By Stephen Mackey
A few weeks ago I received a newsletter from the Friends of Janet Clarke. Within the newsletter was Janet’s list of priorities for the next Board of Supervisors. Among others, the list contained the following items:
- Respect property rights.
- Help protect our agricultural community and preserve historic properties.
- Create more transparency, openness, and accountability in government to promote better communication between individuals and their elected officials.
Having recently formed an alliance with Sam and Uta Brown in their fight to save their 250 year-old farm, Crooked Run Orchard, from the malicious quick-take actions perpetrated by the Purcellville Town Council, I felt it appropriate to approach Janet and request her support for the Browns. It seemed logical to me that a candidate espousing property rights would abhor such a quick-take action, particularly from an elderly couple who has made it abundantly clear that they desire to continue farming. Further, the Browns have also made it known that their wish in their passing is to create a foundation in order to leave Crooked Run Orchard to the people of Loudoun County, so that future generations can enjoy and learn from the land.
Having received no response to my inquiry for several days, I returned home from a morning of running errands to find Janet Clarke and Town Councilman James “Doc” Wiley standing unannounced in our winery tasting room. Janet indicated she felt it important that I hear “both sides of the Crooked Run story” since Doc has such a long history in the town and would be able to clarify the motives of the Town Council for me. She also advised me she was “worried about my reputation” since I had sided so strongly with the Browns and she wanted to ensure I had the complete perspective.
I questioned and listened to Doc for over an hour, he became increasingly frustrated at my queries, apparently not expecting my research to be so thorough nor my position to be so firm. When I asked him how he would feel if the Town had seized his property he agreed, “I would be pretty upset about it too.” When I told him I do not believe the Southern Collector Road (SCR) will solve the traffic problems on the east side of Purcellville (once the subsequent development is completed) he agreed saying, “you’re probably right.” I then asked him if he truly did not believe the SCR was going to actually solve anything, but rather just trade one set of traffic issues for larger ones later, he indicated he was elected by the people of Purcellville to do a job and that “a decision had to be made.” When I pressed the issue, he finally crossed his arms, sat back in his chair and said in a huff, “Well, they’re old people anyway, and that land is going to be used for something else.”
I sat there in stunned disbelief; incredulous that Janet (quietly listening to this exchange) somehow felt that having Doc spell out this predatory mindset for me would somehow alter my opinion of the Browns or their predicament. After having her 99-year old grandfather lead the pledge of allegiance at the Republican convention, then personally driving Doc to my home to explain the Town Council’s motives, she was somehow worried about my reputation?
After this exchange I asked Doc if he felt the building of the SCR through the land seized by Mayor Lazaro and the Town Council was a foregone conclusion, or would the Town go back to the table and re-negotiate with the Browns? He indicated he would certainly reconsider on three conditions. One, the Browns would have to agree to sell the smaller two-acre parcel, effectively dividing their property. Two, the Browns would have to drop their lawsuit against the Town. Three, someone would have to reimburse the Town the several hundred thousand dollars they have spent on planning the road through the land they seized.
I told Doc I thought that his last condition was utterly inappropriate, that the Town Council was singularly at fault for spending that money after jumping the gun on the quick-take. I felt his first two points may be reasonable, but that the Browns should be given a plan for the crossing of the road in order to continue their farming operations. Doc insisted the Town had communicated this to the Browns, but again as I pressed the issue he finally admitted that in fact no definitive plan was ever delivered to the Browns, merely an “assurance that the Town would work with them” to create a solution. He indicated that the Town would not spend the money to create such a solution until the Browns agreed to sell their two acres; they just needed to take it on faith that an acceptable solution would be forthcoming after the sale. Who in their right mind would accept such terms?
I thanked Doc for his time, and was sincerely appreciative for him making the effort to communicate his positions (however misguided) – the only member of the Town leadership who has had the courage or courtesy to do so. As he and Janet drove away, I suddenly became deeply saddened for the future of the Town of Purcellville, as well as western Loudoun. We are all at a fork in the road, with Crooked Run Orchard right in the middle and our collective souls hanging in the balance. Down one path lie big box stores, chain restaurants, parking lots, traffic congestion, and wealthy developers. Down the other lies a historical bedroom community, the hub of rural Loudoun, with agri-tourism attractions, local eclectic small businesses, and family values, not the least of which is respect for the elderly and appreciation for the lessons of our forefathers.
Unfortunately for the Town Council, the Browns are still very much alive and well. They are intelligent, passionate, committed, and gaining momentum in their efforts to save their farm. A forthcoming petition and survey will show the economic impact their business has upon the other businesses within the Town. However, they cannot win this fight alone, and the voters of the Town of Purcellville and the Blue Ridge District need to ask themselves, “What is the real price of progress? What is my conscience worth?” To answer those questions, we as a community need to define the difference between prosperity and plunder, make our values known on election day, and ensure a sustainable, wholesome and untarnished future for our children.
Stephen Mackey is Co-Founder & Wine Composer,
Notaviva Vineyards, LLC.