*UPDATE: At last night’s Purcellville Town Council Meeting January 11, 2011, a public hearing was held regarding Condemnation-Quick Take of the Crooked Run Orchard property. Over 50 Town and County residents attended, and more than 20 people spoke at the hearing. Only two speakers were in favor of the agenda item. In a 7-0 vote, the Purcellville Town Council voted to Condemn via quick take condemnation powers over seven acres of Crooked Run Orchard for the Southern Collector Road. (the parcel is 16 acres)
Town Council members kept repeating that this was the “original” alignment. It is not, it is an entirely new alignment. The road has been moved entirely onto the Brown property, locating the road less than 75 feet from their home and making the annexation of the O’Toole property unnecessary. In preparation to seek State and Federal funding the Town has submitted documents for 4 lanes and 40 mph. The original alignment only required 3.08 acres, the new alignment will take almost half the 16 acres and destroy the main barn and farm road to the back 40 acres.
The offer to purchase the property did not address any safe access to other parcels or fence protections, nor any plans to replace or compensate for destroyed mature fruit trees, or replacement of the barn.
On January 11, 2011, the Purcellville Town Council will hold a public hearing on the “quick-take”/eminent domain condemnation of a portion of Crooked Run Orchard. The 200 year-old farm carries a “Century Farm” designation and is the only working farm in the Town of Purcellville. Portions of the farm are due to be condemned to make way for the proposed Southern Collector Road (SCR). The condemnation seeks to take immediate possession of four to seven acres of one 16 acre parcel of the farm – an action that would cut the farm in two, and place the four lane portion of the SCR less than 75 feet from the Brown’s home.
The Town of Purcellville is seeking the condemnation even though Sam Brown is involved in a family partition lawsuit seeking to purchase his brother’s share of the property. Sam owns 100 percent of the Crooked Run Orchard business, but shares ownership of the 16 acres and another parcel with his brother. Once he is sole owner of the land, Sam and his wife Uta plan to fully restore and place their home on the Historic Registry. It was built in 1908, and Sam’s father moved into it when he was three months old – the same year Purcellville was incorporated. Sam also intends to place the land in Conservation Easement to preserve it in perpetuity for the enjoyment and education of generations to come.
It was only one year ago that the Town held a public hearing to “quick take” over two acres of the Brown’s back 40 acre parcel of the farm for the Town’s preferred alignment of the SCR. “Quick Take” powers, which transfer land from private ownership to government ownership is a particularly severe form of eminent domain, and is one of the most intrusive powers of a government. It means that the Town can take immediate title to the land, and parts of Crooked Run Orchard can be bulldozed and built on as soon as the title is secured.
Even if the government’s possession of the property is later judged to be unwarranted, the owner has no recourse for compensation for damages that the town might have done to the property and business. In Crooked Run Orchard’s case, planned government activity would include the destruction of dozens of mature fruit trees, and the demolition of the large main barn used by the Browns to store all of the farm equipment used for daily operations. Immediate activity would also remove an existing farm road (the only road providing access to the back 40 acre parcel) and create a development path that would threaten significant streams and tree canopies. The Town would not be obligated to pay for any damages, even if the damages were so severe that it caused major losses to the farm business. Moreover, the Town has never addressed their farm operations and safety concerns. The most recent contract to purchase this land for the road did not mention a bridge, road, culvert, or tunnel, which might provide access to the back 40 acres of their farm. Nor is there language about fencing the portions of their property that would be exposed to pedestrian, vehicle and other traffic.
For this reason, in early of 2010, a judge granted Sam Brown a temporary injunction to protect his livelihood and avoid irreparable damage to his property until a Town vs. County lawsuit is settled. Purcellville has failed to include the County in its Phase 2 annexation procedures, as required by joint agreement. Purcellville is annexing land, and approving development projects at a very fast pace and without County input, even though the County and Town joint agreement requires Purcellville to prove it can provide short and long term utilities to existing and future residents and businesses.
Ironically, in November of 2010, Vice Mayor Wiley sent a letter to Blue Ridge Supervisor Jim Burton admitting that the current alignment does the most damage to Crooked Run Orchard and is not the preferred alignment of the Town Council. The Town is moving forward anyway and quickly. It has been standard operating procedure for the Town of Purcellville to hold a vote on the same night as the public hearing. Most localities do not vote the same night as a public hearing, in order to give sincere consideration to the input of their residents.
Previous Town Council actions have shown a distinct disapproval of government overreaching while exercising the extreme and potentially destructive powers of eminent domain. For example, at the July 19, 2005 Purcellville Town Council meeting, a “Resolution outlining the Town’s Policy toward the use of eminent domain powers for Economic Development” carried 7-0. A motion was made by then Council member Robert Lazaro that “Therefore, be it resolved that the Town Council of the Town of Purcellville hereby refrains from legislating law that allows government to take property from citizen A and give it to citizen or corporation B.” Major commercial development is planned for the areas immediately surrounding Crooked Run Orchard. Sam Brown and others see the Town’s planned Quick Take action as a way to promote developer interests at the farm’s expense – indeed favoring one citizen or corporation over another.
In April 2010, Virginia Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli told the Roanoke Chamber of Commerce that he wants to add stronger property rights protection to Virginia’s Constitution. He also has said, “The right to own and keep private property was considered among the most fundamental rights by the Founding Fathers; a right that I believe should be protected at both the state and federal levels”. Public comments on Eminent Domain/Quick Take of the Brown property will be heard on Tuesday, January 11 at the Town Hall at 7:00 p.m.