Scenic treasure: How conservation lines the pockets of the rich

What if Biscuit Run were the tip of the iceberg, just the latest and largest in a litany of public payments to private citizens? What if the state gave away vast sums– some measuring in the millions of dollars– to induce millionaires to "conserve" luxurious estates that they may have had no intention of developing anyway? And what if Virginia, which forces the humblest homeowners to place their real estate transactions in public view, created a special law allowing the millionaires to shroud such deals– currently measured at $106.8 million a year in taxpayer money?

Welcome to Virginia, where "conservation" makes it all possible.

Best intentions
Virginia boasts that its land preservation incentives are the "most generous" in the country. Indeed, the state budgets over $100 million a year to pay people not to develop their land.

While the amount that any individual landowner receives is kept secret from the public, a Hook investigation reveals a veritable who's who from the Charlottesville business, entertainment, government, and environmental worlds taking advantage.

Such entertainment magnates as Dave Matthews, John Grisham, and Coran Capshaw join business titans Hunter Craig, Wick McNeely, and Jim Murray. Local leaders Ann Mallek from the Albemarle Supervisors and waterworks chair Michael Gaffney use the program. So do big names from the environmental world such as Nature Conservancy board member Michael Bills, Southern Environmental Law Center director Rick Middleton, and avid eco-donor Tony Vanderwarker.

All these people have partnered with green groups to receive compensation for keeping some land unspoiled. What could possibly be wrong about that?

"It's socialized capitalism for the rich," says former Albemarle teacher Mark Crockett. "People who buy big estates don't plan to develop them. Why turn and give them a tax credit?"

Humble beginning
It all started without the financial component. In 1966, the same year as the founding of the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, Virginia passed the Open Space Land Act to let property owners donate easements to nonprofit groups that would, in turn, ensure that the land remained undeveloped. Another key preservation player, the Piedmont Environmental Council was founded in 1972.

The word "donation" took what might now seem an ironic turn in 1999, when the state began issuing tax credits for such easements. State Senator Creigh Deeds, then a delegate, carried the bill that created an industry. And it's not a cottage industry.

"One guy said, you're a working class guy," Deeds recalls. "Why are you introducing a program that's going to benefit rich guys?"

His response: "In a generation, no one will care about tax credits."

That was before Biscuit Run.

Biscuit Run
A little over a year ago, Albemarle developer Hunter Craig and a team of fellow speculators unloaded a long-planned but money-hemorrhaging subdivision for a state park. The deal was touted by its top backer– outgoing governor Tim Kaine– as a coup for taxpayers, who were supposedly getting 1,200 acres for $9.8 million, less than a quarter of what the speculators had paid four years earlier.

As it turned out, however, the sale price was only part of the cost. The Virginia Department of Taxation agreed to issue the owners over $11 million more in conservation tax credits, a kind of cash the public might never have known about had not an anonymous tipster leaked documents to the Hook and other media.

Even more startling, the documents showed that the saved-by-the-governor speculators had attempted to grab over $31 million in credits by finding an appraiser, now under investigation, who claimed that the property– bought at the peak of the housing bubble– had somehow doubled in value from $46.2 million to $87.7 million.

Why does the appraisal matter? In the world of conservation tax credits, the appraisal is everything. It's the measure of how much is being "donated," so it determines the credits, which Virginia originally gave out as 50 percent of the donated value. In 2007, Virginia lowered the credit to 40 percent.

"The program," explains Senator Deeds, "was much more successful than we ever thought it would be."

It's easy to understand the appeal. Someone could buy a property for, say, $10 million, get it appraised for $25 million, and the state could issue $10 million in tax credits. Such a property would then, essentially, be free.

Has that ever happened? Because all the records are kept secret by state law, who knows?

A cascade of money
"It's a really great program that encourages people to make a gift they normally wouldn't be able to afford," says Jason McGarvey, spokesman for the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, which holds 80 percent of all easement acreage in Virginia. "They are giving away part of their 401K, and the state provides incentives."

Incentives indeed. According to a review of 10 years of records from the state tax department, Virginia has issued over $1.13 billion in conservation credits. And the giving doesn't stop there.

Virginia also offers easement donors a state income tax deduction– 5.75 percent for top earners– for their "charitable donation." There is also a federal income tax deduction: for 2011, 50 percent of one's adjusted gross income for 15 years, and for farmers, 100 percent. And the cascade of benefits still isn't over.

On the local level, most acreage under easement gets taxed at Use Value Taxation, a.k.a. "land use"– the super-low property tax rate which can lower land taxes by over 99 percent– that Albemarle offers owners who keep their large tracts from sprouting additional houses.

In 2010, land use cost the county $17.4 million. And some, like Crockett, aren't convinced that the landed gentry would be building– even without all these perks.

"If Donald Trump buys [Patricia] Kluge's estate and puts it in an easement, would he really develop that estate anyway, and could he with Albemarle's zoning?" asks Crockett. "No and no."

(Actually, Kluge, who lost Albemarle House in a February 15 foreclosure auction, had already extracted her tax credits from the vineyards surrounding the mansion.)

How it works
In reviewing county-by-county records released by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, the Hook couldn't help but notice an unusual trend. The two places with the biggest bumper crop of conservation tax credits aren't places where agriculture, or even forestry, reigns supreme.

They're Fauquier County at #1 and Albemarle at #2. Both counties are home to horse farms and wineries. Both top the state median in income, and– curiously– they're both home to major easement-holding nonprofit organizations. The headquarters of the Piedmont Environmental Council lies in the Fauquier town of Warrenton, and a building on Albemarle's Emmet Street serves as the home for the Virginia headquarters of the Nature Conservancy.

While the PEC made a spokesperson available, the Conservancy– which recently and controversially convinced a majority of local leaders that they need a new reservoir (despite a downward trend in water use)– declined all comment.

"You need to understand the bigger picture," says the Virginia Outdoor Foundation's McGarvey. "The past four or five years, Rockbridge County has had the most– family farms, cattle, and dairy farms."

It's not just farms though. Two of Virginia's most luxurious resorts have seen extra land turn into extra cash.

In 2002, by letting the Nature Conservancy take charge of 9,250 acres adjacent to its new planned community at the Homestead, Celebration Associates reaped over $6 million. In 2009, Wintergreen Resort banked more than $3 million in tax credits by putting 1,442 acres around Crawford's Knob under easement via the Wintergreen Nature Foundation.

By contrast, the Greenbrier Resort– located in conservation credit-free West Virginia– declared bankruptcy in 2009.

The farmer on the dole?
Linda McRaven, who lives in Free Union, says the whole topic makes her angry.

"It's just a feel-good issue like Prius cars," says McRaven. "Can we say phony?"

She believes conservation easements are pushed by those who feel guilty about their wealth– but not too guilty to benefit from it.

"They can afford to be falsely generous," says McRaven. "It costs them nothing."

McRaven is not the only farm-owner seething at the prospect of paying people not to develop.

"Charity is something you do out of the goodness of your heart without compensation," says Clara Belle Wheeler. "I don't think there should be tax credits or tax relief or any compensation whatsoever. If you want to keep your land open, you shouldn't expect the taxpayers of Virginia to pay."

Virginia is so serious about paying, however, that in 2002 the law was changed to allow recipients of tax credits to sell them on the open market– typically for about 80 cents on the dollar.

"Before they were transferrable, you had to use them," says McGarvey, noting that few farmers would have the level of income needed to directly use a tax credit. "Now farmers can sell them and use them to reinvest in the farm."

Double-secret elation
Had the Hook investigated this issue three years ago, the newspaper might have secured, via the state's expansive open-government law, a list of properties and owners harvesting money from the program.

Already well-heeled property owners could hide behind limited liability companies, or LLCs. But 2008 was the year that Eastern Shore Delegate Lynwood Lewis sponsored the bill that made disclosure of donor information a Class 2 misdemeanor.

According to Gary Waugh, spokesperson for the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the bill cleared a loophole so the Department could examine tax credit information gathered by the Department of Taxation when acquiring state parks.

Lobbying against the change, the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, demanded that the state release the location of the property and the name of any person requesting the credit– before handing out any credits. The bill passed anyway.

"So much for transparency in the government process," said the Coalition's disgusted then-director, Jennifer Perkins.

"As a nation, we have a long history of allowing people who make charitable gifts to get tax benefits," says Rex Linville with Piedmont Environmental Council, which encourages and acquires easements.

Linville says he sees no problem keeping the value of all charitable gifts secret. He likens it to donating a painting to the Smithsonian.

"You would have no way of knowing what that donor claimed," Linville points out. "If you're going to write about secrecy, you should broaden that to the whole spectrum of charitable gifts."

It turns out that the secrecy bill was carried by a college classmate of Biscuit Run developer Hunter Craig. But Delegate Lewis says the Conservation Department sought confidentiality merely to avoid a "chilling effect" on easements.

And no, says Lewis, he didn't confer with his fellow member of the Hampden-Sydney College class of '84 about the law that would become so helpful– for a while, anyway– in concealing how much taxpayers would subsidize Craig and other Biscuit Run investors.

"I haven't talked to Hunter Craig since Hampden-Sydney 25 years ago," says lawmaker Lewis.

"That law needs to be changed," says Clara Belle Wheeler. "When you cross from personal finances to the Commonwealth of Virginia, the County of Albemarle, and the entire United States paying you out of taxpayer funds, you transferred out of the private into the public domain."

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation's McGarvey ... offers the analogy of giving a bag of clothes to Goodwill, with the taxman determining whether the claimed deduction is accurate.

"You put the value on it, and the IRS looks at it," says McGarvey.

There's a difference between a bag of clothes going to Goodwill, says retired teacher Crockett.

"That bag of clothes going to Goodwill is not going to be in the millions," says Crockett. "The bigger the money, the bigger the potential for abuse."

Silent Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy provided some lessons in abuse. The world's richest environmental group, the Conservancy had a habit of selling scenic properties to employees and trustees to build homes and harvest large tax breaks, as revealed in a 2003 investigation by the Washington Post.

While the Conservancy wouldn't comment on those abuses or fulfill a request for the names of local easement donors, the group did report that it holds 6,047 acres under 22 easements in Albemarle. Court records show those donors include concrete magnate Wick McNeely's Chapel Springs Farm and a Coran Capshaw/Hunter Craig venture called Waterson Farm LLC.

Waterson Farm LLC evolved from the two men's purchase of a property bordering Farmington. Part of the place was subdivided into a gated subdivision in which Dave Matthews bought three lots, and the remaining 209 acres held by Waterson Farm LLC were put under easement.

In 2006, Waterson Farm LLC peeled off part of its land adjoining Craig's Farmington residence, Foxwood, to boost Craig's acreage to 45 acres, complete with walking trails. And in 2009, the LLC, which retained rights to subdivide into three parcels under its conservation easement, sold 107 acres for $3 million, according to county records. The Dave Matthews Band's lighting director bought one homesite. Other parcels remain listed for sale.

Capshaw, who also was a Biscuit Run investor, did not respond to written questions from the Hook, nor did Craig, who had a publicist return a reporter's call.

Family farm
One person who agreed to be interviewed is Deke Bowen. He grew up on a farm on Owensville Road that his great-grandfather bought in 1850, and he went on to serve as the Charlottesville police chief. His daughter lives in the old manor house, and his son is across the street.

"My mother constantly talked about if you own land, you never sell it," recalls Bowen. "They aren't making any more."

When his father died, the farm was split between three children. Bowen, 76, used to raise horses and cattle on his approximately 70-acre parcel, but now he's down to one horse. Both Bowen, and his sister who resides on an adjoining 120-acre tract, put their land under conservation easement.

"I saw all this development creeping in," says Bowen. "I saw it on the corner of Ballard and Owensville." That land, where he used to hunt, is now dotted with large houses.

"That was the last thing I wanted to happen," says Bowen. "I talked to the kids and put it in trust."

Bowen knew there were more liberal appraisers than the one he chose, but he preferred the more conservative route for the number that would determine his tax credits.

When Bowen granted an easement to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, he gave up five division rights and earned around $225,000 in tax credits.

"I'm not in financial shape to use them," he says. "I sold them and upgraded some things on the farm: a new tractor, a bushhog."

Another benefit of easements is that a lower land value means lower inheritance taxes. His easement specifically prohibits a cellphone tower, but he says he can log with a timbering plan from the Virginia Forestry Department.

Right now, he's more concerned about a couple of loblolly pines that might fall on the house, and says he'd let the Virginia Outdoors Foundation know before he took them down.

Bowen says his children endorsed the easement even though it means a grandchild can't build a house on the property. "It's going to affect their pocketbooks down the line.

And even without the tax benefits, if his kids had agreed, "I would have done it anyway, for the love of the land,"

Bowen says he understands the plight of a land-rich, cash-poor farmer.

"He's wondering, what acreage can I sell off to keep going," says Bowen, whose farm is now largely surrounded by the proverbial small-tract McMansions.

"I can't believe anyone would build a million-dollar house in the county where you've got to commute, and then you come home and look across the street at another house," he says.

"My desire was to preserve the land and farm as I've always known it," he says. "What I'm looking at outside now is the way it will always be."

'An interest in knowing'
Albemarle Supervisor Dennis Rooker, who blasted the removal of Biscuit Run from the county's long-planned southern growth area, says that until now he hasn't been asked about the secrecy, but he points to the county's similar ACE program–- Acquisition of Conservation Easements–- which, unlike the state program, has a donor income cap of $55,000.

"We have a very rigorous standard for that," says Rooker. "We advertise the amount of money we have for the year, and the information is very public. I don't have any pause about the ACE program."

Because the county program is so open, Rooker wonders, "I don't know why the state's isn't. I think it ought to be."

Rooker returns to a sore point: "In the Biscuit Run purchase, I felt like that should have been an open process. Citizens have an interest in knowing what was acquired and how it's paid."

This year, with the state giving its schools $3.4 million less than the previous year, the ACE program is dormant, with zero funding in the new county budget now on its way to the Board of Supervisors.

Timm-berr
Donating easements doesn't halt all activity upon land. Consider Verulam on Bloomfield Road, a farm bordering Interstate 64 near Ivy. Once a nearly 1,100-acre tract owned by the Ewald family, parts of the estate were carved off to become high-end subdivisions, including Blue Springs and the Rocks.

By 2001, Verulam was just 551 acres when a consortium including Craig, McNeely, and now-struggling internet titan Halsey Minor planned to turn the property into an exclusive golf club with founding memberships priced at $150,000. While the plan fell through after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Verulam Farm Conservation Group LLC donated an easement to the Nature Conservancy in 2003.

The property could have been divided into 30 lots, and the easement deed notes that "development would degrade the forest that provides a buffer for Ragged Mountain Reservoir, cause excessive erosion and pollution, degrading Ivy Creek's water quality."

Verulam's conservation easement forbids the use of bug zappers, but does allow predator control, such as the removal of beavers. And the owner retains the right to build a tenant house, a cell phone tower, and to cut down trees under an approved forest management plan.

Historic Castle Hill was Albemarle's biggest land deal when buyers John D. Carr and Raymond E. Humiston III, trading as Route 231 LLC, paid the full asking price of $24 million in 2005. They reaped an untold sum for putting the 1,200-acre property into a conservation easement with the Nature Conservancy that same year, reducing the division rights from 90 lots to a maximum of five parcels. Last year, 601 acres of the historic estate were back on the market for $14.5 million.

Stewardship that slipped
"The actual protection comes with stewardship of the easement and monitoring that," says the Outdoor Foundation's McGarvey. "We defend ourselves, but if we have to, we go to the attorney general."

Such stewardship fell short of expectations in one Ivy-area subdivision. On Turner Mountain, Richard Selden says he thought he was honoring the dearest wish of his first wife to preserve the land when he put 47 acres into one of Albemarle's earliest conservation easements in 1993.

Selden's faith in that process was seriously shaken 10 years later when a subsequent owner announced plans to build a mansion on a tract that already had a 1990s-era brick house measuring a seemingly ample 4,200 square feet.

John and Amy Harris claimed they were told when buying the land in 2006 that they could construct a 19,000-square-foot house and call the exisiting dwelling a "guest house" by removing the stove– an accepted practice in some zoning circles, including the Albemarle County Office Building.

"It's an example of how lawyers can twist restrictions around to satisfy the wishes of their clients," says Selden.

The Public Recreational Facilities Authority disagreed with the county's ruling and hired its own attorney. Three years later, the megahouse has been built, but the county and the Harrises still haven't reached an agreement on whether the first house stays or gets torn down. John Harris, former CFO for the high-rolling Carlyle Group, declined to comment for this article.

"I'm a little wary about lending support to tax credits," says Selden. "I resist secrecy when goodies are handed out."

Selden donated his conservation easements without the incentive of tax credits. He still believes in easements, but says, "I am cynical that you really can protect them."

How does Virginia compare?
Thirteen other states offer tax credits or other tax incentives for conservation easements, according to the Land Trust Alliance, a D.C.-based group that promotes land conservation nationally. Only Colorado offers a greater percentage of credit than Virginia, 50 percent vs. 40 percent. But Colorado caps its credit at $375,000; Virginia has no cap.

Another thing Colorado does is provide a list– at least up through 2008– of all the tax credits sought and on how much acreage, although the Rocky Mountain state doesn't provide the donor names.

Russ Shay, the Alliance's public policy director, says that Virginia should have confidence in its appraisal process because the Department of Taxation is "very picky" when reviewing credits.

"I'm very impressed with Virginia," says Shay. "There will always be controversies over the value of land. Appraisals are very time dependent."

Reform?
The Biscuit Run scandal has reverberated throughout the land preservation community, and the Piedmont Environmental Council– which spent $120,000 on lobbying in 2009– has expressed some semblance of outrage by noting this attempt to "exploit the program for financial gain" on its website.

Someone who must be truly shaken by the Biscuit Run affair is the original tax credit booster, State Senator Creigh Deeds. He's carrying a bill that would allow the Tax Commissioner to get a second appraisal on any tax credit deal.

"We had to figure out a way to protect the integrity of the program," says Deeds. "I wanted to make sure the tax department had the tools it needs."

The original bill also required the use of a licensed transfer agent to move tax credits to a taxpayer who is not an individual, for example, such as Biscuit Run's Forest Lodge LLC, whose investors beyond Craig and Capshaw still remain shrouded in secrecy, and a transfer agent who repeatedly transfers tax credits later disallowed faces fines and the loss of license. The section addressing transfer agents did not make it to the final version of the bill.

Deeds notes that even a second appraisal could kill a deal– at least for that year– because the applicant would lose their place in line to obtain some of Virginia's trove of credit cash.

"That gives every incentive to get a good appraisal," says Deeds.

How big a factor was Biscuit Run in the bill? "It was an absolute reaction to Biscuit Run," says Deeds, who says he's "infuriated" by the $87 million appraisal.

The bill has passed both the Senate and the House of Delegates, and goes to Governor Bob McDonnell.

This year, the program has grown to $108,424,000 in available credits, but one thing Deeds isn't taking on is the program's secrecy.

"Maybe all tax credits and tax deductions should be public," says Deeds, "but that's not this discussion."

Correction 3/3/11: During editing, Jason McGarvey was made to appear to oppose changing the secrecy law with the words "wouldn't want that" (now removed from the passage before his bag of clothes analogy. He says he has no opinion on that issue.

Corrections and clarifications 3/9/11:

  • Piedmont Environmental Council was founded in 1972, not 1966.
  • Piedmont Environmental Council does not spend half a million dollars annually on lobbying. The organization is allowed to spend up to $525,000 ias a 501(c)(3), according to its 2009 IRS form 990, but its actual expenditures that year were $120,467.
  • The Land Trust Alliance does not accredit land trusts, as the story stated, but established an independent nonprofit, the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, to do so.
  • The original version of the tax credit reform legislation in the General Assembly called for licensing the transfer agents who handle the tax credits. That part of the bill was not in the final version that passed the House and Senate, but the bill does allow the Department of Taxation to get a second appraisal before issuing tax credits.
  • The amount of the federal tax deduction for conservation easements was incorrectly characterized as 35 percent for top income brackets. The federal deduction in 2011 is actually a potentially more generous 50 percent of adjusted gross income– 100 percent of gross income for farmers and ranchers– for up to 15 years.
  • 3/15/11: The date and order of Richard Selden's Turner Mountain conservation easement were incorrect. The easement was recorded January 11, 1993, and it was not the first in Virginia, but it was one of the earliest in Albemarle County.

Updated 3/4/11: Want to see properties held under conservation easement in Albemarle County? Click on the link below.

Attached Documents: 

127 comments

While you are identifying students at Hampden-Sydney College, Hawes Spencer was enrolled at Hampden-Sydney in 1984, as well. I trust you will run a disclaimer from Hawes clarifying his relationships with Lyn and Hunter.

The Hook is a great paper--if you want to know what band is playing where or when. But "investigation"? This read like a bad freshman term paper--full of snark and insinuation based on cherry-picked examples fitting a pre-determined thesis. And to what end? Poking fingers in the eyes of rich people? Kochian loathing of anything related to conservation? The point of view here ultimately is incoherent, but logic is beside the point at The Hook, isn't it. It's really all about stirring up resentment and manufacturing controversy.

Yes, Virginia has a generous tax credit as a conservation incentive, and it generally works. Everyone in the commonwealth benefits from cleaner water, maintaining rural lands and open space, unfragemented forests, and on and on. Bear in mind that Virginia is far behind other states in other conservation investments.There's a word for what happens when conservation depends solely on the goodness of people's hearts: development.

Yes, I was there '83/84 and '84/85, but it never occurred to me to add that into the article because I never accepted millions of dollars in conservation tax credits-- or even a penny. (And I got kicked out of the fine school for my crummy grades but later went to work there for a few months as the interim school spokesperson.)--hawes spencer

This article raises some good points and leads to the larger issue which is the use of the tax code, at all levels of government, to skew what would otherwise be purely economic considerations so that social policy of one sort or another can be effectuated by distorting citizens' incentives.
And, when Virginia's budget gets as screwed up as Wisconsin's, then we can blame public employees, illegals, or whoever is the scapegoat du jour at that time.

Well The Nature Conservancy is a rich man’s game. All behind the scenes in private. I am sure they are sorry that their programs actually siphon money away from the school system.

And I am sure Rooker seconds that emotion with the Albemarle Conservation Easement program. What is paid for these private easements, plus the permanent reduction in real estate taxes, drains money that could be spent on the schools.

It all avoids the public discovery of price (Free Trade) and relies on hired appraisers to assign a price that may have been representative of the true value.

Some more information. Remember Hank Paulson? The former Secretary of Treasury who got approval (and protection) to hand out $800 billion to save the banks, but gave it to undisclosed private entities. Well he was a recent president of Goldman Sacks. And a recent president of The Nature Conservancy. Many of the very top of The Nature Conservancy governance and management have similar positions with Goldman Sacks. Even the president of The Nature Conservancy of Virginia is a former VP of Goldman Sacks.
The Nature Conservancy controls more land and easements than The National Park System. Sorry, its private and posted. No Trespassing. But your deferred or abated taxes paid for that privacy.

And all this land can make lots of money. Consider the sales of Global Warming Credits. Here is the president of TNC explaining it.

http://www.bing.com/videos/watch/video/mark-tercek-nature-conservancy-at...

The Washington Post has begun to unveil the beast. Some of their work can be found here.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/linkset/2007/11/16/LI200711...

This is huge. Consider that The Director of The Piedmont Region of The Nature Conservancy was just appointed to the Albemarle County Service Authority.

Maybe The Hook can dig deeper?

"But 2008 was the year that Eastern Shore Delegate Lynwood Lewis sponsored the bill that made disclosure of donor information a Class 2 misdemeanor."

It's time once again to play everyone's favorite game: "Name That Party!"

Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker has pointed out how detrimental the ACE Program has been to the Albemarle County tax base. He points out that the county pays 10% of real-estate taxes to the city. But they only collect 7% on the ACE properties. So they lose money EACH AND EVERY YEAR.

He knows this and has publically spoken on this continual drain of dollars. But he does nothing to fix it? Yet he keeps raising money, runs uncontested and gets elected.

Ableboy, good catch.

Please note that lots of Virginia's eastern shore ocean front is controled by whom? OH correct guess! The Nature Conservancy

Easy to find links here because of the recent law suits.

@Grrr Aargh , obviously you are in the tax-credits-for-easements business. It is interesting how some of these big time players also have greatly influenced the 50-year water supply scam. I want to mention here that the City Council has recently awarded The Nautre Conservancy an easement. Hopefully, The Nature Conservancy will off its own slate of candidates in the next local elections or does it alrady have enough "friends" on CC and BoS to control those groups behind the scenes. It appears it does with the ACSA.

Big money always brings big time crooks out of the woodwork.

Especially when they can still operate in the dark.

Ridge Schyler, former hed if The Piedmont Region of The Nature Conservancy, claims individual credit for dreaming up the current Water Supply Plan. Truth be known, the plan is an adaptation of the James River Pipeline to Ragged Mountain plan. The difference is that the pipe now comes from SFRR reservoir instead of The James River.

The Nature Conservancy has invested big timr into making this plan appear to work. They have so very much to gain.

As former Chairman of Virginia's Board of Historic Resources I can assure everyone that the common use of Historic Easements and the easements granted for land conservation otherwise were established in 1966 to prevent the NEED of landowners of farms, undeveloped forests and fields, and Historic Properties to sell some of their land just to keep it. As property taxes increased faster than the landowners incomes and ability to pay those taxes, the only remedy to the landowners was to sell their property to others for further development. Easements are SOLD to the Department of Historic Resources by the landowner who then everafter cannot develop the property further nor subdivide the land. Restrictions are also put on the actual building(s)as well, and changes to the structures cannot be made without the written consent of the Board of Historic Resources. This preserves the land, open spaces, and preserves historic structures. The process of procuring such an easement is not easy. A full report of the property's actual historic significance must be submitted (this takes about a year to complete with research by private researchers) and approved by 2 different boards of the Commonwealth. After approval, the property is then voted on by the Board of Historic Resources (a citizens, board) who deems the property "significant" and is placed on the Virginia Landmarks Registry. Application then must be made to the National Trust to have the properties placed on the National Registry of Historic Places. After that, the property's easement can be sold to the Virginia Dept of Historic Resources whereby the property owner receives tax benefits ONLY. This benefit is a write-off against earned OR unearned (passive or investment) income on one's state and Federal taxes. The amount is equal to the value of the land "as though it were subdivided and sold off" vs. the current land value. So if I have a farm of 100 acres which is worth $850,000 as is, but is worth $1,250,000 subdivided, I can write off the $400,000 difference over 5 years, but this deduction cannot be used for more than 50% of the donor's income in any one year. See http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/easement/easement_financial.htm
Most of the people who came before our board used this easement process to protect their property in perpetuity, that is, to prevent others from undoing their own personal historic preservation. They also used the tax credits to be able to afford to to make necessary repairs or restorations, often to keep inhabiting their own house, or to rehabilitate an already existing structure that would otherwise be abandoned or demolished (remember, property without a structure or other improvements is taxed far less than property with an existing building. Owners were tearing down great old buildings just to lower their tax rate at the county level...because they could not afford the taxes with the building on it. A travesty!) Very few people who seek easements do it "for the money", as in a tax shelter. They sell their easements in order that they might save a historic building or land in perpetuity. I wish, Hawes, that you would have interviewed me prior to publishing this story as there is a HUGE missing side to this story, that is, the great work that Virginia has done in Historic and Outdoor Conservation through the use of the easement process. That a few folks have taken advantage of the program is simply typical of all tax-incentive programs. Rich people who can afford to make more charitable donations do so and lower their taxes *percentage-wise* far more than the poor or middle class. Welfare for the rich? Hardly. They can just afford to give more. The states and the federal govt. have established many tax incentive programs to stimulate the economy in so many areas, and they are ALL unfair to anyone who CANNOT take advantage of them. Real estate owners with mortgages have a large advantage over renters. Renters tend to be less able to buy a house due to poor credit, lack of a down payment etc, but they often pay as much or more than mortgage holders. Why are they punished (e.g. not given a tax break) while the wealthier property owners get a tax break? Shall we crucify mortgage holders now too? Either end the tax system the way it is set up now (will thousands of deductibles) in exchange for a flat tax or national sales tax, or quit criticizing the system each and every time you (Hawes) find an egregious overuse of some tax incentive.

Since I learned about the Nature Conservancy effectively being
taken over by men from Goldman Sachs and other companies
I've asked around about it but come up with almost nothing. I also
recently learned a man from Goldman Sachs is one of the upper
level managers for World Wildlife Fund. Does anyone know what's
going on? I really don't want to give $ to organizations that are just
cash cows for men who are already rich.

Based on a couple of the responses so far I would say The Hook has struck a nerve.

Maybe I have become too bitter and cynical as I age but it sure seems that the more someone claims something is good the more it turns out it is better... for them.

I was going to say that in a very Noblesse Oblige way you can come view some of the farms in Albemarle in question during Garden Week this year in April. (As long as your gone by 5) After looking at the schedule none are on the list (except ususal Morven and Farmington houses which don't have conservation easements) so scrap that joke.

Writing about the Harris' in this story is unfair; their's is not a situation where someone gamed the conservation rules to their own benefit. They bought a 47-acre property with one division right, meaning they could only have one dwelling on the property; when they chose to build a new home, the only option for the existing home on the land was to render it a non-dwelling, by removing either the stove or the toilet. They are neither seeking to have the County grant them the right to subdivide the property (so they could sell off the existing dwelling), nor are they trying to rent out the dwelling. What right should the County have in telling them how they can enjoy THEIR 47 acres! They should sue the County as a violation of the Takings clause under the Constitution.
The lose of property rights in this County would be a worthwhile story; I'll look forward to Lisa writing about it next.

How pathetic that the decent intentions of good, honest, land loving and hard working "farm" people who actually cherish their land and family heritage, and who...like my family...are doing EVERYTHING we can to hold onto what we value (land over cash) are overshadowed and tainted by those who are using this program to increase wealth .
I am dumbfounded at what has been exposed here. I was naive enough to have seen only the positives that preservation offered to what is left of our woodlands, our fields, our wildlife, our streams..... I did not see the larger picture surrounding us.
My children may someday curse me for protecting our farmland. It will be a financial drain on them, as the cannot build. They will pay full taxes, maintain fence-lines, keep the John Deere running, bush hog fields. They will NOT live in a new mansion....but they, their children, their grandchild will have the gift of open fields, fresh air, catching crayfish in the creeks, raising cattle or sheep, exploring in the woods, running ...riding...living...on the very land that every generation of this family has cherished before them.
I cannot imagine a greater gift. Preservation made that possible.
I am ashamed of those that use this resource for any other intention than the simplicity of preservation in itself.

It is time for greater transparency and greater oversight of who truly qualifies for these tax credits both from the state and locally. We should all be able to know the landholders identity and the appraisal on any parcel of land.

I am surprised that Creigh Deeds and our other legislators, Rob Bell and David Toscano would not insist on this .

As we see services to the schools and for public safety cut in the county, we cannot allow luxury estates to not pay their fair share of taxes by draining off revenue from the county thru special tax brackets.

Please investigate further whether officials on the BOS have voted for these tax gifts and are living on luxury estates themselves, while placing the full tax burden on those who don't count cows as part of their possessions.

And if it is a fact that the Nature Conservancy will benefit from having a controlling interest in the community's water plan, for which the city and county ratepayers will pay the bill; then we need complete transparency on who in this community will benefit from their apparent authorship of the new dam/pipeline plan and how ?

Will private landholders that are donors to the Conservancy benefit from the water plan ?

There is something ludicrous and poignant and accurate about the "penis enlargement" post that has not yet been expunged.

"My penis can beat your penis through the loophole in two notes."

"King Lear" wrestled with (premature) subdivisions four centuries ago. Primogeniture and the consequent plague of 'younger sons' wrestled with these topics, oh, seven centuries ago. This isn't new.

Neither is people not intended to benefit from a law figuring out how to benefit from a law. I'm reasonably certain that's been in play since Hammurabi. If not before.

We established an entire country on a single piece of sheepskin two and not-quite-two-and-a-half centuries ago. Social security came into being on something like 64 pages; health care reform came in in the thousands of pages. We keep complicating the initial ideas in an attempt to keep people from finding loopholes. I'm pretty sure that's a bad idea and one that makes more loopholes than it closes. Plus, it creates tons of bureaucracy. Lots of jobs there.

None of this is as hard as we make it. Except in the hands of clever lawyers abetted by clever legislators --- who are overwhelmingly lawyers to begin with. Lovely job security, that. How many angels dance on the head of your pin: and by the way define angel (my client/I is an angel) and define pin (the county/the city/my lot/my development 'rights'/my fill-in-the-blank-space) is a pin. And then we need tens-scores-hundreds-thousands of bureaucrats to administer this...well, whatever it is.

I'm sorry, but most of this is obnoxious, legal, secretized, redefinition. And so-what-if-it's-right-I-can-get-away-with-it-legally-and-get-a-tax-deduction-too greed. And so-what-if-it's complicated-I-have-a-government-job-keeping-you-all-in-my-bureauticaized-box.

OMG. I keep having to pay for both sides of this! Am I the only one who's appalled?

The motivation for this article is all to clear....bitterness over the outcome of the community water supply debate. It reads like a lop sided Fox News expose mixed with a heavy dose of small town snark.

As a Virginia tax payer, I couldn't be happier driving down one of Albemarle's beautiful rural roads and seeing the acres of permanently protected farmland, thanks in large part to the tax incentives offered. Sure, Biscuit Run was a bad deal for all of us, but does that mean that the state's entire land conservation program is some kind of fiscal malfeasance? I would argue it's just the opposite...a huge success. As a result of so much land being protected from development, my tax dollars don't have to go to providing suburban services to what should be farmland, which provides clean water, clean air and local food (hard to put a price on....no?). Lastly, development of land (the rich getting richer also) is incentivized with tax programs all over the country, so what's so wrong with incentivizing the protection of land. In my mind, Virginia is in good company.

Thank you TNC, PEC, VOF and the other land conservation organizations for your hard work.

Jack, I think you are missing the point. The super wealthy who are getting these tax credits, not to develop their land, wouldn't be developing it in the first place. This way they can have a huge lawn with a few cows and pay far lower taxes than the rest of us . And how many of them are actually growing food ?

Personally, I'd rather see them pay higher taxes for their luxury estates and have more money for services for the rest of us, and if they truly are farming and producing food, then give them a tax break, but make them prove it.

In Maryland the did a project called TDRs which is the "Transfer of Development Rights" This allowed farmers to "sell" a development right to a developer who could then (within gudelines) use it to build a higher density in another area. This allowed farmers to get cash they need without actually selling a pice of land. The state got open spaces preserved and the developers got (within guidelines) the right to build in a higher density than was previously allowed.

The only "loser" was the government who lost some leverage in demanding "proffers" from the developers.

If the state wanted to "buy" the development rights from farmers for cash then they should just do it and not play games with tax credits.

Ann, you're missing the point. The super rich do decide to develop their land. It happens all the time. You're making an incredibly naive presumption. Do you seriously think that landowners with a few hundred acres, who may not need to make any more money, don't carve off and sell the farm field through the woods they can't even see, in order to make more money. I've seen it happen time and again. Just as it is their right to do so, so is it their right to reap the tax incentives available for making a charitable donation that benefits the community as a whole. As Jack said, it's hard to put a price on open space, clean air and clean water.

No, Ann, you missed the point. Most current owners have no desire to divide and develop, it's the next owner who does, either a developer, or children unable to pay the taxes based on on the unlimited development potential of the land. This program allows owners to realize the often very large development value they give up, and is the most effective way we have of preventing Albemarle from becoming Fairfax. Let's face the facts: wealthy people tend to have things of greater value than the rest of us, including the development value of their land. That's why they are called wealthy. We can help them preserve open land in perpetuity with a program like this, or we can let the developers realize the value of the land. Every runner on Ridge Road should thank this program for the absence, now and forever, of the dozens of trophy mansionettes that could otherwise litter that beautiful road.

Follow the money. It’s flowing from the general families to the large landowners. There is a clear cut divide. The sheepeople are being herded onto Development Zones which are about 1% of the county. The large landowners are getting tax breaks so they can keep their land private without working it.

Who pays? The sheepeople do of course. They are the tax base because the large landowners are given preferred tax deals.

But the land remains private for the pleasure of the wealthy. The sheepeople just admire their environment.

It's obvious that the hookers are once again trying to drag anyone they don't like through the mud. Nature Conservancy appears to be a favorite since they trounced everyone in the water plan battle. Did hawes look to see which easements were donated BEFORE the tax credit went into place? No, because if you look at the information then you realize that some of these people didn't get tax credits because the law hadn't been passed yet. The other thing is that Virginia ranks dead last in all 50 states on spending to support land conservation. Last. And yet we are blessed with extraordinary views, historic sites, waters, farms, etc. that need to be preserved. I say thank you to each and every landowner who's contributed a conservation easement. It makes our state a much better place to live in spite of state government's non-commitment to land conservation. Besides, most of the people commenting on this article more than anything are just jeolous. If you ask me, I'm mighty glad that biscuit run is a state park and not a mega-development. If you're mad at that deal, then talk to the appraiser who gave the number, not the developers.

Freddie, you say " landowner who's contributed a conservation easement." If that were the case we would all applaud, but they are not contributing, they are getting paid to do this, and the county will need to raise taxes on everyone else to make up the difference or watch their school system go downhill and crime rise for lack of law enforcement in the urban growth areas.

The county doesn't need to pay people to keep land rural, all they need to do is use the tool of zoning, but that would be too difficult for the officials, apparently.

Historic and/or open space preservation are important. Come down near Lynchburg and I can show you numerous places of historic/architectural significance that have been ruined by money-grubbing developers. Even Mr. Jefferson's Poplar Forest is surrounded by unsightly large ranch houses. And the last thing anyone needs is more McMansions.

In any system, there will be abuse. People should not be property-assessed out of their farms or be punished for passing them on. If one has to sell his property just to pay exorbitant property taxes because some "expert" from out of town breezes through every four years to help the developers, then something is seriously wrong.

Major components of what makes Virginia one of the most desirable places to live on the planet are: history, agriculture, and open spaces. The money-grubbing developers and their cohorts would "pave Paradise and put a a parking lot."

This is where America was born.

Jeb, right on. Developers get incentives all the time for paving over our landscapes and making more money, so why shouldn't conservation minded people get incentives as well. Who cares how much money they have...they're protecting our water, air and land. Priceless.

The problem with what you are saying is that the non-landed gentry are having to subsidy the rich to have pseudo farms, these aren't real farms, and I don't buy the argument that a majority of these folks would be dotting their estates with Macmansions. Let the real farmers get the tax credits and the others pay taxes the way all the rest of us do.

If you want rural land to stay rural use your zoning code not your tax code.

Id like to know what My Representative (Ann Mallek) is receiving from this . She wont answer questions about whats she doing for the "common"people she represents (like how come the water pressure in Crozet is so low She tells you to call the County for that info) wrong answer Ann!! No really how much does she get for being one of the chosen few?

@Ann -- you are right on point. The non-landed "sheeple" are hauling the freight for the very wealthy faux farmers for sure. Our elected officials won't do anything about that. Who do you think finances their political campaigns?

@IDKAJAMY -- Ann Mallek turned to the dark side a while back, so don't expect anything from her.

The folks in Egypt finally figured out how to get rid of tyrants. There may be hope for Albemarle County.

Sic semper tyrannis happens to be Virginia's State motto. Pay attention sheeple!

Betty NO SH#T Every time we call or email her we get a scripted answer.I think her collection of hats is to tight for her Doctors Daughters Head!!! (by the way that was one of her campaign slogans Im Dr SO n SO's daughter so vote for me) Do we have recall in this county?

@Barbara Myer - Fantastic post ! I couldn't agree more !

@Betty - It is nice to see someone bring up Egypt and it sure feels like we could be heading in that direction and maybe we should (as long as it is peaceful, I repeat, peaceful).

To the people complaining that this article is not fair to those who donated land before the tax breaks - who cares. The point is that the present systems lacks transparency and is being taken advantage of. Yes, I believe The Hook is sensationalizing somewhat but every media outlet does that, liberal, conservative, whatever. This system needs to be changed. It is being taken advantage of by a few people who are ruining it for the people who need it.

Ann put it best as far as I am concerned:

"If you want rural land to stay rural use your zoning code not your tax code."

Randolph Byrd attempts to confuse the gross abuse of conservation easements and tax credits and land use programs with the more legitimate (but certainly not pure) credits issued by the Virginia Board of Historic Resources.

Byrd says that “a few folks have taken advantage of the program is simply typical of all tax-incentive programs.” A few? To the tune of more than $100 million? In Albemarle County sixty percent of all land is in the county land use taxa subsidy program. And Albemarle is not known as an agricultural behemoth. The county’s own reports show that agricultural jobs and production have steadily decreased and make up only a very small percentage of local economic activity.

Byrd asks the right question, “Welfare for the rich?” But he comes up with exactly the wrong answer. Yes, it is absolutely welfare for the wealthy. No question. (By the way Randolph...do YOU have land in an easement? in the county’s land use tax subsidy program? Perhaps Jack A does too.)

I’ll make a guess that Randolph Byrd also supported the elimination of the estate tax in Virginia. That tax affected only the wealthiest 1 percent of households and cost the state $150 million a year in revenues. And I’ll venture that he also supported the supply-side economic policies, skewed toward corporations and the wealthy, of Reagan, Bush1 and Bush2. Those policies are responsible for huge budget deficits, a ballooned national debt, the transformation of Wall Street into a taxpayer subsidized casino, a financial meltdown and a broken economy.

Rather than take any “personal responsibility” and accept “accountability,” conservatives blame unions and public sector workers. And they want regular citizens to pay for it. Their philosophy seems to be summarized well by the words of former billionaire hotel magnate Leona Helmsley, who infamously said that “only the little people pay taxes.”

A writer commenting on the recent wildfires in the county, fires that threatened both big and smaller houses, large parcels and small ones, noted that “fire doesn't discriminate.” But the county’s land use tax subsidy program sure does. A smaller 1.84 acre parcel near the fires is assessed at more than $65,000 an acre for the land. But a nearby 21-acre home estate is assessed at only about $11,000 an acre. Why does the little guy pay six times as much?

Randolph Byrd ends his screed with a laughable line of illogic. Either stop criticizing the current tax system that favors the wealthy and is egregiously abused or move to a system (the so-called “flat tax,” or the valued-added tax) that continues to punish the “little people” and give more to the wealthy.

Spoken like a genuine conservative, me-first Republican.

Developers are also exploiting this tax program to allow cluster development (more units per acre) and get the tax break on slivers of useless land they put into easements. I guess we should feel bad for them and give them a break? I grew up in Albemarle County and I'm pretty disgusted with the way it's quickly being converted into a second NOVA. In fact I finally moved away because of this and the pathetic job market. Once land is developed, whatever natural, historic, open space, etc value it had is permanently lost. I guess people are more concerned with taxes and money to worry about that. VA is LAST in the country in terms of spending on land protection....that means LESS tax money than ALL other states in the US....where is the argument here?

Quite a few of the ultra rich or Corporations ride on the coat tails of the we need this for "the family farm" or the "family business"...but how would you write a law to help out just the Old Albemarle (Bowen, Shackelford) and leave out the Old North money (Schelford farm), New money (Capshaw) etc. Some people have to wait for another family member to die to get money or find another wife at Farmington, they don't have a steady income coming in such as Capshaw.

How can Albemarle county continue these generous tax breaks on so much land and still provide quality services to the urban ring, without raising taxes or utility fees ( another word for taxes ) or reducing services ?
Forget complaining about revenue sharing, why aren't residents of the county complaining about all this money being siphoned off the tax rolls.

I think alot of people here are confusing state tax credits from an easement donation with the land-use program. Two totally different things.

An update to the article offers: "Want to see who donated conservation easements? Click on the link below." That link does not provide a list of "who donated conservation easement" as advertised. Instead the link takes you to a list of who owns property that is subject to a conservation easement. These are two very different things. This reporting just has too many errors and mistakes to give it much credibility.

Want to quantify how much conservation easements are costing the sheeple in Albemarle County?

Historically, parcels in conservation easement (on average) are taxed at less than 30% of what they're sell for. There are currently 1,015 parcels with 85,000 acres in CE with a total Tax Value of almost $433 million. So Fair Market Value would be in the neighborhood of $1.443 billion. Incremental taxes would be ~ $75 million. Somebody please check the math.

And here's a fresh example: CS Farms LLC bought 1,480 acres in 26 parcels (Burning Light Farm) with an aggregate Tax Value of $2.653 million, on 1/5/2011 for $9.15 million -- that's 29% Tax Value to Selling Price Ratio. Parcels have been in CE since 2005. CE will save this new owner, a cool $48,000 in property taxes.

The owner who gives up the development rights and places land in CE should be compensated.

The next and subsequent owners should be taxed at Fair Market Value. They pay FMV even though they know the development rights are gone when they buy the property, so why should they get a break? They've given up nothing.

Who is CS Farms LLC?

I'm now desperate for a t-shirt that says : "PAY ATTENTION, SHEEPLE!"

CS Farms LLC formerly Burning Daylight Farms is a big estate
located about 2 miles NW of Free Union on Wesley Chapel Road.
McNeeley sold to it to someone--I don't know who--several million
were chopped off the original price. OK now someone answer
my ? about TNC and Goldman Sachs please!

1) you cannot "fix" the development problem with "zoning" because properties have development rights that have passed through the deeds since the beggining of records. They legally cannot be taken away. (and they should not be)

2) There is a big difference between conservation easements and land use tax subsidy. The land use "costs" the county about 3.6 million a year to keep 88,000 acres from being developed. It comes to a about a 40 dollar per acre DISCOUNT on your tax bill to not subdivide and develop your land. All Homes (and one acre)pay FULL Price and are not included or elgible for any discount. So if someone owns a 101 acre farm worth 10k an acre plus the house they are taxed at 2.5 million on the house and one acre. They get a tax bill of 11,100.00 on the house, and 2nd tax bill on the land of about 3400 bucks. In order to qualify they must use the land for production. they cannot just have manicured gardens and cut lawns. Horses do not count either unless they are in a licensed business of boarding or buying and selling. There is a formula available on the county website.

If they change their mind and decide to subdivide they pay a 5 year penalty.

The county still makes out good on the deal ,in that if even one big farm with 300 division rights were to divide "by right" the county would have to foot the bill for the new elementary school, roads inprovements, cops, firefighters etc to serve the new community. They have no legal right to demand the developer pay anything other than the five year penalty unless they want a zoning change. If they were to eliminate this program they would no longer be able to charge anyone the penalty and you would see all kinds of people take the money since the incentive to keep it rural would be gone. It is a fair program in that cows don't go to school and the open land cleans the air and water, and provides everything from firewood to food.

If a farmer keeps 25 head of cow on 50 acres his cost per cow would rise 80 dollars per head without the discount. Additionally, Albemarle land is more expensive to buy than surrounding counties and the farmers tax bills are already higher by direct comparison, yet they all sell their cattle at he same auction.

The purchase of conservation deals such as Bisquit Run should be completely overhauled and revamped and become transparent. It is too subject to lobbying and connnections.

I still don't understand how the federal government let them get away with using federal highway beautifification funds (4.8 million!) when in order to see bisquit Run from Route 64 you would have to look over the rooftops of another development as you drove past the Fed EX warehouse and the Albemarle Jail. It seems to me a clear cut case of fraudulent spending. (and I hope they prosecute somebody when the investigation is done)

Zoning is a tool that can be used to preserve rural land if the governmental body so chooses. The government has the right to down zone, as has been done before, no matter what the deed says.

Please help me understand the list above of conservation easements held by Albemarle County. Is it true that the owner listed of the property with the easement is not necessarily the one who donated the easement ? And for those of us who are uninformed, can anyone get an easement or does the land have to be a certain size ? And I still don't understand why Ann's point is incorrect, if the county didn't want parcels subdivided in a certain area and wanted that area to be kept rural why wouldn't they zone it that way ? Why give all these wealthy people who want to own lots of land and have lots of money a tax break, and make the rest of us who live on small lots pay more for the same services ?
They drive on the same roads and need the same police services as I do , last time I checked.

Fulltaxpayer, it is true that someone can sell a property under easement, and therefore the current owner may not be listed as the donor. The easement runs with the land, encumbering the property in perpetuity, unless amended by the easement donor and agreed to by the easement holder (i.e. VOF or some other entitiy).

Anyone cannot donate an easement. Organizations that hold easements have very specific guidelines that help determine if a property has enough "conservation value" to warent the acceptance of the donation of an easement on a property. The article fails to detail what conservation values are being donated. Very detailed analysis is conducted on what is being protected- aquatic resources, historic resources, agricultural resources, etc. All of which are mapped and quantified.

Lastly, it's not a county program, but a state and federal tax incentive program that has stood the test of time and lawsuits. In short, the article is remarkably off base. We all benefit when a conservation easement is donated, regardless of the donors bank account.

As mentioned by other posters, clean air, clean water, and open space are hard to put a price on.

Hey Barbara,

Make a sign that says "Pay attention, sheeple!" and take it to Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors meetings.

That would be too funny.

@Jack M

CS Farms LLC mailing address is 2410 Old Ivy Road, Suite 300. Those are the offices of HBK Capital Management ("an alternative investment firm"), which has offices in Dallas, London and New York. Manages about $5 billion and has 190 employees.

Just another well-deserving local farmer, NOT!

Registered agent for CS Farms is Richard Carter. That's about all the SCC website shows. Alternative investment firms and hedge funds can be very mysterious.

Several commenters have noted that conservation easements and the county land use tax subsidy program are two different things. Yes and no.

While the two are in fact different, they are part and parcel of the very same thing and they share some common characteristics.

First, they are taxpayer subsidies, whether those subsidies occur at the local, state or federal level. And the subsidies can and do occur simultaneously. That is, a property with a conservation easement in a locality that implements the land use subsidy, "must be allowed to enroll in land use." So, the subsidy is three-fold (from local, state and federal taxpayers).

Second, the subsidies accrue generally to the more and most affluent. The "little guy" is typically not eligible.

Third, even though those who hold conservation easements and who reap land use tax reductions (and lower tax bills) are subsidized by the general public, and even though they often tout the public "benefit" of such subsidies, the public generally has no access to or use of the land (nor does the easement holder). Perhaps a bit ironically, those who pitch the "public benefit" argument the loudest are also the ones who so often fail to argue the same for public education or extending affordable health care to more people (and vote against such measures).

Fourth, as illustrated by the Biscuit Run debacle and the county's rampant use of the land use tax program for private estates, the subsidies are ripe for abuse. And the abuses are not simply limited to "a few folks."

Hunter Craig and his conservative brethren are quick to push laissez-faire "free market" approaches to almost everything, except of course when the market doesn't work in their favor. Then they seek taxpayer-supported "incentives," and give-aways, and assistance and support...and they invoke the "public good" charade.

Meanwhile, at every turn, they push for private gain (theirs) over promoting the general welfare. For them it really is all about "the money," and the public be damned.

Their hypocrisy seems to have no limitation.

Revised math: CEs cost $7.6 million each years based on current values.

Add to that about $20 million each for Land Use tax benefits and the revenue sharing arrangement with the City. That $47.6 that could be used for other things in the County.

The County takes care of the rich, famous, landed gentry first ($27.6 million), takes care of the City of Charlottesville ($20 million) and then lets the sheeple go wanting or raises taxes on them.

Albermarle County -- ain't it a wonderful place to get h0sed?

"In 2002, by letting the Nature Conservancy take charge of 9,250 acres adjacent to its new planned community at the Homestead, Celebration Associates reaped over $6 million."

Even the link that the hook provides shows that they have seriously omitted basic facts that in turn distort the truth. You fail to mention that Nature Conservancy actually raised money and purchased the 9250 acres to avoid the mountain looking like Wintergreen does now. That's right, purchased it. And, what was a private piece of land with no public access now has public access. Whatever deal the Homestead got with taxes wasn't associated with a land sale, it would have been with the easement. You are quick to throw conservation organizations under the bus to fit your personal agenda. This is pathetic journalism. There is no story, so the Hook fabricates one.

A point of clarification. People may quibble about the revenue-sharing agreement with the city, but it was a negotiated process that was open to public scrutiny. Not only that, but the county Board of Supervisors voted for it and so did the city council. And the agreement was subject to a referendum in the county and was supported by 60 percent of the vote.

Betty says that the county is a "wonderful place to get hosed."

Guess who is getting hosed the most? The landowner I cited previously who lives in a modest home on 1.84 acres and pays more than $65,000 per acre assessment on his land, nearly six times what owners of million-dollar homes pay for their 21-acre (and more) estates.

And county workers.

The Progress reports today on how the county had been purposefully cheating its bus drivers out of hourly pay they deserved. See: http://www2.dailyprogress.com/news/2011/mar/04/albemarle-bus-drivers-win...

Other employee lawsuits pend.

That extra money Betty cites could be used for a lot of things. So too at the state and national levels.

The state eliminated the estate tax, affecting only the wealthiest 1 percent of families and costing about $150 a year.

At the national level, conservatives are pushing for more corporate tax cuts and "incentives" and give-aways even while they cut Head Start funding, and Pell grants for poor students and aid to poor pregnant women, and the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health, and job training programs and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others. All this from the "family values" crowd.

And who do they blame for the economic and budget problems confronting states and the nation? Do they blame their own supply-side economic policies that brought on the big deficits and exploded the national debt and turned Wall Street into a taxpayer-subsidized casino and broke the economy?

No, they blame unions and teachers and the poor.

And they continue to raid the public treasuries.

oops....paragraph 8 (above) should read:

"The state eliminated the estate tax, affecting only the wealthiest 1 percent of families and costing about $150 MILLION a year."

@democracy -- "quibble" isn't appropriate. It is much too mild a reaction to BLACKMAIL and EXTORTION which is exactly what that agreement was the result of.

Sure it was approved by the sheeple, oops I must mean well-informed voters.

Truth is the sheeple were scared into it by the folks who love and benefit from CE and Land Use. The well-to-do wanted a nice downtown with all sorts of amenities to frequent when it suited them, but they didn't want to pay for it. Who better to stick with the bill than the sheeple?

Betty and others have highlighted the cost to county taxpayers of the local conservation easements, but I am continually amazed by those who believe in these conservation goals and still support a water plan that will kill 60,000 trees at Ragged Mt. and all the habitat of this beautiful Natural Area, so close to the City, and allow the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to fill with silt.

I have yet to understand their passion for preserving " clean air, clean water, and open space " and at the same time advocating for a far too costly plan, that will destroy an entire decades old forest, neglect large parts of the watershed, and may end up being the worst thing that ever happened to the Moorman's River, if in all likelihood; the connecting, costly, electricity driven uphill pipeline, between South Fork and Ragged Mt. Reservoirs- is never built.

@democracy: The incentive programs that we are all discussing here were established by the Democrats. The Dept of Historic Resources tends to be a liberal (read Democratic Party) bastion and the folks who run the Preservation establishments in this country (DHR, Outdoor Foundation, Nature Conservancy, National Trust etc) are liberal to ultra-liberal Democratic Party-style voters for the most part. I know. I have served with them, and have witnessed their good works. Please don't give the readers of this thread any notions that my screed on this issue is a conservative one. It is not. Conservatives are most often against the sale of easements for Historic or other land preservation reasons. Even though I am a known conservative, I am in support of the easement process, and have often had to endure the wrath of my fellow conservatives. It's a funny world out there, "democracy". You may disagree with my tenets, my conclusions, or my past works for conservative causes, but the tax incentives for these programs are liberal, Democratic Party member-authored and endorsed. Please don't let my conservative background cloud this issue. I am defending this liberal program and the majority that the program serves (those many many easement sellers who are NOT rich). BTW, even though I have restored a couple National Registry Properties, while I was owner, I never sold an easement to the DHR or other group. I have, however, encouraged many folks to do so in order that great historic properties and their fine farmlands are preserved. It's good for our society, it's good for tourism, it's good for our sense of history. Please do not make the mistake of thinking that only the wealthy own farms or historic houses or large tracts of land eligible for these programs. You can still buy country estates and small-city grand homes for the price of an upper middle-class home in Northern Virginia. A two-teacher family, or a newly retired couple can still qualify for a plantation in Buckingham County that needs a little TLC ("historic" farms were recently listed there for under $300K...there's one in Keswick right now for under $299K), and with some sweat equity, can be restored and receive landmark status and the land and house can be put under easement. The tax savings to these middle class to upper middle class folks makes the difference between whether they can manage the restoration project or not. Conservatives think that the restoration should not be financed by the government. Liberals think that, since a check isn't written by the government, but the program is financed through tax breaks, that this seems like a good use of public policy. I agree with the liberals. But like every government program and law, people will take advantage. I just thought that Hawes was being a little heavy-handed against the "programs" while pointing out the folks who took advantage of the programs. The programs work for the lower classes and the upper classes, as long as they own the property or the historic building. Last I looked, there were lands and buildings at all price levels in our Commonwealth. So the incentives can be accessed by all "landowners." My apologies to those who do not own real estate.

Dear Mr. Byrd,

I also appreciate your support of dredging as the most sensible, sustainable, and cost effective way to supply an abundant water supply for our community for decades to come, and with new water saving technologies on the horizon will, in all likelihood, make a new dam completely unnecessary for the next 50 years or beyond. Your comments on the Coy Barefoot show highlighted your expertise and wisdom in this matter. I wish more people were listening to you. You are a true conservationist ! Thank you

" Democracy" must have been bitten by the famous presumed rabid UVA fox( an innocent fox was sacrificed for show by the way) for so much liberal foaming at the mouth. Mr. Byrd makes the case for these programs very clear. If you know your history many of the problems currently affecting the economy are democrat in origin such as Barney Frank's role in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to mention one. So many here have tunnel vision and believe Albemarle county is the only county in Virginia. In fact, Albemarle county is an aberration from the norm. Democracy would rather have a system like pre-revolution Russia or France where hard work got you no where and the ruling class owned all the land and still taxed the people to death. The fact is that Albemarle county compared to adjacent counties has made it more and more difficult for a landowner to develop their land or even give a develpment lot to their children by increasing the time required to hold such a lot prior to transfer and instituting stringent critical slopes and stream buffer and setback requirements. It has become a " taking" of one's land and property rights. We can thank Thomas, Slutzky, Malleck and Dorrier for much of this. Thank goodness 2 are gone and with luck the others will fall soon. After having been taxed at the state and federal level for my entire working life not to mention all the sales taxes, gas taxes, tourism taxes etc. that can add up to near 50% of ones income, Democracy would still like you to give 55% of what is left for an estate tax. He probably is in favor of getting rid of the 1M exclusion which won't go far in retirement with predictions that many will live into their 90s. Do away with the mortgage deduction too huh democracy? Democracy is confident that social security and medicare will supply all your needs in retirement. I propose a grass roots referendum for a cap on the amount property taxes can be increased year to year and a homestead exemption for the primary residence. Let Democracy rent and send his taxes to Washington to be wasted by whatever party is in power.

Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, or Independent, one thing we should all be able to agree on is- our money should be spent wisely by our elected officials. We should not allow those in power to game the system for their own advantage, or for any special interests groups. We should consider the public good when spending the public's money.

Democracy said:
Guess who is getting hosed the most? The landowner I cited previously who lives in a modest home on 1.84 acres and pays more than $65,000 per acre assessment on his land, nearly six times what owners of million-dollar homes pay for their 21-acre (and more) estates.

I say:

Democracy LIES.

All "HOMES" on farms in land use are valued at FULL VALUE with the surrounding acre of land ,and they must pay the FULL TAX RATE on that portion of the property and House. The LAND ONLY that is used for VERY SPECIFIC agricultural purposes is given a tax break.

You people who want to end this tax break will see a huge tax increase if it happens. Because it will be YOU who has to pay for the 15 million dollar elementary school and the new roads, the new firetruck and the police officers that will all be nessasary as farmers chop off lots to pay their tax bills. (or sell the entire farm.)

If a developer wants a zoning change the county can make them pay for the roads and such. If there is no zoning change required then the county simply needs to pay with YOUR tax dollars.

If you want to discuss who is getting "hosed" it is the person with a 2 acre COMMERCIAL lot assesed at 1 million dollars and who pays 7500 bucks a year for 20 years waiting for the right time to develop it. Then when they go to develop it they get get SLAMMED by the county every step of the way and are expected to pay for everything even though they have already paid 150k in property taxes to let the property just sit there.

Anyone living in the County with kids in the public schools that owns less than a 1.5 million dollar home is costing the rest of us money. Your tax bill doesn't cover your own kid, much less your share of the roads, parks, police ,fire ,and library.

Those big mansions you seem to hate subsidize the rest of us. Imagine how much the shortfall would be if we burned them down and installed mobile homes on those lots.

I can't understand all this carrying on about individuals with children on small lots costing more. The county has the comprehensive plan and zoning code to control where there will be dense urban development requiring more services, and where there will be rural land. If the county wants they can control the number of houses and therefore people wherever they want simply by using their comprehensive plan, but that takes courage to do so on the part of elected officials. There is no need to grant tax breaks for large tracks of land in order to keep it rural.

Ann, Every property has division rights that are anywhere from "none" to hundreds, depending on the original grants from hundreds of years ago. The county CANNOT size a division right anymore than the can seize your car or wallet.

The zoning board can create urban zones where it allows INCREASED division rights, often done to create less sprawl. Usually the developer pays "proffers" to make this happen. (it used to be people on zoning boards (not HERE of course) just took bribes, now they get pet projects paid for instead like donations for parks or playgrounds or low income housing.

They do not have the "right" to zone away someones division rights which is why it was decided (statewide) to offer large landowners a tax break not to use these rights and possibly bankrupt a county. It is not as bad an idea as people make it out to be. And contrary to people beliefs most of the land in land use is used and not all that profitable. If a farmer has 50 acres for cattle and keeps a constant group of 40 head producingfcalves. He may sell 50 head a year at a profit after everything BUT the land of $500 dollars a piece. or 25K for a years worth of work. But if he has a 250k mortgage on the land at 7% (land is a higher rate) he will be paying almost 25k a year in mortgage payments. Many people who own land rent it very cheap to obtain the land use exemption and if they lost it they would raise the rent or go ahead and manicure the whole thing and there would be a land shortage for farmers.

So much for the landed gentry....

Bill, your description of rural zoning doesn't make any sense, because the county already regulates how many dwellings per acre are in certain areas and allows greater density in the growth areas. They can also require certain environmental goals are met, such as not building on steep slopes or crossing streams with roads to limit development in environmentally sensitive areas. If they wanted to they could limit growth even more in these areas using the comprehensive plan and zoning restrictions. They have the governmental tools to do this without paying people outright via tax credits.
Perhaps we need to see an article by the Hook showing how zoning works to preserve rural areas I don't think I can convince you.

The problem is often the elected officials are unwilling to enforce these restrictions if they are pressured by the landholder.
They seem more willing to hand out tax write-offs and make those without land carry the water.

The county can also buy land outright for parks that are then open to the public, perhaps that would be a better use of all this money they are giving away to wealthy landowners . Twenty million, as calculated by another poster, per year could be accumulated to purchase a lot of public land for public use.

There is no doubt that some farmers need to be taxed differently, but I am unconvinced that megamansions on 5 or 21 acres with a few cows or horses, constitutes a farm or agricultural operation.

bill marshall:

Re proffers, it should be noted that none other than Charlie Armstrong -- Southern Development's vice-president and Charlottesville City Council's very, very, very good friend -- agrees with you. Posting on a General Assembly-watch blog, Richmond Sunlight, he wrote:

"The current proffer system is little more than legalized bribery."

And who would know better?

Ann
If a property has ten division rights the county CANNOT take them away either through zoning or restrictions. If they want to "eminant domain" them they can so long as the pay...

You are advocating that the government take money out of a persons pocket to protect your vision of the county. If one 100 acre tract has no division rights and another next door has 20 the one with 20 is worth at least twice as much per acre. If society wants them they need to pay. If the county wants your house and the one next door to build a school, and your house is worth twice as much should you not be compensated accordingly?

The regulations that they put into place are only legal so long as they are reasonable and have the goal of protecting the watertable etc. If they are there to manipulate and take away someones legal rights they will lose in court every time.

from the county website:
•To qualify for agricultural or horticultural use, the applicant shall certify that the real estate is being used in a planned program of management, production, and sale of field crops, livestock, livestock products, poultry, poultry products, dairy, dairy products, aquacultural products, or horticultural products.

•If qualifying under livestock classifications, the minimum stocking requirements are: one cow, one horse, five sheep, five swine, one hundred chickens, and/or sixty-six turkeys per every five acres for twelve months.

•Horses can qualify the land only if they are being used for a breeding or boarding business. Horses maintained exclusively for recreational purposes do not qualify the land.

•Horticultural crops must be produced for commercial use to qualify for land use taxation.

•Gross sales must average more than $1000 annually over the previous three years.

here is the link: http://www.albemarle.org/department.asp?department=finance&relpage=3309

The County looked the other way for over 35 years on Land Use since they did not require revalidation. The cursory review parcels received from the assessors was a joke. The whole County is a joke on the sheeple who put up with this shenanigans.

The rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the newbies get hosed. That's the Albemarle County formula.

Randolph Byrd attempts again to conflate historic preservation tax credits with conservation easements and land use tax subsidies. Like oil and water, they are not an easy mix. Astoundingly, he makes the claim that these programs work equally well "for the lower classes and the upper classes" alike. But we know who really benefits the most, don't we Randolph? This comes from a proponent of Americans for Prosperity, a perversely-named organization financed in large part by the reactionary, billionaire Koch brothers, who are interested primarily in promoting their own prosperity.

County Farmer makes the same old discredited argument that the economic meltdown was fomented by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac when every study of the collapse finds the opposite (Interestingly, one nut-job at the conservative American Enterprise Institute blamed Fannie and Freddie BEFORE the crisis for failing "to lead the private market" and AFTER the crash he blamed them for causing it). So he's either quite ignorant (a possibility) or he is deliberately spreading the conservative propaganda (more likely). Could be both. Contrary to County Farmer's claim and contrary to his own ideology, I want an American of opportunity and fairness where hard work and honesty are rewarded and valued. He wants one of elitism and privilege. County Farmer again cites the canard that he is overtaxed, yet of all the developed nations the U.S. has one of the lowest overall tax rates (and it's nowhere near what he says). Of the fifty states, Virginia's tax burden is in the bottom ten. And no locality in Virginia that is as affluent as Albemarle County has a lower real estate tax rate (nor does any use the land use tax subsidy as much). County Farmer could care less about facts or about anybody else, as long as they subsidize him. Don't you call that "socialism" if it's for the little guy, Farmer?n

And Bill Marshall....poor Bill Marshall. He cannot offer any substantive comment so he resorts to name-calling and fabrication (Bill, do you admire Michele Bachmann?). Marshall refuses to acknowledge that the land use tax subsidy costs all other county residents more in real estate taxes. And he seems to resent the cost of public education, even though it is an investment in everybody's future. American leaders like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann and other early advocates for public schools agreed that democratic citizenship was a primary function of education. Indeed, the Founders, from northern states and southern ones, from both Federalist and Anti-Federalist parties, were as one in perceiving public education’s role in promoting the values and principles of republican democracy, including freedom, equality, justice and the public good.

I agree with them. Apparently Bill Marshall and County Farmer (and others) do not.

Since The Hook seems to believe in transparency will they report what the Editor's step mother took as a tax deduction when she donated a conservation easement on her property?

Bill,

As someone with a REAL farming background, Albemarle County's requirements are a joke, and only prove Anne's point. Yeah, one cow per 5 acres. Said cow is bred once a year. Gotcha. McMansion on 5 Acres. One cow. Right.

And then the County wonders why it can't get enough tax revenue, and wants to make the City pay for their growth.

Fluvanna county just spent 67 MILLION dollars on a high school. So if we curb the land use benefit and consequently enough houses are built to warrant a new high school then who do you think is going to pay that bill?. Remember you would have already taken away the land use .. so where you gonna get the money to pay for what ending the land use brought about? Remember also that you already have fantasies of where you would spend the money... giving a better wage to government workers and welfare housing.

Your math does not work. Ther land use math does. If you drive up the cost of farmland (which is already twice as high as most of the surrounding counties) and then mess with the land use you will see flight to lower priced land. It is no different than busineses leaving California because the cost of business is less expensive elswhere.

The flight will make land more affordable as prices drop, of course so they will need to jack up the tax rate on EVERYBODY to make up the shortfall.

An acre of farmland costs almost nothing in the way of services other than fire protection and police protection from trespassers. The land use is a fair way of taxing the land.

Also if you end it and the population expodes as people sell off their will be a real need to reevaluate the water supply issues... and not in an inexpensive way.

The economic meltdown was brought about by people buying more than they could afford and choking on the bill. The people that lent the money should have been the ones to lose but were not. That is too bad. I would love to see a perp walk at Goldman Sachs.

To say that government regulators do not have any responsibility would be the same as letting the Police off the hook for not catching speeders when they are assigned to speed trap duty.

Contact: kc4ag@cuccinelli.com, mike@cuccinelli.com
at the Attorney General's Office and tell them to investigate and stop the fraud upon the taxpayer. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation are essentially clients of the AG;s Office. Mr. Cuccinelli needs to appoint an outside investigator. These guys do as much, if not more, damage to the public purse and to actually farming as the PEC. I have a 35 acre goat farm in Loudoun County and have been devastated by the bag of dirty tricks they use to break a real farmer and force them into selling their property for pennies on a dollar (to one of their wealthy friends).

I am interested in your comment Judy, could you go into more detail about what happened to you ?

News: Rich get richer.

BEWARE OF THE WOLF AT YOUR DOOR: The Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) aka Conservation Extremism BARBARIANS

The only thing I am aware the PEC has done is dirty the preservation movement and placed a black cloud over land they touched as a result. There are far too many problematic aspects of conservation easements including the requirements that the easement be held in perpetuity in order for the grantor to receive federal tax benefits - another land grab scam that must be placed back on the "IRS Watch List". Such restrictions have ecological and economic implications to the public interest – the fake intended beneficiary of conservation easements – that extend far into the future. Furthermore, it is not fully clear how future courts will rule on the “dead-hand” control over private property that is driving the small family farm in to extinction and costing the American tax dollars millions to support.

It is well established that inevitable changes in science and nature will deem perpetual easements useless and harmful. As numerous legal scholars and policy experts have confirmed, conservation easements that bind landowners and their descendants in perpetuity ultimately become antiquated and, therefore, useless and even harmful, fails to define scenic, aesthetic and cultural change over time, and that the easement may eventually lose any ecological benefit or even become a detriment as it is already proving NOW!

Most legal experts agree that conservation easements, perpetual or time-limited, are not even recognized under common law. Conservation easements are called “negative servitudes” in legal terminology, referring to the fact the easement holder is preventing the landowner from taking action on his own property – i.e., building or developing. By contrast, an “affirmative servitude,” or non-conservation easement, enables the landowner to make active use of his land. Common law, which favors use of one’s land rather than restrictions, traditionally recognizes only three types of negative servitudes, none of which include those for conservation purposes.

Shockingly, the PEC is continuing to violate land rights under the alleged veil of a conservation easement that is widely agreed will never survive upon greater judicial review. These are all significant issues that must be given microscopic consideration.

Joel Salatin is a highly regarded respected farmer and here is his article and the plight many have suffered at the dead cold hands of conservation easements. This article has indeed heated great debate and investigation across the nation and globe:

http://flavormagazinevirginia.com/conservation-easements/

Farms also need to worry about the EPA Chesapeake Bay regs that are kicking in each year until 2025. They are taking away grazing land by requiring fencing to be 100 feet away from any stream. These rules technically apply to even "intermettent" streams (ones that flow in the rain) and under the law as writen, anyone with one in their backyasrd or nearby will not be allowed to create an "impervious" (cement, flagstone, asphalt) surface on their property without an envrionmentasl impact study. This means no more patios or sidealks, widening or paving of driveways. No more home additions etc. The government has officially run amok.

http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/chesapeake_bay_local_assistance/theact.shtml

Deleted by moderator.

Thank you Jane. I would ask that the same transparency highlighted in this article, concerning the operation of the Piedmont Environmental Council, also apply to the Nature Conservancy, which also operates under a veil of secrecy. If what these organizations are doing is so wonderful for the environment, then they have nothing to hide, and should be willing to make their finances public.

Until they do this we should all refuse to contribute.

NancyDrew - The finances of 501(c)(3) organizations are public. If the tax filings (IRS Form 990) is not on Guidestar (and I know it is for PEC and TNC), then you have the right to request a copy from the IRS itself.

Are the list of donors to these organizations and the amount they gave public as well ? Just as we must know who has contributed to political campaigns to understand the influences, we must also know who is contributing to these organizations to gain influence as well.

Yes Bill Marshall and the farmer is suffers again - the same farmers that are supposed to be benefiting from all of this agriculture preservation garbage brainwashing! The Ruse of Buy Fresh Buy Local dances around while local farming is given a silent death sentence. The PEC (allegedly protecting your local farmer) was given a $75,000 grant as well from the Chesapeake Bay Program "to install livestock-exclusion fencing and forest buffers" specifically on farmer's land and is currently engaging in activism in support of the regs. Where is the complete accounting of all money given in any form to these extremist conservation groups and a complete accounting of where that $75,000 went? I want to see pictures of those farms. Groups like the PEC should be required to pay for the new proposed required "environmental impact studies" (from some of the millions of dollars they milk from our taxes and donations). After all they are pushing this requirement before I can even widen my sidewalk for my handicapped child. Lets start issuing FOIA requests all over the place and get answers. Perhaps the Hook could investigate further - clearly we have just scratched the surface. Get out your shovels and start building like crazy now because if the Barbarians have it thier way, only members of "the club" will be able to build swing sets for their kids while the commoners have to get on knees and beg (or in Piedmontdom paying off a knoble with a "donation" may suffice) This sounds like another land grab! Watch out for the WOLF Knocking at your Door! Thank you to the Hook for opening up these discussions. Hopefully this will bring an end to the contamination of our freedoms by environmental barbarian extremists polluting our liberties.

Would someone please investigate whether the Nature Conservancy and PEC are financially benefiting from contributions from wealthy people along the Moorman's River to take over the Charlottesville /Albemarle Water Supply Plan -likely to cost citizens of this community over $200 million or more with debt and interest payments.

Tax payers who pay water rates should be outraged at this misuse of a conservation agenda to kidnap a public works project for which these organizations will pay nothing. Another giveaway of tax payer money.

And exactly what are PEC and TNC trying to accomplish with their Moorman's River agenda. I have heard Trout Unlimited , which stocks this river with fish and wants unlimited water for their private endeavor is involved in this. By the way don't try to fish on the Moorman's River, it's private, unless you buy a license from Trout Unlimited. So much for tax payer dollars going for public access.

Thank you Judy. I too had the exact same experience. My family was abused and harassed as a way to force us off of our land because we refused to buy in to the "NIMBY" conservation easement brainwashing. We refused to be driven off the land and uncovered a very disturbing dark side of groups like the PEC.

Judy is absolutely correct - IT IS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY. Judy did not pay off the VOF or the PEC or whomever the easement holder was enough money in some way - either the VOF/PEC/etc. did not believe they received enough $$$ for the land (This was communicated to me too many times about my land) or Judy was using the land in a way they did not approve/did not believe was appealing (the "NIMBY" approach). Even vineyards can be viewed as appauling and this is farming in Virginia! Look at the poor Marterrella vineyard in Warrenton. They are still in litigation because one of the PEC barbarian's is on the HOA committee that is forcing the Marterella vineyard to shut down. BOW in Delaplane is constantly under the microscope. Why? Because they don't like the vineyard traffic. Farmers have to make money. How do they make money? Often times it is by having people come to the farm to buy what they produce. The PEC doesn't like Chrysalis vineyard wanting to expand in Middleburg. Whenever a land starts producing money and the PEC believes they are not getting a piece of the money - WATCH OUT! But then, there are other examples when the PEC looks the other way and ignores and that is when an "exception" is made $$$$$$ - like certain vineyards that are in "the club".

I encourage everyone to document everything and to keep meticulous records of every interaction, communication and exchange. Groups like the PEC organize neighbors, local government officials, zoning and any body to achieve objectives - these individuals are all acting as "agents" for them and it is critical to maintain flawless records. The wrongful acts of these "agents" become linked to and act as the same as if the PEC performed these acts because they are acting in harmony. This is what activists do - they create a sense of urgency and crazed excitement to achieve an objective. PEC attacks the farm owner/vineyard owner/historic property owner and tears them down as a way to achieve and win over popular opinion and have made the mistake of making these actions widely known.

I agree with Judy and encourage everyone to demand an investigation and send an email today: "Jill Holtzman Vogel" , triciastiles@senate27.com, kc4ag@cuccinelli.com, mike@cuccinelli.com

Understand that demands for investigation may be ignored as Judy mentioned these groups have long fingers but there are many ways to put a stop to the chaos and bring peace back to Virginia and they are coming very soon to a Movie Theatre near you.

We need local journalists to investigate PEC and TNC and their practices in our community . Who are they working for ? Our local newspaper the Daily Progress is now aligned with Charlottesville Tomorrow and we no longer get objective reporting on some issues.

Charlottesville Tomorrow's board is made up of Nature Conservancy board members and donors, and is not an objective news organization on issues of interest to the Nature Conservancy. CT is acting as lobbyists for Nature Conservancy pet projects, such as the local water supply plan, and not giving the public watchdog reporting of these conservation groups.

We need other news organizations to investigate what these organizations motives truly are.

Judy, you forgot one good direct e-mail address ---
jh@holtzmanlaw.net --- Contact Senator Holtzman directly and ask her to repair the public purse. triciastiles@senate27.com, kc4ag@cuccinelli.com, mike@cuccinelli.com, jh@holtzmanlaw.net . She did sit in the board for VOF and has restitution. Her Upperville property is under easement. Holtzman oil in case you do not know.

FOLLOW THE MONEY and see whose sleeping with the extremist environmentalist Barbarians! WATCH OUT!

The "COOPERATION AGREEMENT between Fauquier County and PEC (because PEC is not an approved easement holder alone so they have to piggy back on approved holders like VOF or your local county": The contribution of the Piedmont Environmental Council is to be $147,500 and Fauquier County contribution is to be $427,500 to STILL WATER FARMS"

www.fauquiercounty.gov/government/departments/.../PEC_att1_agrmt.pdf

Notice the gross disparity in money actually contributed to this farm above. We need to see every dime TNC and PEC receives from any source and then where these barbarian extremist activists really spend it -- because they are spending millions on legal fees/LITIGATION and President and Directors salaries of over $200,000 per year all paid for by our taxes, grants, members of "the club".

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Here's some more brainwash chantings from the extrimist Barbarian Activists:

Taken directly from PEC's materials, their mission is to protect "rural economy, natural resources, history and beauty". THIS MAKES ME SICK! I can not believe this garbage that we have all be spoon fed so that millions of dollars get pumped in to extremists agenda and yes TNC and PEC act in "harmony" on issues regularly.

The PEC gets to determine what is "beautiful" with my money? This is an insult to all Virginians. Who is to say what is beautiful and what beautiful will be 50, 100 or 200 or even 10 years from now as technology and science provides humanity with new innovations, cures for cancer, etc. Our natural resources may change and we may discover new resources that are vital to our ability to survive but because of thes harmful easements had never been realized!

THE CONCEPT of conservation easements is repulsive and will be nonexistent as the many scholars have proven - they will never stand the test of time - NEVER.

If this all supposed to be for the "public interest", then REQUIRE a listing of all properties in "conservation easement" available on line with a picture of the property, address, a copy of the easement, the amount of money given and any consideration whatsoever tax credits, etc., amount of appraisal, county assessed value (this is a game too - look at the amount of money your county assessment gives an easement land and do some comparisons) and then look at what the property owner actually gave up on that land for "preservation" purposes. The identity of the land owner, the identity of the appraiser, etc. all must be disclosed. This should go back 10 years. The barbarians will never agree to this because Virginians will demand justice! Publications like FORBES magazine have published articles on how "get rich" from conservation easements! WAKE UP!

Can't change the damage done by secretive conservation follies or return the millions of dollars ripped from the mouths of our children, our families and our communities but we can demand ethical and transparent accountability.

According to PEC, they target the following counties: Albemarle, Clarke, Culpeper, Fauquier, Greene, Loudoun, Madison, Orange and Rappahannock counties.

@Betty: Thank you for your kind words re: dredging. No matter the City/County compromise on the water issue, I still stand firm that dredging is the way to go. It's the lowest tech and has the lowest environmental impact at the lowest cost. BTW, we could have dredged by now with all the money we spent on "studies".

Virginia Outdoors Foundation has reported that a number of their easement donors have been audited by the IRS and they too feed appraisers that will go high. Below, is an excerpt from the VOF minutes:

"Ms. Imhoff asked for Mr. Lee to address the presence of the Internal Revenue Service in Virginia . Mr. Lee reported that the I.R.S. has asked its field staff to look at charitable contributions when they are a part of a routine audit. He said that VOF offices are beginning to hear from donors that they are undergoing an audit and that they may need help with information pertaining to their conservation easement donations. He said that he does not believe that Virginia is being specifically targeted by the I.R.S. but with the number of easements VOF is taking, the odds increase that VOF donors will be audited. Mr. Hartz asked how this would impact the work load of VOF offices. Mr. Lee asked Leslie Grayson to relate her experience with this type of request. Ms. Grayson said that she had received several calls from landowners saying that they are being audited and have received a list of 52 questions that they need to answer. They then request VOF's assistance in answering those questions and/or providing information from the VOF files. Mr. Hartz expressed the concern that these requests will take staff away from the primary mission of conserving open space land."

Harvesting millions of dollars paying inflated easement steward salaries, inflated property evaluations, funny money tax dollars, frivolous litigation, forcing farmers to extinction, the rich get richer, lawyers, lobbysts, politican donations...an embarrasment and devastation of unsurpassed proportions.

Our children pay the price for generations to come.

Tragedy falls upon Virginia by the dead hand of conservation easements.

Balance Sheets. The older I get the more I despise them. "I think this is worth or will-be-worth $X." Guesswork! We don't even make the best guess possible any more.

Nothing is worth anything until it sells for one price or another. It isn't even worth what you paid for it, though that remains the best guess for the future. But property taxes aren't based on what was paid: they're based on what the assessor thinks someone might pay now --- if it sold. My new neighbor bought their house last May; by November their house was magically assessed at $40,000 more than they paid for it. That's what they are paying property taxes on: the assessor's guess.

It really is no wonder that in the face of such rampant unfairness, people look for an alternative: and we have it here in easements and land use and tax credits. They're all of a piece.

What if --- gasp --- localities assessed properties at their last on-the-record, paid-for value (and include refinances in that, please: they mean the property-owner agrees that the value now is more than it was then). What if?

Well, real family farms --- you know, the ones passed on from generation to generation, would pay less property tax and McMansions, etc, would pay more.

Maybe we should try that simpler taxation experiment: valuing things only when they either change hands or are, by owner agreement with a refinance or new mortgage, acknowledged to be worth more now than they were before.

We're on aggregate a far more mobile society than we used to be. Most properties would continue to turn over. At the moment, we have an alarming number of people declining promotion that involves relocation because they can't sell their homes. We could set our society free again if localities simply valued property at the last, verifiable point of value: the most recent sale, rather than engaged in the balance sheet speculation of what-I-think-it's-worth-today speculation of the assessor's office.

Plus, less need for assessors, which would be a savings.

Deleted by moderator.

This attack on land conservation, TNC, and PEC is misdirected. Clearly someone has an ax to grind. Biscuit Run was a raw deal for tax payers, and there may be a handful of exaggerated appraisals, but the vast majority of Virginia conservation easements are a net benefit to Virginia residents (clean air, clean water...ask parts of New Jersey what they would pay for it).

Personally, I trust the PEC. In fact, I've been to the office at 410 E. Water St. in Charlottesville and met the staff. If you want to find out more about the organization, I encourage you to stop in and meet Jeff and Rex. I'm a little surprised that Mr. Spencer didn't go by the office (easy walking distance from Hookville) while writing an article about conservation easements.

Lastly, you can pretty easily get a list of their donors/members, if you go and ask for a copy of PEC's annual report (FREE! ...no membership/fee required). The annual report contains a detailed list of how their funds are used and a long list of supporters.

PEC and TNC's supporters hardly need to lend their names, very publicly, to some tax scam.

PEC runs the County? I wish. From what I've heard and seen, Wendell Wood and Dr. Hurt run the County.

If only more support were given to protecting what's left of Albemarle, we might not have to sit in so much traffic, and pay such high tax rates for the suburban services rural residents now expect.

Deleted by moderator.

I support Virginia's ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY for conservation easement abuse!

If VIRGINIA had a ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY for these conservation extremists groups like TNC and radical activists like the Piedmont Environmental Council, Biscuit Run would never have happened, nor would all of the other unethical pratices to the toon of more than $1.13 BILLION dollars. BILLION.

This bill must be passed and now. How many more Biscuit Runs have to happen?

DEMAND ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY for Conservation easement holders! If PEC & TNC have nothing to hide, they should fully endorse the ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY:

- RETROACTIVE for 10 years
- 1st Abusive practice - revoke 501(c)3 status, repay Virginia tax payors every dollar received in government funding, prison (this is a fraud on Virginians a theft) for BOD, directors and officers
- complete transparency
- monthy inspection of accounting records, books, accounts receivables, p&l statements and all financial documents.
- open board meetings to the Public since all of the billions is supposed to be for the public good.
- the list is long but this is a good start.

ZERO TOLERANCE = ETHICAL LAND TRUSTS

All of this anti-wealth sentiment expressed here is ridiculous. Do you think this sytem was set up to help the poor? We do not nblame the poor for taking what is given to them so why blame wealthy people for taking what is given to them? After all, they are losing money when they sell the property if they have easements. What I find reprehensible are those politicians who have promised to serve the public, instead, become involved knee deep with special interests and start turning over assets such as water facilities and land over to those interests. Too bad all of these stories/testimonies were not brought forth when our water supply was placed under the influence of PEC and TNC a few years ago.

Wow...chickens got her pants in a knot. Easy with the screaming and yelling posts. Kind of sounds like you have some sort of personal issue with these organizations.

I Support Virginia's Zero Tolerance Policy Law for abusive conservation easement practices

Yes, Biscuit Run forever taints Virginia. It is a moral offense to society and exposes conservation easement hypocrisy, greed and is a disgrace upon Virginians.

I have no axe to grind and was a supporter of TNC & PEC but this scandal forever calls in to question conservation land trust agendas and money distribution. I still believe in preservation but I don't trust billions of dollars of Virginian's money to any land trust now - and I never will. Virginian's would have never known if it wasn't for an honest soul that leaked it to the media. Even now as usual TNC/PECers attack the messenger and start wanting to blame the Hook.

There must be a Zero Tolerance Policy Law in Virginia. It is the only way to regain trust and honor that has been so severely damaged.

This is a ponzi scheme of epic proportions - Maddoff would be proud!

Before the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, we had Enron.

Before The Virginia Zero Tolerance Act for Conservation Easement abuse, there was Biscuit Run.

In Enron, fat cats were defrauding Americans of billions of dollars until SEC investigation (thanks to a whistle blower) resulsted in Shareholders losing nearly $11 billion, Enron execs went to prison, employees lost billions in pension and retirement and together with Arthur Anderson believed to be the greatest fraud on Americans in History. SarbanesOx made accountability and unbias mandatory and solitified repercussions sending a chill across the nation.

In Virginia, over $1.3 billion on conservation easements, Albermarle county alone pays over $17.4 million in one year plus over the top tax deductions based on inflated appraisals forcing the state to reduce money to the schools by over $30 million. In Biscuit Run alsone, The Virginia Department of Taxation issued $11 million more in conservation tax credits on top of $9.8 million based on a bogus appraisal alleging the property doubled in value from $46.2 million to $87.7 million - all under the veil of secrecy and on the already burdened backs of Virginians while the fat cats get richer on conservation easements. Virginians would never have known if it wasn't leaked. The list of examples goes on and on.

Madoff is proud. The Virginia Zero Tolerance Act must be passed to prevent this disgrace from ever happening again.

Clearly the majority of posters here value clean water, air and open space. But open space that is not open to the public is another question, and if in fact the wealthy are gaming the system for their own advantage that is the abuse that must be corrected. I would hope that PEC and TNC, if they are ethical, would welcome reform of these tax breaks to make sure they are being fairly distributed. Donations that support these organizations clearly come from those who benefit, so reform will need to be championed by elected officials.

Contact your elected representatives and vote for those who are not in the pocket of special interests either PEC, TNC, or organizations that represent developers.

Just another push towards the "class" wars....sigh.

Bill Marshall is wrong on downzoning, in fact when the growth areas were created there was a sulmultanious downzoning of the rural areas (but not by enough). Also, development "rights" are hypothetical not actual. They don't become actual until the property has been evaluated in accordance with local ordinances like stream buffers and critical slopes. While Bill may *want* the laws to work the way he describes, they certainly don't.

Futhermore, there *is* rampant abuse of land use valuation. Just look up at Carter's Mountain at Wendell Wood's property. No one in their right mind would call Wendell Wood a "farmer", and yet he paid almost nothing for years on the same parcel he cleared to build his uber-mansion. All you need to do is look at the county GIS to validate this simple truth.

Also, the "cows don't go to school" argument falls flat when you realize that land-use properties are not protected forever, meaning that someday without an easement it WILL become a subdivision with kids who need to go to school, drink water, etc. When those new roads, schools and reserviors are built, inflation will mean we'll have to pay far more for them than if they were built now. Holding off development a few years doesn't pan out financially. Plus...you may be surprised to know that you can be IN THE GROWTH AREA, and qualify for land use. Yes, that's right... properties destined for development under the comprehensive plan are still getting the tax break, including Wood's properties, and the Breeden properties before that.

I say these things as someone who supports land use taxation, and feels these abuses are a threat to the programs. I just think land use should only apply to legitimate farmers in the rural area, not a "forester" LLC or a hay-making speculator, and it definitely shouldn't apply in the growth area. After all, real estate agents in the area are well known for selling land-use as an amenity, meaning that the sum affect is to raise property values so high that real farmers cannot afford to purchase land.

Development rights do not vest until you act upon an affirmative government approval per the VA Code: "a landowner's rights shall be deemed vested in a land use and such vesting shall not be affected by a subsequent amendment to a zoning ordinance when the landowner (i) obtains or is the beneficiary of a significant affirmative governmental act which remains in effect allowing development of a specific project, (ii) relies in good faith on the significant affirmative governmental act, and (iii) incurs extensive obligations or substantial expenses in diligent pursuit of the specific project in reliance on the significant affirmative governmental act". This is why the PEC and the Department of Historic Resources actively seek to cause ordinance overlays that will restrict your use without you knowing it. They often push these designations as "honorary", for example the Journey Through Hallowed Ground, then comes the burdensome and restrictive ordinance via the back door.

Zero Tolerance Legislation for Conservation Easements is the only answer. One of the requirements rquiring full notice directly to property owners of all land trust/preservation organization involvement from groups like TNC and PEC or others as well as punishment and restitution for wrongful acts.

I question the agenda of any that oppose Virginia's new Zero Tolerance Law for Conservation Easement Abuse.

I fully support Zero Tolerance Act

How far will PEC go?

PEC with Biscuit Run Developers jet around on Cessna back in 2007 Public Relation's firm On Board

http://www.cvilletomorrow.org/docs/20070522-Meadowmont.pdf

In 2007, PEC Board Member Vanderwarker filled a Cessna Citation III jet with Charlottesville-Albemarle delegation including Mr. Vanderwarker, Biscuit Run developer Hunter Craig, Albemarle County Supervisors Lindsay Dorrier and Sally Thomas, City Planning Commissioner Michael Osteen, PEC Field Officer Jeff Werner, and Susan Payne with Payne Ross (the public relations firm representing Biscuit Run). Charlottesville Tomorrow was invited to report on the trip. Vanderwarker is also on the Board of Directors of Charlottesville Tomorrow.

The objective was to bring home good ideas for Biscuit Run and other area developments. "With respect to the Biscuit Run development", Vanderwarker PEC Board Member said, “Hunter [Biscuit Run Developer] engaged us a couple months ago and asked for our point of view and perspective. We have been talking ever since.”

$87 million dollar appraisal on the same property VA Tax Dept appraised at $12 million only to have it kicked back to them to get bumped up to around $39 million ultimately Biscuit Run cost Virginia tax payers around $21 million and with PEC on the Biscuit Run "management team" millions upon millions are propsed on developing it as a park.

and Virginians get $30 million less for our schools so PEC can fill Cessna Citation III jets to fly over a few miles of land with developers and public relations firms.

Zero Tolerance = No more hands in the cookie jar

Nancy Drew wrote:

"...vote for those who are not in the pocket of special interests either PEC, TNC, or organizations that represent developers."

I agree with you 110%, but who would (or will) those candidates be and whats to keep them from lying or voting the other way once in office?

Oh, no one has ever done that before !

The cynical remarks are not directed at you Nancy, but at the system.

Thank you Lonnie, I agree with you completely , the Wendell Wood's of Albemarle County are laughing all the way to the bank with their tax breaks while Peter pays the piper.

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I believe in conservation and preservation, but the current system is failing Virginia to the tune of billions of dollars.

Biscuit Run is not the first questionable conservation eaement. There must also be individual state committees (The Virginia Conservation Oversight Committee to prevent conservation easement abuse and to guarantee ethical practices for example) specifically dedicated to policying conservation organizations made up of IRS, SEC and non-conservation easement activists that do quarterly reviews of each of state's land trust activity to prevent this type of abuse.

Strict monitoring enforcement of conservation land trusts must be implemented. It should not be funded by land trusts to avoid perpetuating the conflict of interest dilemna that has got us in to this mess. On a national level, each state's policying committee could meet annually to review progress and guarantee the powers given to parcel out billions of dollars is done ethically.

The Land Trust Alliance did establish the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, however, conflict of interest has been called in to question by its very infrastructure making the accrediation virtually meaningless. For example, PEC Director became a Commissioner of the LTAC and shortly thereafter PEC received accreditation. On the surface this does not look good, but LTAC does have strong practices like requiring that accredited groups not lobby for politicans, etc. Of the over 1700 conservation land trusts that could put commissioners with LTAC, only after PEC's director becomes a commissioner they receive accrediation. This is not intended as a negative reflection on PEC or any land trust, rather an indication that an oversight committee must be established.

LTAC does have practices that the conservation groups must maintain and continue to follow that are sound, however, given the inherent risk for conflict of interest this is a perfect example of why a true neutral government oversight committee is needed and this is by far a better use of our money than lining the pockets of the rich with questionable appraisals yielding millions in cash and Virginia tax credits that have no cap (unlike most states).

Here is a strategy Mr. Governor, Senators, Congressman, Delegates to correct the damage that has been done and to save face for Virginia:

1. Immediately initiate The Virginia Conservation Oversight Committee to prevent conservation easement abuse and to guarantee ethical practices

2. Zero Tolerance Act legislation for conservation easements

3. Place a cap on Virginia tax credits as do most states

4. Make Selling tax credits based on an income cap of the donor

Joseph - Check the facts. The LTAC has quite a strict conflict of interest policy, so its whether PEC was represented on the LTAC or not, it doesn't matter for their accreditation.

http://www.landtrustaccreditation.org/about-the-commission/commission-po...

Read all the way to the section on "Managing Applications from Organizations Directly Represented on the Commission".

The LTAC accredited the PEC recently while their own LTAC board member sits on the PEC. The application for accreditation by the PEC appears to be in sink with the PEC board member of LTAC. The LTAC has limited to no oversight that I am aware of. The conservation and historic easements greatly affect the public purse.

http://www.loudoun.daily-monitor.com/piedmont-environmental-council-earn...

Fact Checker: With all due respect, I have donated substantial time and money to conservation organizations including the ones in question here, so please understand I support conservation and preservation, but this does not mean I turn a blind eye to wrong doing even to orgs I would otherwise support.

As to LTAC's accrediation, I am also familiar with the infrastructure and I was hoping to not have to go here, but you did open Pandora's box. First, I shall preface by saying I am deeply saddened by Virginia's conservation land trust woeful state of affairs.

LTAC is 100% funded by the Land Trust Alliance. LTAC will allegedly an "independent" pet of the Land Trust, but this is a facade as it receives all of it's money to operate from the Land Trust Alliance Commission. To be crystal clear, LTAC receives no money from any other source other than the Land Trust Alliance. The Land Trust Alliance is funded from members primarily. Who are the members of the Land Trust Alliance? The Land Trust Alliance members are conservation orgs/land trusts including the PEC. The Land Trust Alliance receives money from PEC and other conservation orgs by memberships and "grants" from these same orgs and others as well as private donors (even donors that have benefited from conservation easements "generous" tax credits and $$$$$$).

PEC is a member of the Land Trust Alliance. Membership money substantially pays for the Land Trust Alliance. The Land Trust Alliance provides the only money The Land Trust Accreditation Commission receives to be in existence. Therefore, PEC pays for PEC's accrediation making it meaningless and worthless. These facts coupled with PEC's Director sitting as a Commisioner of the Land Trust Alliance Commissin while PEC recieves accreditation is simply put PEC paying for its own accreditation and screams of conflict of interest a long with a host of other ethical considerations I will refrain from listing. The Land Trust Alliance provides every resource to these conservation organizations including how to control Biscuit Run's negative publicity that threatens to shut them down.

The bottom line is that it does not pass the smell test no matter how much the spin police want to try to control public opinion.

An Oversight Committee made up of the IRS, SEC and true independent individuals is necessary to properly police conservation easements that are milking Virginia of millions of dollars.

Demand Zero Tolerance Legislation for Conservation Easement Abuse in Virginia.

Taken directly from Land Trust Alliance website:

“The success of every charity depends on public trust, and this is especially important for the land conservation groups that handle billions each year in tax incentives, public funds, and charitable gifts."

Public trust is lost on conservation groups in Virginia.

Taken directly from Land Trust Alliance website:

"The new land trust accreditation program gives land trusts, like universities, hospitals, and museums, the opportunity to be publicly recognized for their excellence and ethics."

Does Biscuit Run recognize excellence and ethics?

Taken directly from Land Trust Alliance website:

"I have been impressed at how quickly this program has won the confidence of Congress and the IRS, and I commend the Land Trust Alliance for serving as a national model for self-regulation.”

Notice the words "self-regulation". Like asking the fox how the chickens are doing?

Welcome to VIrginia! We proudly harvest corruption, excellence and ethics by "self-regulation" and billions of dollars in tax credits with no cap! Wahoooooo! Virginia is for Lovers of Conservation Easment!

This excellent article was a long time coming. I know quite a few of the people mentioned in the article who have benefited from the program. Most of them are very nice people who give generously to charities. I also know quite a few locals not mentioned in the article, who have also benefited. Every one of them could be described as extremely wealthy, all "faux farm" to game the system, and none of them would ever subdivide or sell off their properties to developers. If they wanted to do the right thing, they would take the money saved and donate it to smaller local charities that benefit environmental causes.

Like Joseph Friend and Lonnie Murray, I'm pro conservation and preservation, but am saddened at the black eye the PEC is giving the conservation movement. I've seen them in action. They are unabashedly pro-wealth and pro-privilege. They, along with the TNC, are tied in politically. Look at the interests cutting across the PEC, TNC, and the Charlottesville Tomorrow board. Not to flog the water plan horse, but yes, they were major players in how that all played out. I believe that their vision is to have an ultra-dense city, surrounded by a dense cruddy urban ring, and then the remainder of the county will remain a pastoral paradise of gated estates for the PEC and TNC heavy rollers.

Yep, they're real enviro warriors. Only at a PEC fundraising dinner (held in Keswick, naturally) would you see a small handful of guests arrive in a helicopter just to have cocktails for 20 minutes, then fly off again into the night sky.

Loudoun County is seeded with PEC backed public officials, county staff and committee members tightly affiliated with, if not working directly for, the PEC. Mayor Lazaro of Purcellville was, until recently, a paid PEC employee. The county attorney used to work for the PEC. Judy Gerow, sitting on the Historic District Review Committee is or was a PEC board member. Macolm Baldwin, looking to run for the Catoctin seat in Loudoun, is a former PEC member. Look at the political contributions closely.

I was just handed the cliff Notes on PEC:
So PEC has 4 easements Alb. (Hawes) They have fundraisers and fly in helicopters for 20 minute cocktails at Keswick.(Reality check). They are on the Land trust which is working to minizine the bad publicity of Biscuit Run (Friend). They are flying with a Cessna Jet over biscuit run making plans with Craig and others on board. We need an oversite committee of IRS agents and non-conservation activists to be appointed to oversee them. (Watergate in Pecland) wants a complete listing of all 4 owners in Albemarle who have easements with PEC in Albemarle. (There must be a radar keeping track of helicopters and jets in Alb., the same one that spotted Gov Wilder at the Kluges I suppose).

I agree open records and a limit needs to happen. If the budget gets any worse do some de-funding.

Welcome to Taxpayer Park! A Debt of Gratitude!

It stinks real bad at Biscuit Run...the odor of fraud and crime perpetrated upon Virginia smells all the way to congress, the IRS and the SEC inviting investigations all over the place.

Private closed door meetings are taking place all over the piedmont determining how to best sugar coat the Biscuit Run Scandal! Whom shall we blame? Lets make a diversion shall we? Lets pick someone to draw attention away from all of the allegations of fraud, crime and pilfering of billions of dollars of Virginians money? Hmmmmmm lets see who will get thrown under the bus first??? Should it be Kaine? Deeds? I agree with previous poster and say Zero Tolerance, blame the source and strip PEC & TNC of 501c3 status, prison and make them give back all of the money to Virginia.

Virginia's secretive behind closed doors conservation easement scandal in the billions of dollars linked to high rollers makes Enron and Watergate look trivial in comparison. Biscuit Run will be remembered as what unleased the most corrupt epic bleeding of American taxpayers money under the veil of conservation easements in the history of greed and corruption perpetrated on Americans. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Conservation Police and Public Opinion Task Force have already started generating "news" and media coverage to try to silence this story. .

The Attorney General's office is launcing a massive investigation. Cuccinelli is on the war path to put a stop to all reported and alleged fraud, political meddling, bribery, extortion and conservation easement abuse and corruption.

Virginia demands an independent Inspector General for investigating “…complaints alleging fraud, waste, abuse, corruption, or mistreatment of citizens of the Commonwealth by a state agency or public officers and employees, including allegations of criminal acts affecting the operation of state agencies.”

A bill for an independent IG has failed many times before but this time Virginia is demanding accountability and restitution for all of the wrongdoing.

Read more at the Washington Examiner: http://washingtonexaminer.com/blogs/local-opinion-zone/2011/01/time-virg...

The Attorney General's office is launcing a massive investigation. Cuccinelli is on the war path to put a stop to all reported and alleged fraud, political meddling, bribery, extortion and conservation easement abuse and corruption.

Virginia demands an independent Inspector General for investigating “…complaints alleging fraud, waste, abuse, corruption, or mistreatment of citizens of the Commonwealth by a state agency or public officers and employees, including allegations of criminal acts affecting the operation of state agencies.”

A bill for an independent IG has failed many times before but this time Virginia is demanding accountability and restitution for all of the wrongdoing.

Read more at the Washington Examiner: http://washingtonexaminer.com/blogs/local-opinion-zone/2011/01/time-virg...

Ask the Attorney General to investigate this-
"Mike Melillo" , kc4ag@cuccinelli.com