The Spirit of the Law: How can we get a County ordinance to do what its authors intended?

By Mariette Hiu Newcomb

In the early 1980’s some local activists got together with Fairfax County planners to see what could be done to save farmland that was rapidly being converted into subdivisions, shopping malls, and office parks. They came up with the Agricultural and Forestal District ordinance that would make qualifying lands eligible for lower real estate taxes based on its agricultural use instead of its market value which was increasing due to development pressures.

In 1985, our farm became the Potomac Vegetable Farms Agricultural District which was committed to not developing or changing its use for the eight year term of the district. We have since renewed our district each time the term expired. It originally included the 30 acres on Leesburg Pike and a noncontiguous 8-acre parcel owned by the family on nearby Beulah Road, on the other side of the Moutoux Orchard which also had its own agricultural district. This 75 acre block devoted to farming became notable as land in the surrounding area filled up with large houses.

Three years ago, the Moutouxs decided to sell and move their orchard operation out to Loudoun County. We have written in these newsletters about the impact of the loss of this beautiful and productive orchard and our historic access to our Beulah Road land. We are continuing to grow vegetables and cut flowers there, but Fairfax County no longer allows it to be part of our agricultural district, now that it is more obvious that it is noncontiguous to the rest of our farm, and we are paying much higher taxes based on its market value as a house lot.

The County attorney has ruled that noncontiguous parcels cannot be part of an A&F district even though the ordinance stated at the time our district was established that noncontiguous parcels, if located within a mile of the core of the A&F district, would be allowed.

I have spoken with our Supervisor John Foust and consulted with the Fairfax County Planning Office but have been told that some legislative action might be necessary in Richmond to allow our noncontiguous parcel to be included in our A&F district. We need some help and advice to make the necessary connections to pursue this. We were wondering if any of our customers and associates might have more experience and expertise in this area than we do. Can any of you help?

4 thoughts on “The Spirit of the Law: How can we get a County ordinance to do what its authors intended?

  1. Please strongly consider using your elected officials at both the federal and state levels to help you with your claim; other farmers may want to help as well if you have a decent network as they may find themselves in similar situations down the line.
    This type of issue is likely to be near and dear to the minds and hearts of many constituents and elected officials because it connects to issues such as community activism, local agricultural support, sustainable living, ecological impacts, and taxes (although could be a double-edged sword) to name a few. Elected officials, and I’m not trying to be sarcastic, must (re)elected. Therefore, if little traction is initially gained, slightly more organization would be the next logical step (petitions, etc…). Think of this as the bottom-up approach (“grassroots” if you will).
    Consider your federal representatives as well, because they can wield enormous influence and are connected to those in smaller assemblies. This would be your top-down approach. Hopefully one or both methods exert the desired pressure.
    The tactics to do this are too long to properly discuss on this thread, but the internet is, of course, a great place to begin.

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  2. Agree with comment #1. Make appointments to meet with State Senator (in Reston!) Janet Howell and Delegates for the area from Vienna and McLean, etc. The growing interest of locovores in buying local means that timing could be good. Bring in any elected officials that you can, including Frank Wolf, Jim Moran, etc. Both have local district offices. Get their help and advice.

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