most recently requested a special-use permit amendment and rezoning in 2017 for a 21-room addition, but ultimately deferred it in 2018.
Existing structures on the Clifton Inn property are currently served by public water, and according to application documents any new structures on the property will be served by private well. Proposed new structures on the Collina Farm site would also be served by a well.
Bill Weakley, who lives on nearby Shannon Drive, said he was concerned about the water supply.
“My father-in-law, when he built this place here in ‘59, had to go through three wells around the property to find enough water supply for this house,” he said. “That is a big concern if they go and draw all the groundwater that all of us over here are using.”
County staff have not yet completed their review of the proposal, and public hearings before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors have not yet been scheduled.