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Open space but no conservation easement planned for Traveller’s Rest property

Andrew Hertneky, the managing partner for a new group of investors in a 680-acre tract of mostly pristine land less than two miles from Middleburg said his new entity purchased the property so it wouldnt fall into the hands of someone who might have wanted to slice it up and would have had a pure economic interest in dividing it as much as they could.

Hertneky, a long-time executive in the energy industry on the West Coast who now lives in Marshall, said in a telephone interview that his new company  Middleburg Land 1 LLC  plans to keep the land once owned by Travellers Rest LLC between 70 and 75 percent open space, though it will not be placed in conservation easement.

The people involved in this are horse people, he saidThey would like to see as much of the property preserved as possible. 

Travellers Rest, owned by T. Nelson Gunnell and Alfred Rogers Smithwick, both of Middleburg, had filed for Chapter 11 protection last June 16 to avoid foreclosure on the property.  Last month, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Eastern District of Virginia took Travellers Rest out of bankruptcy when Hertnekys group secured an $8.5 million loan from The Fauquier Bank and paid off the creditors.

Gunnell is the founder and co-owner of the nearby Banbury Cross polo facility along U.S. 50 just east of the village that is not part of the 680 acres. The $8.5 million loan was recorded at the courthouse in Leesburg on Dec. 28.

Hertnekys group has the by-right ability to place as many as 38 homes, most of them in a cluster of three- and four-acre lots, on a parcel of land near the intersection of Sam Fred Road and U.S. 50. He said there would be a large amount of open space around the cluster of upscale dwellings and well try to keep the homes away from the roads.

He also indicated the new company has the right to sell at least two more large properties of several hundred acres each.

Wed like to maintain the property so that a majority of it can be used by the hunts,said Hertneky, an avid polo player and fox hunter who is a member of the Old Dominion Hounds. Well have deed-restricted horse trails. There will always be trails that will be maintained with covenants in perpetuity.

He also added his group has no plans to ask Loudoun County for any zoning changes or variances on the property.

We had two choices here, he said. Have a national home builder divide it up, or we could have local people and conserve the property as much as possible and be able to pay off the bankruptcy.

Hertneky declined to identify other investors for now, though Stanley Settle, a long-time land acquisition specialist for Pulte Homes, will manage the development of the property.

According to the bankruptcy court filing, Hertneky will be compensated by receiving a 2 percent guarantee fee, as well as a commission on the total gross sales of property. That includes, for sales up to $15 million, 1 percent; for sales between $15 million and $20 million, 2.5 percent and for sales over $20 million, 5 percent.  Settle will be paid a 1.5 percent commission on the total gross sales of property.

Hertneky offered no timetable for  beginning or completing work on the property, but other sources in the local real estate industry have said a number of engineering studies still must be completed on the site involving soil, water and other items before any ground can be broken. VDOT  has to approve any plans involving access via Sam Fred Road and U.S. 50.

Several conservation groups also are paying close attention to the development plans for the property, including the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) and Goose Creek Association.

What he (Hertneky) is proposing is an aggressive interpretation of his zoning rights under the current code, said Chris Miller, president of the PEC. Every effort ought to be made to produce real conservation of this property. We certainly will be monitoring the situation and any actions theyre going to take.

Lori McGuinness, co-chair of the Goose Creek Association, said her conservation group also has been following the situation.

This really highlights the importance of conservation easement, she said, because large farms like this are catnip to developers. 

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