Crossroads Inn Expansion Deferred at Planning Commission

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Matt Lovelady, Pippin Hill’s director of operations, speaks to the Planning Commission at its February 14 meeting

The owners of Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards in North Garden appeared before the Albemarle County Planning Commission (PC) on February 14 to request a Special Use Permit for a proposed inn expansion on a parcel of land adjacent to the vineyards. An existing structure on that parcel—the historic Crossroads Tavern and Inn—currently offers six guest rooms along with 30 seats for tavern dining. 

The Pippin Hill owners plan to renovate the tavern building and two others and to build 12 additional guest rooms in four “cottage” complexes plus additional parking, landscaping, and an internal road connecting to the winery up the hill. The concept envisions cottage gardens, a village green, a kitchen garden, and an extensive array of guest experiences including farm-to-table dining, a cooking school, spa and wellness escapes, and historic education tours. The project proposal says the owners “intend to evoke the character and ambiance of a charming, historic village retreat nestled on a verdant hillside.”

The county planning department’s staff report, issued in advance of the PC meeting to advise the commission on whether the project adheres to county rules, gave a greenlight to the plan, citing its potential to “promote and enhance tourism.” The report downplayed concerns over water and sewer capacity and increased noise and traffic, and said the character of the nearby area would be remain “unchanged.”

Matt Lovelady, Pippin Hill’s director of operations, presented a summary of the owners’ efforts to mitigate the effects the expansion, including “density, lighting, viewshed, and resource management.” “We don’t feel that this project sets a precedent for more commercialism or more expansion,” said Lovelady. “We do feel we are leaning into the historic uses of the property. We don’t have any plans for late-night events there, we don’t have any reason for folks to celebrate there.” He also said his team has opened a VDOT study of the nearby Plank Road intersection and they fully support any changes to that intersection to slow people down.

Conceptual drawing of Pippin Hill’s proposal to expand the Crossroads Inn on a parcel just south of the winery, with twelve “cottages” in four clusters in the middle.

Neighbors Wary 

Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards lies entirely within the 2,300-acre Bundoran Farm residential development envelope. The land is held in conservation easement and is managed by an internal board that approved the winery’s location years ago as a small operation in line with Bundoran’s environmental mission. More than 30 Bundoran neighbors and concerned citizens attended the Planning Commission meeting to express their objections to the expansion.

“Our county Comprehensive Plan gets chipped away and eroded by those who seek to expand incrementally and push the limits of what they can do, and the best example of this is Pippin Hill,” said Nora Seilheimer. “What started as a small farm winery has substantially grown over time and now hosts over 80,000 visitors and has a commercial restaurant, snarls local traffic flow, decreases local air quality, and negatively impacts the quality of life for neighboring properties. Pippin Hill has set out to exploit the provision for historic inns, [but] the scale of this project is neither proportionate nor subordinate to the historic inn and associated structures. If you approve this proposal, what will happen next?”

Bundoran resident Mack McKee said, “Let’s be clear about what this proposed development is—it is a party venue, plain and simple, designed to increase the frequency and size of the events at the adjacent Pippin Hill winery. These events are invasive enough to the community, and expanding their scope and intensity would be a disservice to the surrounding neighbors in the rural area in which they live. The plan presented to you is an attempt to fit a round peg into a square hole. The [proposed] landscaping buffer along the west property line will not hide from view the monolithic 450-foot-long building footprint or diffuse the night lights, and who will police the late night noise?”

Jon Scheumann, a near neighbor to Pippin Hill who has organized the area’s resistance to the expansion into a 150-person group called Protect Rural Albemarle, said the proposal clearly flouts county code. “The project is characterized as an ‘inn with cottages,’—sounds lovely,” he said at the meeting. “But Albemarle code section 3.1 states that a ‘hotel’ means ‘one or more buildings having six or more guest rooms that provide transient lodging,’ so this is a hotel. According to the Comprehensive Plan, hotels are not to be built in rural areas. I’m deeply concerned about the precedent that approval of a hotel in a rural community like this will set.”

Jon Scheumann, organizer of the community group Protect Rural Albemarle, speaks to the Planning Commission at its February 14 meeting

Over the past year, Scheumann convened meetings and sent information out to neighbors about the specifics of county ordinances covering historic inns and hotels. Several of the group’s points seemed to resonate with the commissioners, particularly the county code requirement than any expansion of a historic structure be “clearly subordinate” to the original structure. Pippin Hill’s proposal would encompass about 5,000 square feet, significantly more than the historic structure, with a 400-foot linear array of buildings along a prominent ridgeline facing Plank Road.

Commissioners Unconvinced

After ticking off a list of potential conditions on the proposal that had been discussed to address citizen concerns, commissioner Karen Firehock summarized the problem as she saw it. “At the end of the day, it seems to me that what is [proposed to be] slid into that slice of a ridgetop is too much for that property,” she said. “[The expansion] is sort of creatively tucked in to the ridge, but it still seems to me to be highly visible from multiple points and that makes it difficult to blend. I just don’t know how to put this much of a hotel into the slice that they have. I’m leaning against this at this time, because I think it’s too much for the property and I think it’s too visible.”

Commissioner Luis Carrazana agreed. “The number of mitigations we’ve talked about—hydrology, archaeology, screening, landscapes, and we’ve heard more from the applicant—we could put all of these requirements on the application, but at some point, we have to ask whether we’re doing all that to fit something that doesn’t fit in a particular application,” he said. “The terms subordinate, complementary, that’s where I’m having a tough time because I think at some point the inn is actually subordinate to this [proposed] function—[the cottages are] going to be the primary function here now.”

Planning Commission chair Corey Clayborne said, “I would love to see an iteration of this project move forward, I think we have got to figure this piece out from an economic development standpoint. I think something that gets the job done but still maintains the respect of that historic structure … would advance in some way.”

Other commissioners agreed that it was the particular combination of narrow parcel and intense density that gave them pause, and appeared to be leaning against recommending approval for Pippin Hill. However, just as they began to make a motion for a roll call vote, Lovelady rushed to the podium to request a deferral of the application. “There was a lot brought up, and I think we need to cover the ground much better than we have so far,” said Lovelady. The commissioners voted unanimously to allow an indefinite deferral of the application. 

Asked for his perspective after the meeting, Scheumann was circumspect. “From the outset I thought it was going to be very challenging to defeat this,” he said. “So, a lot of my personal focus has been on whether we can constrain it—shrink the footprint, create a tighter envelope, and then create enough caution and delay and shrinkage that, from an investment standpoint, does it still make sense?”

Scheumann is glad to have pursued the issue for more than a year, particularly as county officials seemed reluctant to articulate a defined limit to development projects like this one. He expects Pippin Hill to resubmit the application, and stresses to the members of Protect Rural Albemarle that “this is delayed, this is not dead.” 

“As loosely organized as we were, if we hadn’t been expressing our voice, this would have just trotted through [the process] and been approved,” he said, “and then it’s too late. This is not just a Bundoran Farm issue, it’s a North Garden issue, it’s an Esmont issue, it’s a Batesville issue. We don’t want to wake up one day and be a recreation of Rt. 151 in Nelson.” 

Update 3/13/23: This article was originally published with the headline “Pippin Hill Expansion Deferred at Planning Commission” and has been updated to more accurately describe the application, which is for the Crossroads Inn. 

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Lisa Martin joined the Gazette in 2017 and writes about education and local government. She also writes in-depth pieces about division-wide education issues and broader investigative pieces on topics from recycling to development to living with wildlife. Her Coyotes in Crozet story won a 2017 Virginia Press Association “Best in Show” award for the Gazette. Martin has a Ph.D. from the University of Texas, taught college for several years, and writes fiction and poetry. She co-authored a children’s trilogy about two adventuring cats, the Anton and Cecil series, which got rave reviews from the New York Times Book Review, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly and others.

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