In their latest effort to force a road through the middle of our farm, the Town of Purcellville has petitioned the court to lift the injunction against a ‘quick take’ of our land. They will most likely be granted this request, which is very sad news for us indeed. Please take a moment to email the town with your feelings on this issue (email links are on the “SCR” page).
Below is a reprint of a recent story in the Blue Ridge Leader about us:
The effort to protect Crooked Run Orchard has spanned many years. In our on-going coverage, we recently interviewed Sam Brown. The following was taken from that extensive interview, conducted on September 24, 2010.
from the Blue Ridge Leader. Used with permission.
BRL: When did you find out the town was going to have engineers, tests, and heavy equipment coming on your property?
Sam: We got a certified letter in August that told us they were coming (they never ask). Attached to the letter was the Code of Virginia – regarding “Condemnation”, and all the reasons they have the right to come onto the property. The letter onlyprovided vague details of what they would be doing until we insisted on getting details of what was going to occur. Since so many people, so much equipment, and so many land disturbing testswere going to be done, we felt that they should have provided us with the detailsof the scope of work, as they would any property owner. When I insisted on meeting with the Town, they met with me, but did not have details to provide me, and then asked our attorney that communications be directed through them, instead of the Town communicating with me directly.
I asked the Town Manager for an explanation as to why meetingsoccurred with my brother that I am not alerted to, I am not invited to attend, nor updated on information or outcome. I specifically referenced a meeting that occurred in April between the mayor and town manager that I was never invited to attend, nor did I receive any information about. Why the secret meetings? And why no transparency in any documentation of the discussions? I was told in an email by the Town Manager, “I am not required to summarize meetings that the Town may have with other residents or property owners”. I guess that means even when it involves property that I own too. How is this “working” with me? Talking to me? Discussing issues and finding solutions? I say, we put it all out on the table in a public meeting once and for all, for the entire town to listen to, every detail, all the issues and then we will have transparent proceedings. The Town is clearly aware that my brother and I have not been able to agree on a sale price for the 16 acres, so we are in the middle of a partition lawsuit thatwill allow the courts to assist in determining a set price so I can buy the property. I do not think the town has any business interfering in our familyissues, as I am sure no one would like to have the town meddling in their family matters.
BRL: How have things gone with the all contractors this week on the farm?
SAM: It has been tough this week watching them chop down my underbrush and put in the stakes that show the centerline of the road. I (will) lose my large barnwhere I store my equipment, where our old pigs live, and where I make hundreds of Christmas wreaths every year. But as I stood on the centerline that goes right down the middle of my own farm road that I use everyday to get my truck and tractor back and forth, I realized a number of things. It seems from this design that at least 45 mature fruit trees will be takenout, hundreds of small, medium, and large canopy trees will be removed, and I must find a new road thru my property to get to the back 45 acres (which will mean many more trees will have to come out to create a new safe farm road), and then I must worry about getting across the SCR too. It is next week when the very large bull dozer type equipment will come on the property, and I am still trying to get straight answers on just how many 5 inch holes that will bore down 10 and 15 feet. One document said12 holes, and then another shows more than 20. But, what can I do? The Town says they will back fill all the holes, and repair and/or pay for anydamage that is done. That remains to be seen.
BRL: The Mayor and numerous Council members say the change in the SCR alignment of the road back to the old design is your own fault. What do you say to that?
Sam: Well, I say that is absurd. The Town’s animosity with the County is byno means my fault. I certainly did my part by running for Town Council, because I would have made the County and Town relationship issue my number one priority. But, even at the point when we had the first offer of $37,000 for the 2.5 acres, and absolutely nothing more was in that offer letter with any details, no specifics, or answers. We had only 45 days to take it or leave it, before we faced the “condemnation/quick take” of the property. According to theVirginia Institute for Public Policy, Virginia Law allows a condemnor with quick-take power to file a certificate and get immediate possession of an owner’s property even though the condemnor may not have the legal right or authority to actually take the property. Condemnors can seize an owner’s property and begin construction on the property before the condemnor even proves it has the right or authority to take the property or to construct its project. It is entirely possible that a condemnor could seize possession of an owner’s property through quick-take and place a road on the owner’s property, even when the courts ultimately decide the condemnor has no right or authority to take the property.The current Town officials have used virtually every fear and blame tactic, as well as a misinformation campaign to take the attention off the real issues. I asked a judge to give me an injunction against this taking of myproperty, hoping for myself, and the residents of the Purcellville it would force the Town to get their priorities straight and finally get issues resolved peacefully with the County. Since that is the right thing to do for the good o fall Purcellville residents. What is the goal or what is to be gained from this ongoing position of non-cooperation with the County? But, with the lawsuit looming over the adjoining O’Toole property to my 2.5 acres, I did not feel it would be rightfor the Town to take it, bull doze all the trees, lay the asphalt, and then a year later a judge rules that the Town was wrong. In fact, it was a judge that decided the Town was “premature” in condemning the property with an unresolved lawsuit over the recent annexations, the issue of inadequate utilities for existing residents etc. The Town made a lot of noise in the courtroom that day about how the new high school opening in September was going to devastate the Town with traffic, and they even tried to get the judge to force us to put up over a million dollar bond (which they knew we could never do).
On the last day of the hearing, the Town rushed in with an offer of $960k to purchase the “entire 16 acres.” Apparently this had been decided in a closed meeting previously, because we were completely surprised by this. But, why would they want to try to take my father’s childhood home, and now my home away from me? If you are going to take and destroy my farm operations, my livelihood, and my property that is one thing, but to kick me off my property is just plain wrong. In the end the judge required a $100 bond, and determined we had a right to the injunction until the County andTown suit was resolved. Is there any property owner out there that would have done anything differently to protect their home, or their business?
BRL: It is regularly stated by the Mayor and Council members that they are “working” with you regarding the SCR, what can you tell us about that?
Sam: I don’t know what else I can say that has not been said before, but this simply is not a true statement. I really wish it were true. It would make things a lot better for my wife and me. There are a lot of moments in meetings and in the media that this canned mantra of: “we will work with the farm owners to find solutions on how to get them across the road,” but there is nothing at all in writing that ever answered the specific concerns that were provided to the town in writing after a joint meeting between the Town, my father, brother, and myself in 2002.I still have the letter, and the town has the letter. I would challenge anyone to sit in my shoes, and ask yourself how comfortable you would feel about your property, farm business, and lifelong home with looming condemnation, and massive property destruction. Is there anyone that would accept a contract to purchase their property without every single detail spelled out? We don’t live in a time where one can accept a handshake and know they will stand by their word. Don’t just take my word, ask for yourself, ask for the detailed correspondence that explains or provides any specific details, or answer the many questions and concerns that I asked about even before my father passed away. But, try as you may, you will not find anything.
BRL: What can your Purcellville neighbors do that do not want Purcellville to become Leesburg or Ashburn?
Sam: They need to get the facts for themselves. Unfortunately, the Town is able to do all this in closed sessions, and then it is considered to be attorney-client privileged … until it is all over. But, we tried in the past to bring the public into the processes of shaping the future of the Town with Charette’s like the one just done in May 2010. And we now have Catoctin Corner that did not incorporate a single item of what was said in the Charette. But, the Town approved them anyway. A massive commercial project that will place more traffic on the very road they claim we must have to alleviate traffic. Could someone please just explain the logic in that? And there was the PUGAMP (Purcellville Urban Growth Area Management Plan) Citizen Committee that put in countless volunteer hours,and gathered residents’ input to get a long term plan drafted and put into place. But the PUGAMP is not being followed, and has not been updated every 5 years as required.
What can the residents do? Speak up often. Crooked Run Orchard is a perfect example of a property that was to be allowed to continue farming without any disturbance. The PUGAMP states that farms are to allowed to continue farming, and the PUGAMP never calls for “hostile” annexations. How long must we just sit back and take what is being thrown at us? What would you do if it was your property,or a member of your family? Would you stand by and watch your mother and father be treated like this? We are truly grateful for all the people that come on the farm, and offer such kinds words and support. But, now is the time to direct things to the Town. They need to hear from citizens about what you feel should be the priorities of the Town. As it appears that the citizens of Purcellville were right about allowing the Woodgrove High Schoolto be built, the children did not deserve to have such a delay, the massive legal fees that were spent, and now that the school is open, there is nothing but positive results that have come from it. Including a major reduction ofin Town traffic.
BRL: The County has challenged Purcellville’s recent annexation of land saying the Town failed to prove it can provide adequate utilities like water and sewer to the development that willoccur there?
Sam: I can speak from personal experience regarding what happens when development is built right next to you. When the Main Street Village Townhomes were built next to our farm, we experienced tough times. Our well that was less than 100 ft. deep, and had been functioning fine for over 50 years, suddenly went dry. It forced us to dig a 400 ft. well to get water back on the property. As I watch the Town dig more and more wells on this property and that property; it is only a matter of time before more personal wells dry up.
Has anyone seen the signs up? We are still on voluntary water restrictions. And the Public Works Director commented recently that the Reservoir was a little low, but in the Fall it goes back up to normal levels. So, what happens if we have another real serious drought? Maybe we won’t get so much rain and snow this year. But, as we approve more massive commercial development, the Town commits on the residents behalf to taking away from existing businesses and current in town, and nearby residents.What do you think happens after a commercial development boom? The developers then cry out for more houses because they need more customers. Where are those houses going to go? Then there will be more roads – the Northern Collector is next. A recent comment made by Joan Lehr in a Committee meeting really concerned me. She suggested that because of the right-of-way issues regarding the Northern Collector, the Town may need to file an injunction to keep more homes from being built in Wright Farm, since they were being built on and too close to the site for the Northern Collector. Comments like that let me know this is not just a little bit of development being done to offset residential taxes, there is a huge plan in place that is going to change the “small town” that residents planned to raise their families in. And, where will the new schools go to house the additional students?I see this “super-size Purcellville” commercial development as having more than just a negative impact on utilities, or the need to make major increases in town employees, police, public works, etc. It also impacts ouroverall quality of life environmentally, and economically it brings great harm to the established businesses that thrive on the in town, and surrounding town residents. This is an opportunity for the Town to increase the overall tax assessments so they can “borrow and spend” more money than is unsustainable. I am deeply concerned about how will residents in the nextfive years be able to pay the increased utility rates, increased property taxes,meal taxes, and BPOL taxes. More development and more roads are not thesolution. Nor will it preserve the quality of life that is so unique in “Western Loudoun”. The bottom line is until the Town and County work together for the good of all the residents, it will continue to cost the Residents of Purcellville and Loudoun County massive amounts of wasted tax dollars that would be better spent on our existing infrastructure. As residents, we need to insist that this is the number one priority of Purcellville elected officials, and if they cannot do that, then they should not be moving forward onanything else and be willing to step down and allow those that are able to work together with the County to be the ones that serve the Town residents. This is the most serious issue we face, it is costing and wasting so much money. It must stop, there must be leaders that are willing to put their personal agenda’s aside and find positive solutions and negotiate compromises.
BRL: In a recent Committee meeting Councilman Priscilla stated, “Well, Crooked Run is going to eventually be mixed use commercial.” How do you feel about that prospect? And is that what you and your wife want for Crooked Run Orchard?
Sam: I am not sure where to begin with that question, as it is so far from what we want on our farm. Councilman Wagner even said he wanted to turn my home into a “Welcome Center” – well I live there! I am now in my 28th year of working this farm into a productive and viable business. I have planted, pruned, and picked every one of these fruit trees, and blackberry vines and often without help. The idea of concrete and asphalt in their place is a devastating prospect. Residents should actuallycome onto the farm, and walk the path and follow the center line stakes thru the property. This land is a permanent green treasure, filled with food, and a welcoming natural area for the community to come and enjoy. I mean, take a look at the 40 acres on Main Street that is right next door to the Main Street TownHomes. That entire property is in a “permanent” conservation easement. No developer can ever build on it, we wanted it to be safe from development in the future. The long time zoning on it would have allowed it to have 280 high density town houses on it. Our commitment to Purcellville and our lifelong farm operations made sure it was protected, and that also took nearly 5000 car trips a day off of Main Street. We felt that was the right thing to do, and we certainly wouldlike to preserve the rest of Crooked Run Orchard in perpetuity as a working pick your own, and develop major educational programs for young people and families to be able to come on the property for years to come and learnall about the sciences of agriculture. That is our ultimate dream, we want toknow that we can share our knowledge with many generations to come, long after we are gone. Crooked Run Orchard should always be a place that children, youth, and families come and learn, laugh, play, and have good healthy food to eat. We are researching ways to alleviate the damage to the Crooked Run creek that runs into Goose Creek, and the largest portion of wetlands that the road will impact. No one has ever mentioned concerns about this, nor the impact on wildlife. With now two major commercial developments on both corners of the gateway at Main Street and Rt. 287, much more harm will be done to our environment and community that is certain to be irreversible if not stopped now.
BRL: Thank you Sam for speaking to us. Is there anythingelse you would want to say?
Sam: I would say we could use some strong support, we sure are going to need it to get through this. Small family businesses are the backbone of this country and keep the dollars in the community. I hope that somehow people have come away with some clearer insights into the complicated issues here. Farming is what we love doing. Nothing better than getting up, and heading off to work on your own property, and loving what you do.