Friday, April 21, 2017

Help Us Save Whitehall Farm

Please help us save Whitehall Farm

My wife and I have gladly mortgaged our personal home twice in an attempt to grow our working educational farm business to a point where it will be self-sufficient and self-sustainable after we are gone. We decided to do this only after the state of Virginia passed 15.2-2288.6 in 2014. The letter, spirit, and intent of this law were designed to allow owners of land engaged in agriculture to monetize their land by also engaging in agritourism without having to get permission from the local zoning department. We urge anyone who might support our cause to read this, elegant in its simplicity, law.

We had hoped to get our business to a neutral cash flow by year three with our produce sales, meat sales, school trips, festivals, and other agritourism events. It became clear last year that we would be off by several years on achieving cash flow neutrality and had to have additional revenue sources. Our (unpaid) business advisor came up with the idea to have a ropes course on the farm. It is the perfect answer to our problem in that it would have several revenue streams. It has the potential to literally save the farm.

On March 7th, the Fairfax County Zoning Administrator ruled that Whitehall Farm could not operate a ropes course, also known as a challenge course, by-right as part of our agritourism business because the proposed use isn’t a natural activity and because of its effect on the health, safety and welfare of the general public.

We maintain, as does our prospective lessee’s attorneys, that this is a by-right zoning issue. For those of you not familiar with zoning terms, by-right means that we have the right to do something with our property without having to get permission from the Zoning Department.
We believe this use fits the clear legal definition of agritourism because:
It is a natural activity.
What is more natural than a kid climbing a tree? Obviously, in our litigious society you can’t have people free climbing trees. A ropes course is the only safe way for people to experience the freedom of being up in the trees of our woods. In the state of Virginia, silvaculture (the cultivation and harvesting of forest trees; forestry.), is considered an agricultural crop, exactly the same as corn and a maze in a corn crop is exactly the same as a ropes course in a forest. And…
It has no substantial impact on the health, safety, and welfare of the general public.
Fairfax County literally just opened a ropes course in a county park. It is hard to see how the county can claim ours will have a negative effect on the citizenry having just opened one of their own. It is interesting that the county course’s lessee is a competitor of our prospective lessee.

Our options are to appeal this decision to the Board of Zoning Appeals or apply for a Special Permit. Requiring a Special Permit means that we would be asking permission to do something with our land that 15.2-2288.6 says we have the right to do. Total costs of a Special Permit can run into 6 figures, money we don’t have. We are appealing the decision to the BZA. We need the Board of Zoning Appeals to vote in favor of Whitehall Farm. If you support our position and quest to save this blue collar family farm, we need your help in the following ways:

·        By signing our e-petition to the Board of Zoning Appeals showing your support for our position. And getting everybody you know to support us.
·        By writing letters to the BZA.  Respectful, thoughtful, and compelling letters.
           Addressed to: The Clerk of the Board of Zoning Appeals
                           Re: Whitehall Farm’s appeal of March 7 Zoning Determination
·        By supporting all our social media sites.
·        By attending the appeal hearing set for the morning of June 28, 2017. We need to show there is wide community support for the farm.
·        Experts and supporters to testify at the hearing. Arborists, naturalists, therapists, educators, team building professionals, land use lawyers, etc.
·        Monetarily. Even if we win this appeal, we have lost the income from this use this year. We are not a 501c3 so donations aren’t tax deductible. In order for you to get some value from any money you might give us, we are starting a Friends of Whitehall discount program with benefits. The details of this program can be found on our Facebook page, Whitehall Farms, LLC.

We won’t make the claim that the farm will have to be sold to a developer if we don’t get this ruling overturned. But it is a certainty that the 200+ acres of Whitehall Farm will not remain a working educational farm if we can’t get additional income.
Thank you for your help.

BZA Hearing is on June 28th. Mark your calendar and come with us to show support!

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