The flip that flopped: Biscuit Run men want $20 million more from taxpayers

Biscuit Run is the gift that keeps on… taking. Initially sold to the public as a $10 million state park, the nearly 1,200-acre tract has actually extracted more than $21 million from state taxpayers in what has been called one of Virginia's biggest corporate bail-outs. Now, nearly two years after the sale, the former owners are seeking nearly $20 million more, and, in the latest chapter of this saga, they have filed suit to collect.

"That sounds outrageous," says Creigh Deeds, the state senator who inadvertently allowed situations like this to happen.

The background
As avid Hook readers already know, Biscuit Run is both the priciest and most controversial land deal in Albemarle history– and that was before the lawsuit, filed without fanfare October 12 in Albemarle Circuit Court.

Located southwest of Charlottesville, Biscuit Run takes its name from a waterway that meanders through the property, a 1,194-acre tract of forested hills and rolling meadows just a mile south of Interstate 64 between Old Lynchburg and Scottsville Roads. It offers distant vistas of the Blue Ridge; and, at sunset, there are gleaming views of nearby Monticello, Montalto, and Carter Mountain.

Six years ago, near the height of what has now been identified as a housing bubble, a team of some of Charlottesville's most prominent businesspeople submitted the winning bid of $46.2 million to buy the property. Nearly double the second biggest land deal on the books, the price set an eye-popping record for local land transactions that still stands.

Another surprise ensued in January 2010 when outgoing governor Tim Kaine announced that the state had just bought Biscuit Run as a state park in a deal made possible by alleged seller philanthropy. However, earlier this year, appreciation turned to outrage when a secret appraisal that might have triggered another $31 million payout was leaked.

The state has already handed the former owners a total $21.48 million in cash and tax credits. Now, as dozens of people are camped out in Charlottesville as part of the "Occupy" movements that have captivated a nation whose middle class has been losing financial ground, the owners of Biscuit Run seek another $19.48 million.

Downtown in Lee Park, a reporter asks a man standing next to a "plutocracy stinks" sign what he thinks of Biscuit Run. Ed Sefer says he's delighted by the preservation of land for a state park. Informed that the seller has begun suing the state for nearly $20 million in tax credits, the mood shifts.

"It's really insane," says Sefer, who says he hasn't been able to find work in 18 months, "how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer."

It's not just Occupiers who see greed at Biscuit Run.

"Asking the taxpayers for an additional 20 million," says Tea Party supporter Clara Belle Wheeler, "when the taxpayers are already counting pennies of their own is really audacious."

Size (of appraisal) matters
Why should an appraisal matter after a sale– aren't appraisals just for getting loans? It turns out that Virginia is one of about a dozen states that allows certain property owners to convert an appraisal into cash. It happens via a program called conservation tax credits. The bigger the appraisal, the bigger the value of the "gift" when property is sold or encumbered by a non-profit entity. This year, Virginia will issue about $107 million in such credits– paying people to give up the right to develop their land.

"Right now, we don't have that kind of money to be throwing at people," says Norman Leahy, contributing editor to a conservative political blog called Bearing Drift. "Especially with people losing jobs, the priorities here are completely out of whack."

Based in Richmond, Leahy has noticed that despite their noble conservation purposes, the credits have become a "riskless lottery" for many affluents who never intended to develop their farms.

"It's not fulfilling its original purpose– to preserve the family farm– but instead serves to gold-plate a come-here's estate," says Leahy.

What the men of Biscuit Run tried to do was snag millions in credits based on the amount of their so-called gift. They calculate their donation as the difference between the $9.8 million they accepted when selling the place and what they're claiming is Biscuit Run's true market value: $87.7 million.

How anyone could peg the value of Biscuit Run at nearly $88 million– raw land in a smashed housing market– is the story of Biscuit Run. And it's been cited as further evidence of what some are calling a "racket."

The 'appraisal racket'
There's a lot riding on conservation tax credits, with a strong incentive to concoct unrealistically high valuations. The "appraisal racket," Slate recently dubbed it, has been blamed for both the S&L crisis of the 1980s as well as the more recent mortgage meltdown.

George Dodd has long railed against what he sees as corruption in his industry. But in a state with few regulators and a low bar to entering the profession, the formerly Mechanicsville-based Dodd asserts too many appraisers determine that it's easier to reach a client's target value than risk angering the client and losing out on future jobs.

"The appraiser," says Dodd, "should be acting as a professional in an unbiased manner and not pushing some arbitrary number drawn up in the back room."

While Dodd, who recently sold his Virginia practice to take a government job in Texas, says he isn't familiar enough with Biscuit Run to slam the private appraisals as fraudulently high, he opposes the Virginia law– passed unanimously in 2008– making it a crime to reveal the amount of tax credits won on each property.

"As a taxpayer, I'm outraged," says Dodd. "If you're going to spend my money, then you have to open it to public scrutiny. Whenever you try to hide stuff, it creates a vehicle for corruption."

And yet the architect of Virginia's system, state senator Creigh Deeds, despite expressing outrage at both the $88 million appraisal and the lawsuit, says he has no plans to unshroud the numbers.

"I'm willing to have that discussion," says Deeds, "but I'm not sold that that's a solution to the problem."

The programs trace their existence to a non-profit firm that's now one of America's largest corporations. A little over a decade ago, the Nature Conservancy convinced legislators in several states including Virginia to enact such credits. It was Deeds, then just a Delegate, who patroned the bill that launched Virginia's credit program, now considered among the most generous in America.

Today, big non-profit firms like the Conservancy– which has an annual budget of nearly $5 billion– as well as smaller ones like the Warrenton-based Piedmont Environmental Council teach landowners how to put their land under easement and thereby lower annual tax bills while garnering upfront payments in the form of the credits.

And that's not all. Anyone who donates easements also stands to receive tax deductions for making "donations" on both their state and federal income tax returns. It's like giving a pile of old clothes to Goodwill, only bigger. But it can also trigger some second-guessing, and that's what happened with Biscuit Run.

Tim Kaine was right
This was a deal with the chance to derail the political career of Tim Kaine. Like his most headline-grabbing move, an effort to let convicted murderer Jens Soering return to more gentle justice in his native Germany, Biscuit Run was sprung on the public in January 2010, the final days of Kaine's term as Virginia's governor. Even though his presumed opponent for the U.S. Senate, Republican George Allen, has shown little interest in criticizing, he has recently begun defending it.

"We made no deal on tax credits," says Kaine. "All we did was buy a $40 million parcel for nine million bucks to accomplish a 20-year state goal, and I thought that was a smart thing to do."

Indeed, uncontested facts laid out in the lawsuit tend to support the notion of Kaine's administration as more fiscally hard-nosed toward Biscuit Run than his Republican successor. Under Kaine, the state's appraisal pegged the value at just $12 million with Culpeper-based appraiser James S. Damer noting that rezoning the tract for 3,100 units may have actually decreased its value due to the promise of over $40 million in land and cash proffers.

By contrast, the state-funded appraisals conducted during the term of current governor Bob McDonnell have come in at $32.2 and $39 million. McDonnell, who has received over $60,000 in campaign contributions from Craig, suggests that he has taken a hands-off approach, calling this "a matter between the respective taxpayers and the Virginia Department of Taxation."

Under McDonnell, the state investigated the near $88 million appraisal by Patricia O'Grady-Filer, but it closed her case without punishment due to "insufficient evidence." A recent check of the records shows that the Orange-based O'Grady-Filer allowed her appraisal license to expire in October, and her state real estate license expired a month earlier. However, she broke a long pattern of declining to return a reporter's phone messages by revealing that the expirations were an "oversight" and that she's in the process of renewals.

As for declining to discuss Biscuit Run, she says, professional standards prohibit comment.

"I can't discuss it," says O'Grady-Filer, "any more than your CPA can talk about your tax returns or your doctor can discuss your medical records."

King of the flip
Hunter Craig has developed many neighborhoods: Western Ridge in Crozet and both the Mill Creek and Mill Creek South subdivisions. But in some circles he's known as a flipper.

For instance, a decade ago, he snagged and then unleashed one of the key parcels that would eventually become part of the mammoth Stonefield shopping center, under-construction. Around that same time, he paid the City of Charlottesville about a quarter million dollars for a parking lot by the C&O Restaurant before selling it to Bill Nitchman to develop the Holsinger condominiums.

In 2005, he converted the Hessian Hills complex from apartments to condominiums and later did the same thing with the residential tower known as 1800 JPA. While those may have been successes, his attempted flip of Old Salem apartments was something else. Having rebranded them as Barracks West condos toward the end of the real estate bubble, he found himself sitting on so much inventory that in 2007 he hired an out-of-town firm to attempt to sell 277 of the 364 units. The condo conversion craze hit a brick wall of consumer distress.

And speaking of distress, a decade ago, he cobbled together a pair of parcels on the corner across from the former home of Martha Jefferson Hospital and then convinced both the hospital and tax authorities that he'd made a donation. The parcels, however, appear unsellable due to a 99-year lease he engineered.

His biggest flip of all would have been Biscuit Run, as, according to his lawsuit, he contracted in the year after acquiring it to sell it to a California neighborhood development company. Why the men of Forest Lodge didn't sell to San Diego-based Newland Communities for the lawsuit-alleged price of $108 million is left unsaid in the suit– and left unsaid by Newland Communities, which did not return a reporter's call. But as a top Martha Jefferson Hospital official recently commented when contemplating the Hospital's acquisition of Craig's corner parcels, "Timing is everything."

Other men
A form filed with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission shows that Craig raised $17,915,000 in capital to fund Biscuit Run with each investor expected to bring at least one million dollars. The form names Atlantic Coast Athletic Club founder Phil Wendel and Craig's father-in-law, Wick McNeely, as among the largest investors in the holding company, Forest Lodge LLC.

As the managing partner, Craig and any others he may have recruited into another group called Forest Lodge Management LLC may now be bearing the brunt of the pain. Sources indicate that in exchange for a higher return on the upside, the managing partner may have assumed greater liability on the downside.

So far, the taxpayer payout, large as it may sound to some citizens just trying to put food on the table, wouldn't have come close to covering the amount of the loans which totaled over $34 million at one point and which were listed as delinquent by the lead bank, Bristol-based First Community Bankshares, at the time of the sale.

With the exception of Craig himself, who has been dealing with unhappy investors and who has been pushed to pledge all his stock in Virginia National (the bank he founded in the late 1990s), perhaps nobody has felt the pain of Biscuit Run as much as Craig's father-in-law, Wick McNeely. A longtime owner of Allied Concrete and Eagle Corporation, McNeely appears to have divested himself of those investments, and he has spent the last few years unloading assets– some at a huge loss– to raise cash.

In January, McNeely unloaded the farm long known as Burning Daylight, which he had purchased in 2005 with a $16 million loan, for just $9.15 million. Last month, he dropped out of Farmington Country Club and parted with a waterfront Nova Scotia mansion that had been listed for $6.4 million. Even his Garth Road residence, Morrowdale Farm, is now for sale. (During the time of his ownership, McNeely won conservation tax credits of unknown amounts on both Burning Daylight and Morrowdale.)

Neither McNeely nor Craig, who still owns cool local stuff like the landmark eight-story Wells Fargo tower on the Downtown Mall, returned phone calls.

7,000 competing spots
The lawyer who filed the suit, Craig Bell of the Richmond office of McGuire Woods, portrays the suit in vastly different terms from Creigh Deeds.

"I don't know why he'd say it's outrageous," says Bell. "The lawsuit is just an effort to get the tax department to follow the law that Senator Deeds crafted and shepherded through the General Assembly."

One of the suit's more blistering allegations is that the most recent state-sponsored appraisal grossly inflated the number of available building lots in the county. The idea is simple supply-and-demand. If there are lots of lots, then over-supply would drive down prices and make selling the bits of Biscuit Run harder. Or both.

The suit claims that state-hired appraiser Larry Salzman "grossly" overestimated when he claimed that there are about 7,000 available building sites in Albemarle. By contrast, the Craig-hired appraiser, Ivo Romenesko, claimed that Albemarle has just 243 lots. That would help explain why Romenesko figured that Biscuit Run was worth nearly as much as O'Grady-Filer contended and that the owners could reasonably expect to sell 290 lots each year, exhausting their supply in just a little over 10 years.

"If they are talking about selling 290 residential units per year, I would find that very surprising," says Charlottesville realtor Jim Duncan, who points out that Old Trail– a burgeoning Crozet-area community and what Duncan calls "one of the most successful neighborhoods in the area"– has been annually selling just 40-60 single- and multi-family units, and Duncan notes that only 385 of this year's 2,054 transactions are new construction.

"My crystal ball says that it's feasible that Biscuit Run would garner at least 25 percent of the new construction market," says Duncan, "but I find it difficult to believe that it would achieve a 75 percent market share.

As for the suggestion that the claim of 7,000 building lots was fanciful, a recently released County report found that there are actually more than 8,000 lots prepared for sale.

Boyd's retreat
The bailout of Biscuit Run– so hastily constructed that a "donut hole" of private land zoned for 100 residential units was left within its borders– received a dramatic public debut nearly two years ago at the Monticello visitor center when Kaine announced the creation of the new state park. Since then, however, big names have tried to distance themselves.

Grammy-winning musician Boyd Tinsley of the Dave Matthews Band, for instance, appeared at the press conference seemingly as an investor willing to take a hit for the good of the public. He even said, "Any loss we've taken pales in comparison to the contribution we've made to the community." As news of the deal's back-room bargain began leaking, however, a highly-placed associate contacted this reporter to say that Tinsley simply misspoke, that he was there as a friend of the governor and never actually owned a piece of the Biscuit.

Then there's Coran Capshaw. The manager of the Band, he is a frequent investor in Craig's projects, having extracted millions from taxpayers via conservation tax credits, including one deal that augmented Craig's Farmington neighborhood yard with protected property. As for ACAC owner Phil Wendel, he expressed ignorance about the lawsuit and referred questions to Craig. Other investors include Castle Hill co-owner John Carr, former radio magnate Brad Eure, and lawyer Dave Dallas. Each declined a request for an interview.

Here's a conversation with Jeff Buckalew, a recent arrival to Albemarle.
Hook: "I understand you're an investor in Biscuit Run."
Buckalew: "I don't talk about my investments."
Hook: "But my source indicates that you're an investor, and I'm doing a story."
Buckalew: "That's your prerogative."
Hook: "I believe my source is reliable."
Buckalew: "Your information may or may not be good; you better check your sources."
Buckalew: "Is there anything else you want to talk about?"
Hook: "How 'bout the weather?
Buckalew: "It's a beautiful fall day out there, isn't it?"

Multiple sources close to the deal indicate that each of the passive investors has already written off his million-dollar loss and would stand little chance of collecting any money from a successful lawsuit which, the sources say, would merely shrink the losses for Craig and McNeely, who appear responsible for the still-outstanding debt.

Meanwhile, the state has begun the planning process for Biscuit Run State Park. Ironically, in a County that already has thousands of acres of parks and which borders Shenandoah National Park, this new one won't provide the one thing for which many community leaders have been clamoring: athletic fields. Moreover, whatever develops won't happen soon.

"We still don't have money for development, staffing, anything," says Gary Waugh, spokesperson with the Department of Conservation and Recreation, who guesses– and he stresses that it's a guess– that the park may not open before the year 2020.

Although the situation was hatched by his predecessor, current governor Bob McDonnell is the one who appointed Craig last year to the prestigious Board of Visitors at the University of Virginia and now has to deal with any fallout from Craig's lawsuit. And with the exception of a carefully-worded statement earlier this year about some sort of review to "reassure" taxpayers, the Attorney General's office has remained tight-lipped about what– if anything– it plans to do about Biscuit Run. However, because Craig and company filed, the AG doesn't have the option of continuing in silence; spokesperson Brian Gottstein says his office must file a response by November 21.

As for official reform, blogger Leahy lauds a recently passed law to create an "inspector general" to fight fraud in Virginia, but what he really wants is a repeal of the secrecy law. Until that happens, he says, the lure of millions of dollars in tax credits will continue to reward those who manipulate appraisals.

"It's better than the lottery," says Leahy, "because you will win."

Attached Documents: 
This story is a part of the The Biscuit Run cash grab special.


The gated communities will need to install better security someday.

Nuns run bald through vatican halls, pregnant, pleading immaculate conception.

WOW! another 20 million. This is unbelievable to me. In dealing with Charlottesville Real Estate transactions over the last several years, I have never seen anything like this one...

Sure I'll cough up some more I don't mind helping out the big guy ALL THE TIME

Conservation easements and the related tax benefits represent a well-intentioned program designed to incentive landowners to protect open space. Biscuit Run is an outrage, and I hope the Attorney General takes a serious interest in investigating and prosecuting Craig, Wicks, Grady-O'Filer (the appraiser with the expired licenses) and each of the other individual investors who are involved in this. These arrogant jackasses who are are not only abusing the program for their own benefit, in doing so, they're besmirching and jeopardizing these effective
conservation programs for everybody else in VA. Who do these guys think they are? Clearly, they believe their own interests come first, and they're willing to do whatever it takes to enrich themselves at anyone and everyone else's expense. They seem to believe that they can puursue their own ends with no accountability to anyone, and suffer no meaningful consequences ... I hope the Attorney General and his staff have the courage to stand up to these guys and hold them accountable for this, if not the AG then by all means lets involve the IRS. These individuals are as sickening as they are selfish and dishonest.
are above any accountability, any meaningful investigation, and any legal consequence. I hope the Attorney General has the courage to show Craig and Company how very wrong they are.

I don't think this is what Senator Deeds intended. Unfortunately this is an example of unmitigated greed !

"I don't know why he'd say it's outrageous," says Bell. "The lawsuit is just an effort to get the tax department to follow the law that Senator Deeds crafted and shepherded through the General Assembly."

I call on Senator Deeds to make all tax credits public ASAP.

I think it is a safe assumption that the Attorney General's Office will vigorously defend the taxpayers' interests in responding to this lawsuit. The AG has made his name standing up for fiscal rectitude and small government -- we can trust that will have the Virginia Department of Taxation's back and will defend the accuracy of the Damer appraisal.

" Ivo Romenesko, claimed that Albemarle has just 243 lots. " Is there no way to hold him accountable for this outrageous assertion ?

Thank you Hawes and Hook for being the Jack Russell that just won't let go of that madras golfing pants leg.

Absolutely fascinating and positively infuriating. Just when you think you have seen it all regarding GREED. This story needs to go national. It (the story) epitomizes GREED.

Some people characterize what the Occupiers are doing and that Democrats want the rich to pay more in taxes as "class warfare". What an f'ing joke. These greedy azz people are bring class warfare unto themselves - PERIOD!

Last sentence should have been: These greedy azz people are bringing class warfare onto themselves - PERIOD!

I am not a violent person and don't believe in violence but there may be a lot of truth in what 'skinny' wrote.

Thanks to the HOOK for a continuing story, well researched and documented using FOIPA and other legal avenues to obtaining what goes on behind some of the "closed doors" of the deal makers. Make no mistake, this is a big time BailOUT for the wealthy, who speculated on a development making them unprecendented in our area fortunes, and lost in the Downturn. Housing market will return about the same time Biscuit Run becomes an operating State park... Why would taxpayers support cutting these folks losses by a further amount? Unreal that they even would present such an request. Must be Hunter Craig is trying to square with his daddy-in-law. NO WAY should our legislators or AG allow this rip off and mis appropriation of public funds. Hunter Craig and the rest sure make a great case for the current backlash against Corporate and FAT CAT bailouts. To paraphrase Marie Antoinette, " Let these investors eat what they have lost" Alas, The risks of busines.

This is simply an example of incompetent government at work. Tim Kaine has cost the county 325k per year in lost property taxes. The number of lots listed for sale is a misnomer because if Bisquit Run put lots for sale at a good price then thousands of people with lots would list theirs to compte and satisfy the demand.

The taxpayers were ripped off by Tim Kaine doing a favor for his cronies and McDonnell is not stepping p to the plate either.

This will become national news one day. I would bet money on it.

To those who would like to see this story go to the national media, consider that the more national attention this story gets, the more likely Congress and the IRS will be to dismantle or eliminate this federal program which provides tax benefits for conservation-related donations of land and easements. Individual landowners who believe in conservation shouldn't be penalized for the greed and dishonesty of Hunter Craig and his group of dirtbags. Simply reform the VA program at the state level by making the program completely public and transparent, which it should have been in the first place. In the meantime, thnx Hawes and Hook for keeping the pressure of public exposure upon these remorseless jackasses.

Nice, detailed report.

One inaccuracy, though...When did Coren Capshaw take over management of The Band? I thought "The Last Waltz" was their farewell concert, Richard Manual hung himself, Levon Helm acted in a lot of movies, and Robbie Robertson went his own way. Have they re-formed in some way? Can you please confirm?

Thanks so much!

What can we, the people do about this? anyone have any suggestions? lets act!

This is a very slanted, if not snide, perspective on conservation easements. It could have at least included some basic facts on the miles of streams, or acres of farmland, or acres of productive forest land protected from development. Nope....not a mention....and thus not very objective reporting. Was their an attempt made to get at these facts, which may have provided a little balance to this article? Were any calls made to TNC and PEC to find out what's actually being protected?

My take is that this is an article about the "appraisal racket" and how it is used illegitimately . As in this case involving the Nature Conservancy.

" What's really behind the sweetheart land deal in which Albany further enriched the already enormously wealthy Nature Conservancy?

On Monday, Post State Editor Fredric U. Dicker blew the lid off an October 2008 tax-dollar payday in which the Conservancy peddled a parcel of Adirondack land to the state -- netting a 57 percent profit in just three years, even as area real-estate prices were cratering.

Now Gov. Paterson has authorized Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to launch a civil investigation into the sale; a criminal probe could follow.

As Dicker reported, the state Department of Environmental Conservation paid The Nature Conservancy nearly $10 million for 20,000 acres of Adirondack wilderness -- for which the group had paid just $6.3 million in 2005."

This time the state got it right and didn't overestimate the value. Let's hope that McDonnell, who appears to have a cozy relationship with Mr. Craig, makes sure that the taxpayers aren't taken to the cleaners by these guys.

Conservation easements do in fact protect state land, but it's the appraisals that the TNC and PEC are getting for the oftentimes, already wealthy landholders, that need to be questioned.

City dweller, they did not protect nearly the amount of trees and streams they could have, If the state ends up spending 36 million on this debacle that is 30 THOUSAND dollars an acre. There is a 475 acre parcel ON THE JAMES RIVER in Howardsville for 5 Thousand dollars an acre and it comes with a mansion.

We got ripped off. They could have easily saved 5 times as many acres. Additiionally they could have used the money to purchase development rights so that farmers would never subdivide their land EVER. This was a backroom deal that needs to be investigated and hopefully undone.

@ Liberalace: Spencer noted in the paragraph preceding his use of the term "the Band" that he was referring to the Dave Mathews Band (as opposed to The Band, who did The Last Waltz, one of the all-time classics).

@ bill marshall: you either have a very serious reading comprehension problem, or your conservative mind is very seriously narrow-minded...maybe both. Hawes Spencer pointed out quite clearly that "uncontested facts laid out in the lawsuit tend to support the notion of Kaine's administration as more fiscally hard-nosed toward Biscuit Run than his Republican successor. Under Kaine, the state's appraisal pegged the value at just $12 million."

However, under LIttle Bob McDonnell "the state-funded appraisals conducted during the term of current governor Bob McDonnell have come in at $32.2 and $39 million. McDonnell has received over $60,000 in campaign contributions from Craig." The very same Little Bob who's been active and engaged in revoking $424,000 in state public broadcasting funding for education instructional programming –– funding that actually supports "virtual learning" programs that McDonnell rhetorically touts –– has now, when fat cat donors of his are involved, "taken a hands-off approach."

McDonnell is what he is: a dogmatic conservative who says one thing and does another. He took billions in federal stimulus money (and bashed it) and raided the state pension fund of more than $620 million (passing the repayment at 7.5% on to his successors, and to taxpayers), and then claimed he "balanced" the state budget and provided a "surplus." McDonnell would recognize truth if it walked up to him and slapped that well-manicured hair off his head.

@ small government: you've obviously not been paying much attention to Ken Cuccinelli's conservative jihad as Attorney General. Twice he's gotten verbally spanked by courts (one state, the other federal) for bad lawyering and for what amounts to wasting time and resources on frivolous lawsuits (you know the kind conservatives say they hate, except of course when they're busy filing them). An Albemarle County judge rebuked the Cooch in the Michael Mann fishing expedition, and a federal court of appeals (the 4th circuit) told the Cooch in no uncertain terms that he cannot credibly try to resurrect the discredited nullification (states' rights) theory/ As the Court ruling noted. "Virginia lacks the sovereign authority to nullify federal law."

The Cooch has taken little or no interest since he's been AG in protecting the rights of citizens. Instead, he's been working to undermine them. The only case of real merit that the Cooch has pursued is that against Bank of New York Mellon, and all the legal groundwork and evidence had already been compiled in a whistle-blower investigation and lawsuit dating to 2006. Make no mistake, This is a case that conservative Republicans don't really lie. But the work had already been done, and the Cooch wants to be governor. He'll try and use this to say he hates big bank chicanery (wink, wink).

Thanks to Hawes Spencer for another informative and revealing article on how the wealthy seek and find ways to fleece the taxpayer. Although, one has to wonder why he cites a Tea Party supporter like Clara Belle Wheeler, who utilizes the county's land use tax subsidy (and conservation easements?) program for her acreage, while simultaneously criticizing the subsidies sought by Hunter Craig and his cronies. Hypocrisy at its finest.

Democracy, if tim kaine had not done a backroom deal there would be nothing for the current Governerner to have to deal with. What part of "not stepping up to the plate" do you not understand. You are the one hung up on partisan politics in every post. I rail against government waste on both sides. I absolutlely blame the GOVERNMENT for its incompetence in this matter.

Did those big rich republicans get you at recess or what?

On what basis did the Kaine era estimate of $12 million escalate to $32 and $39 million ?

Sounds like Craig and co. were already trying to sweeten their take with these higher appraisals, but wasn't enough, and now they want more.

Please keep us posted --The McDonnell Administration better not give away any more taxpayer money in a backroom settlement.

With the mood of the country shifting this may be McDonnell's undoing if he offers a bailout for his friends and campaign supporters with our money

@ bill marshall: re=read the makes clear that Kaine was more "fiscally hard-nosed
in regard to the Biscuit Run deal than Little Bob McDonnell could ever hope to be...but you just keep blaming the sweet deals (land use subsidies, conservation easements, grossly inflated appraisals, etc.) on Kaine rather than on the conservative hypocrisy that lies behind it it. By the way, I am willing to bet that you support George Allen over Kaine, even though Allen voted for all of the stupidities (unfunded tax cuts for the wealthy, unfunded wars) that have imperiled the nation's economic security. Want to refute that, bill?

When I hear the phrases, "with liberty and justice for all," and "of the people, by the people, for the people," I believe in them. The words have real meaning. They constitute the essence of democracy. To conservatives like yourself, they're just words without meaning.

Oh..and on the playground at recess...I tried to make sure the bullies (who likely ended up as conservatives) played fair. We all should do that. Even you.

I think these articles are valuable for raising important issues, but I also think they should be more factual. Was the Kaine administration's appraisal for $12 million an estimate of the value of the land with or without development rights? If the developers are suing the state, doesn't that mean that the state is not accepting the $80M plus appraisal? If so, isn't this evidence that the state's review of the matter has had some effect? And isn't it true that Biscuit Run is now, in fact, protected from development? If so, isn't this worth something, and don't the developers deserve tax credits for giving up these rights to the public? Even if you think they are over-reaching, it doesn't seem to me the issue is so evil vs. good as the tone of the article would lead one to believe. In short, I think Hawes Spencer should (1) ease off on the colorful language and describe the facts more carefully, and (2) decide whether this is an editorial or a news article. Making it both does readers a disservice.

Right now, we don't have that kind of money to be throwing at people," says Norman Leahy, contributing editor to a conservative political blog called Bearing Drift.<<<

Should I infer that means "Come back later, and we`ll see what we can do" ?

Not actually, Democracy. The writer made no reference to "the Band" in the previous graph; he called it "The Dave Matthews Band." If he was going to use shorthand like "the Band" or "DMB," (which would have made more sense), he should have parenthesized the future shorthand after his mention in the graph about Tinsley. There are many bands around, and I suspect this was the typical Chville snooty arrogance that supposes we all must know which "Band" this guy manages. The same asininity that enables people to say things like "The Dave."

If this was a news article, as editor, I would have used DMB...much clearer to those of us who thing "world music" is any kind of music, since the Mississippi Delta is part of the "world." (So, all of you who think a few bars of African rhythms and odd percussions in music make it "world music"--Sting and the PBS crowd--screw you.)

Now, back to the matter at hand...
This is just another example of greed in the laps of pols and businesses. Why be we surprised.

The purchase of Bisquit run did not stop any houses from being built in the county it only stopped them from being built in Bisquit Run. If someone wants a house in Albemarle it WILL be built and landowners and builders will line up to sell to them. What we lost with Bisquit Run was a well planned community with million and millions of dollars in proffers for infrastucture, a community very near UVA 64 and future development. We would have also gotten hundreds of acres of parkland as part of the proffer deal. So by taking ity off the table the homes that would have gone there will be spread out into different communities causing all kinds of strains on different roads and schools instead of concentrating it into a managable situation. The school bus requirements is an easy example. The school buses to a bisquit run development would have been short and sweet. Spread those homes all over the county and see what we have. The county should have spoken up more and that is another investigation as to why they were so mum. (not criminal but cronyism) We do not need a park there. We are losing 800 dollars a day in property taxes, plus we now need to police it until the state does soemthing with it. There are already parties, dirt bike riders and trash piles.

Tim Kaine snuck this through with a nod and a wink. He bought it with cash, and tax credits to be named later (meaning not on his watch) I fault Mcdonnell for not going after the deal from the beginning but with the county not squawling he did not see a victim other than the taxpayers if the assessment came in high. Once the AG announced he was looking into it the governer backed away. I am disappointed that he did not go after it but politics are complicated. Hoepfully he wil see the error of his ways and do the right thing to get to the bottom of this.

Another part of this not mentioned is that some of the funds came from FEDERAL money designated to beautify highways with the explanation being you can see Bisquit run from Route 64, (if you look overtop of another development as you drive by the giant fed ex warehouse and the Jail) That is absolutely fraudulent use of federal money and should be investigated.

The taxpayers are getting screwed

Does Democracy remind anyone of Sheldon/Jim Parsons or is it just me? Everyone in Albemarle/Charlottesville regardless of their party affliation should e-mail the governor's office and the attorney generals office to state their opposition with regard to Hunter Craig's lawsuit to squeeze more money from the taxpayers. Whether this will have any effect is up to speculation. What else can you do? Who is John Galt?

I agree, just sent my e-mail to the Governor and AG's office . If this suit is settled in Craig's favor, I hope the next round of elections will reflect voter disgust for this transfer of wealth.

Contact for AG's office - Maybe this is one time we can all agree to speak with one voice.

Regarding McDonnell and Cuccinelli, this deal could have been done for the $88 million without ANYBODY knowing any details about it. So credit those two for forcing the deal out in the open via the lawsuit although I will leave open the possibility that it was done for reasons other than honesty and high ethics.

@NancyDrew - I made the calls to the Governor and the AG six months ago.

The Biscuit Run scandal is the ever present and ongoing corruption that must be fought at every level now and in the future. The comparison to the "occupy" movement is convenient but irrelevant.

@democracy - Our all important root cause can be traced back to the Charlottesville/UVA "appointment" to the Virginia Senate named Creigh Deeds. As proof, note his answer to the question of what advantage he had over his opponent in the recent race (Deeds claims he could best his opponent in rock n' roll trivia). That's a high level of arrogance. On the serious side, Deeds complains about Biscuit Run but did virtually nothing to amend it in the last GA. I think he got his orders from L.F. Payne (McGuire Woods) and Susan Payne (BoD - Virginia National Bank)-- two of your Democrats involved behind the scene.

@ R.T. could you explain --the appraisal under the Kaine administration was $12 million - how could it have been done for $88 million ? Why do you think McDonnell has upped the appraisal to 39 million ?
One appraiser thinks the rezoning for more units actually decreased the value because of the $40 million in proffers . That makes sense to me

How is McGuire Woods simultaneously representing Phil Wendel on this case but opposing him in the YMCA case?

And some people talk of the great democracy we live in. This is so typical of why people run for political office. We don't even live in a democracy, if we did this would be a different story. It wouldn't even be a story.

There does seem to be a disconnect. On the one side, 99% of the population is seeing their financial situation deteriorate, and 1% improve. And yet, even as politicians reward the 1% with lower taxes for land under conservation easements and tax credits the majority continue to re-elect these same politicians to office.
Until candidates who are the voice of the people and not the voice of the 1% are elected this will continue.

In our community, my guess is, those who voted given the low voter turnout are overwhelmingly from the % of the population in the upper income brackets. Those bearing the lions share of the tax burden either didn't vote or weren't aware of the issues that will impact their pocket books.

Democracy cannot exist with an uneducated public, so it is in the interest of those in power to take support away from education.

I am not a real estate expert or appraiser but the only way to get to $88 million in my mind is to speculate as to the number of houses that might have been built and the profits made by Forest Lodge. The problem is 1) Forest Lodge was already behind on their note so the business was headed for bankruptcy without infusion of more cash (very doubtful since nobody would invest in a depressed housing market) and 2) home sales are purely speculative as the new home market is at an all time low, especially for large scale development like Biscuit Run, now and for the foreseeable future.

As for the rich and poor argument, show me an economy funded by Central Bank excess liquidity policies and I will show you the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. For example, the best investment since 2001 has been gold (gold price increases are a result of excess liquidity) and who are the buyers of gold? The wealthy. The wealthy know how to get the excess (albeit devalued) dollars.

Political action by the electorate should be aimed at the Federal Reserve and the politicians that defend the Federal Reserve. Alan Greenspan still needs his day of reckoning for the damage he caused the WORLD economy. is an excellent place to learn about our economy and the real economic numbers.

@ R.T. thanks, that is interesting information.

I do see government participating in wealth enhancement for the already wealthy thru these cash give-away/tax credits. Many may not realize that the tax credits that Mr. Craig hopes to reap are as as good as gold , especially if they up the appraisal value of the land and reap more taxpayer money.

Would someone with internet skills please set up a site
that identifies and targets local enemies of democracy
and local greedy bastards? least their names, firms, addresses, vehicles,--
that sort of thing.
All over there are movements to get personal with these anti-Americans.
They don't give a damn about Char.-Albemarle, so let's just run them out of town.

@Robert Arthur: You are in luck! Some of the greediest bastards are setting up a national site to identify all the suckers who vote against their own interests. Check it out...

Nancy Drww, It is my personal belief that this situation is a perfect example of abuse by not only the people at forest lodge but also by the government for being complicit in what i see as criminal action. The only think missing is a tangible quid pro quo to Tim Kaine. Imagine if he had somehow aquired a peice of property owned by one of these clowns at a below market price like has happened in other cases (Congess and their below market loans from countrywide comes to mind) It would change a lot of the dynamics.

But that having been said it is not the 1% who are reaping all the rewards of the system . 47% of americans get some form of assistance from the government in entitlments on the low end. Those in the middle get subsidized student loans and educational grants. Unemployment was extended from 13 weeks to 99 weeks and people got direct healthcare subsidies to help with their cobra. The land use tax break is often amligned but the truth be told every homeowner pays full taxes on the house and surrounding acre, the land use kicks in for the other 99 acres where the cows, corn, applles, chickens (but NOT horses) roam. While it is often called as asubsidy for the "landed gentry" you are assumong that the landowners are rich and do not have giant mortgage on the farm. They also pay taxes on whatever they earn and provide employment for those who need it most. Farmers don't care if his farmhand has a few knocks on his record so long as he works hard and is honest.

It is entiely different than what these clowns have managed to pull off.

It is not a seesaw between the 1% and the 99% The one percent got theirs but they are not preventing the 99% from going after the dream. That would be the government with its excessive spending and obstacles to opening a business. Remember the rich got richer when the economy was rolling morso than now. They have a vested interest for people to spend so they can get their cut.

The problem we have with the politicains is that they are all undeserved of the office they hold and cannot be trusted to look out for anyone but themselves and their core constiuents at the expense of the rest of us.

@ Nancy Thank for the links. I used both to send irate emails about suborning our process. Although joining the local chapter of Baader Mainhof be a more productive avenue of redress.

@ Bill Marshall Bill the thing is the 1% own our governmental process. When people like the Koch Brothers are out there buying control nationally, and $60K in the Commonwealth buys a BOV post, you can't divorce government from discussions about the uber-wealthy.

That's the thing worthy of resistance--we are losing our representation. That's what the 1% of 1776 argued as grounds for separation from England, no? (and got the yeomen to fight and die for it).

Ok I see your point EXCEPT that all we need to do to change things is get out the vote. There is no reason to revolt. Make an interesting point and people will listen. The internet is the great equalizer. The koch brothers can hire lobbyists for todays laws but we can recall anyone that does their bidding. The problem as I see it is that too many americans want to take from the rich and give it to themsleves instead of retiring the debt and getting other spending (including the pentagon) under control. Even if the democrats controlled everything with super majorities they would still spend way more than they take in and if they raised the taxes they would simply spend that too. The republicans are at least pretending to stop spending.

When the koch brothers steal they do it in a fashion that alllows them to make a lot of money forever, when democrats steal money (solyundra) they create jobs for a year or they steal it by expanding government (like the new department of christmas tree tax division)

They are all crooks and they keep us divided because they are all stealing for their particular friends or agenda. The koch brothers believe in unfettered trade (which is WRONG) and the micheal moore and george soros of the world want to take from the rich and GIVE to the poor without the poor even trying to carry their own weight (also WRONG)

The people in the middle need to band together as a majority and say enough is enough.

This issue is a perfect one to prove the point because you have Democratic governer giving away tax dollars to a rich republican type at the expense of the average taxpayer. The iriony is the rich guy is exploiting the laws put in place by the liberal tree huggers to save land.

We should all agree this stinks from every angle and apply pressure to obtain justice.

Mr. McIntire of the 1% donated Lee Park (along with McIntire Park) to the City so people could gather and protest against the 1% in the Park the 1% donated. And lets move money out of the big banks so the local banks such as Hunter Craig's VNB can have it. Homey doesn't play that game. Mr. Craig is no Mr. McIntire.

Bill, you say all we need to do is get out the vote, but unfortunately with campaign finance laws, the way they are, give the wealthy have a distinct advantage in that department .

Winning elections costs money and unfortunately even on a local level we see a huge increase in money spent. This cycle we even had 2 democratic candidates taking PAC money from the Monticello Business Alliance.

Let's think about what Citizens United means for our political process (to continue Nancy's thread). Corporations now get to participate as "persons" now and support candidates directly in their campaigns. And the biggest of our local money-jones types is a gnat-sized next to something like a General Dynamics or Monsanto. Their support doesn't come without expectations of quid pro quo. Kinda like Herman Cain--they do something for the candidate and then expect a head-to-crotch favor in return. With our government officials.

I believe I saw where Hunter Craig spread his money among both parties. Deeds, McDonnell, Kaine are all milking the same trough. The reason why politicians go into politics is to take money from the trough to give to themselves, their families and friends and the people and corporation that help them make money. This is a clear example.

Nancy Drew. my point is that with the internet and even blogs like this ads are becomong less and less relevant. The truth can be told. The problem is that it is still a large minority that cares enough (regardless of their particular politics) to even get involved.

The press used to do investigative journalism but now they do agenda based gotcha journalism so you end up with fox news and MSNBC being pitchmen instead of reporting the truth.

The people still have control because we have the votes. We just need to get together on common ground and set aside the uncommon ground for antother day.

The net effect of the Conservation Easement Tax Credit program is to subsidize the purchase of large tracts of land by wealthy elites. It is a transfer of wealth from ordinary taxpayers to the rich. But of course, although the public has invested in it, the land remains the private playground of the rich landowner. And it ties up land FOREVER! Who can predict the best use of land FOREVER? It is bad policy and invites this kind of corruption. I personally pointed out specific instances of abuse and explained how it tainted local politics, to Creigh Deeds. He quite dramatically displayed great idignation. That was four years ago. He since has done nothing to correct the problem.

Bill, I am also dismayed about the lack of interest and actual engagement most citizens have in local government.

In the city they show up on election day and vote the democratic slate. Without the Hook local news would consist of quotes from officials about what they believe is best- with no fact checking.

Whatever happened to journalists being the watchdogs at the gate instead of lapdogs. Well, thankfully we still have one watchdog in town.

Welcome to bottom line, economics in reporting. What ever sells. Investigative reporting costs bucks, and bucks are at a premium. News rooms are overrun with interns with no real interest in the communities they cover. Their bosses tell them headlines, headlines, headlines. If we can catch the interest of the unwashed masses for just long enough they might watch a commercial, and advertising is where the money is. News is an afterthought.

Thank you Hawes for keeping this topic in the news. Seems like everyone else wants to sweep it under the rug. Don't ask, don't tell. It's the dirty little secret of Tim Kaine's administration.

Please note that your local Tea Party has taken a position on the Biscuit Run issue so be assured that the concerned citizens of JATP are standing up for the Virginia taxpayer.