Friends aim to turn property into retreat

Ben McMahon, 32, left, of Front Royal, and Josh Peterson, 40, right, of Strasburg, have purchased this 40-acre property near Waterlick for use as an agriculture events center. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG — Longtime friends Ben McMahon and Josh Petersen plan to turn a historic, Warren County home into an events center.

McMahon recently filed an application for a conditional-use permit to operate an agricultural events center on 40 acres of land he owns at 4918 and 4920 Strasburg Road (Va. 55). McMahon and Petersen recently bought the property from the Rooney family — mostly pasture land, surrounded by trees, with a large manor house and guesthouse in the center.

“It’s just a nice retreat back from [Washington], D.C., an hour out, you get to spend it in a beautiful spot,” Petersen said.

The county first must add agricultural events center to the list of uses allowed with an approved, conditional-use permit on land in an agricultural zoning district.

While McMahon and Petersen haven’t decided on specific events for the proposed center, the owners said Thursday the list might include music festivals and business conferences, fundraisers and galas.

“If you keep it broad then you have the option of doing different things out here,” McMahon said. “But a lot of it is, for us at least, was providing a venue for other local businesses, whether that would be, like, wineries, caterers or anybody to be able to use the facility … in its state to host events on because it has a lot of natural beauty.

“The house has a lot of historical significance,” McMahon added.

The historic Mint House was built in 1842, Petersen noted.

“We love that it’s 170 years old,” Petersen said, adding that they are still studying the history of the property.

The main house likely needs only some minor, cosmetic improvements, McMahon said. The owners have asked an engineer to see if the large barn near the house can also be used for events. They also need other elements of the property checked such as the well and septic system. The owners said they also intend to have someone live in the carriage house on a long-term basis who can also provide on-site maintenance for the property.

McMahon lives in Front Royal and works as a real estate investor and is president of BSM Properties LLC. Petersen is the athletic director for Christendom College. Petersen also has a background in event planning.

McMahon said he and Petersen searched the area for a potential events center site for about a year and a half and came upon the Mint House owned by the Rooney family. The house was purchased for about $625,000 after it had been on the market for about six years.

“There’s a need, I think, that needs to be filled,” McMahon said.

McMahon has requested that the county amend the zoning ordinance to allow agricultural events center in the district. The proposed amendment defines an agricultural events center as a facility on agriculturally zoned land of 20 acres or greater with an ongoing, viable agricultural use that provides a facility for any type of social gathering, available for use by private groups of 100 people or fewer for such activities as meetings, weddings and receptions.

Planning Director Taryn Logan said the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the zoning amendment request in May followed by one for the permit. The Board of Supervisors will also need to hold hearings on both requests.

In his application, McMahon stated they want to use the property for private events such as those listed in the proposed ordinance amendment as well as fundraisers and retreats. They would like to hold events each weekend and any food provided would come from outside catering companies.

McMahon indicates they would like to rent the manor house on the property to visiting families. Such a use would fall under short-term tourist rental allowed by the zoning ordinance with a conditional-use permit. McMahon and Petersen also applied for a conditional-use permit to run a short-term tourist rental.

In his application, McMahon states they want to keep the integrity of the structure and the grounds. He intends to have someone live and work on the property. The barn would be used only if signed off by an engineer, McMahon states.

The Warren County Health Department determines the number of occupants allowed in the dwelling up to a maximum of 10. The site includes adequate space for parking, according to Planning Department information. The proposed ordinance amendment includes a regulation to require one parking space per three guests.

The property lies in the Shenandoah River Lakes subdivision adjacent to single-family dwellings, a cemetery and a business owned by Dulles Industries. The property backs up to a railroad.

The county’s Future Land Use map in the Comprehensive Plan identifies McMahon’s property for agricultural use.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com