A five star, 168 room resort spa is coming to the small town of Middleburg, Virginia (pop. 700), on the fringe of the Washington, D.C. metro area.
The resort -- to be called Salamander -- has been controversial locally. As planning commissioner Lisa Patterson told me, "this has not been an easy issue by any means ... it tore the town apart when it was first proposed." And even its supporters acknowledge that it will forever change the character of the town.
The project is the vision of Sheila Jackson, a Middleburg resident who is co-founder of Black Entertainment Television. It will be built on 340 acres, 88 located within the town borders.
Here's an illustration of part of the project, and a photo of town planner David Beniamino with just some of the voluminous plans. Below that is a view into the property -- the resort will be located towards the back left of the photo; the housing will be off to the front right. (If you click on the images, a larger size version will open up)
Since being proposed in 2002, the project has consumed an enormous amount of time for the towns' planners, including David, who has been on the job the past two years. Lisa told me that the planning commission has been meeting three or four times a month just to focus on this complex project.
Part of the reason for the complexity is that the project involves more than just the resort spa. It will also include at least 61 residential homes and 12 dwellings designed as "workforce housing" for faculty at the Hill School in town (Sheila Johnson previously donated $5 million for a peforming arts center for this private school).
And there's more, as the developer is asking for 30,000 square feet of commercial office space. Salamander will also have its own wastewater facility and two new wells.
[below are two photos of Middleburg's Main Street. One of the unanswered questions is the magnitude of change this project will bring to the town.]
One critical aspect of the project is its impact on town revenues. The town estimates that Salamander will bring in some $1.2 million annually in revenues to the town coffers. That represents a more than doubling of the current budget. As Jerry Schiro, the Town Administrator told me, "the project will be a financial asset to the town, with very little demand on town services."
This is especially important, as Lisa explained, because the town faces major expenses for a new sewer plant needed to replace the current facility (now 35 years old), and also has a large debt burden for its water treatment plant. Without the project, town residents might be facing a huge hike in their property tax rates, Lisa noted, "or we'd be shopping for another big use to come in."
(Lisa -- seen in this photo behind the counter of her Mello Out shop just off Main Street, used to work as a professional engineer but now tends to a 2 1/2 year old).
The town government is now behind the project, having entered into an MOU with the developer in 2005. But there are still critical details to work out, including how to integrate the residential and commercial component with the town's existing grid (the project site abuts the built up part of Middleburg).
However, serious concerns remain with some in the community. Michael Morency, who owns several properties in Middleburg said he'd be surprised if the fiscal impacts will be as positive as being projected by the town.
An even more important concern to Morency is that with this project "the town has put all its eggs in one basket" and will be "captive" to the fortunes (and demands) of Salamander. If the project turns out to be a white elephant, Morecy noted, the town may face a worse alternative needed to replace Salamander.
Others are also troubled by the major impact this scale of development will have on the town.
It won't be too many years before either the supporters or opponents are proven right.