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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Fairfax County removes flood-prone Annandale properties from November land auction

The properties are all wooded and mostly in a floodplain.
The seven tax-delinquent properties next to Accotink Creek in Annandale are no longer up for auction. 

The owner of the properties, the Al Root Memorial Foundation, hadn’t paid taxes in years, so the county had planned to sell them by auction in November.  

Mason Supervisor Penny Gross requested the properties be pulled from the auction “to allow county and nonprofits more time to establish partnerships regarding the possible purchase or bid for the properties.” 

The seven properties total 6.7 acres around Spicewood Court. Most of the land is in a floodplain and most likely couldn’t be developed. Nevertheless, the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust (NVCT) is raising funds to purchase the properties and preserve them as parkland. 

NVCT wants to keep the land accessible to the public and out of the hands of a developer. [Donations can be made here.]

According to Gross, the county cannot legally use eminent domain to acquire the properties because they are still privately owned. “The best route would be to purchase the properties, from the owner or at auction, and then preserve them as open space,” she said.

Related story: Conservation group wants to prevent development of vacant Annandale properties

In addition to Gross, supervisors James Walkinshaw (Braddock) and Dalia Palchik (Providence) also raised questions about why supposedly undevelopable floodplain lots are being put up for auction.  

The county attorney’s office is reviewing the issue “to see if there are steps that can be taken to safeguard the property,” said Alan Rowsome, executive director of the NVCT. 

NVTC believes that land should be a natural buffer between Accotink Creek and the Cross County Trail on one side and a suburban neighborhood on the other. 

The properties can be reached from Spicewood Court in Annandale.
“NVCT was prepared to bid on the properties in the auction due to generous public donations combined with the usage of our operational reserves, and we remain ready to do that at any time should the auction be reinstated,” Rowsome said.

If it’s determined that the properties must be auctioned off to the highest bidder, at least a sale would be delayed until the county’s next land auction, in spring 2022. That would give the NVCT and others interested in saving the land more time to raise funds.

Meanwhile, NVCT has been in contact with the Fairfax County Park Authority about working together to preserve the properties as open space.  

“The concerned citizens and donors to this project have succeeded in helping raise the profile of this land in such a way as to postpone its imminent sale,” Rowsome said. “NVCT is now working with the county and other partners to give us the best possible chance of preserving it for all time while remaining extremely vigilant should the auction be reinstated.”

3 comments:

  1. I’m confused about this statement: “ According to Gross, the county cannot legally use eminent domain to acquire the properties because they are still privately owned.” VA Law states, in Article 3, Housing, section in 36-27 as follows: “Eminent domain. A. An authority shall have the right to acquire by the exercise of the power of eminent domain any real property pursuant to a duly adopted redevelopment or conservation plan, or otherwise only in accordance with this chapter, after the adoption by it of a resolution declaring that the acquisition of the real property described therein is necessary for such public purposes.” I don’t see how in this case, the County can’t acquire this property for the public purpose of preserving green space next to a park, especially since the owners have been tax delinquent for years.

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    1. Watershed protection is also another reason why they could "take" these lots. I'm not a lawyer but I do wonder if paying market value might be the hiccup on these since that is the premise of eminent domain. But if they can auction them off how are they not taking or conveying ownership? Why couldn't a case be made that just paying the back taxes conveys ownership in this instance? It might require court. But floodplains provide valuable service and that fact should be recognized prior to these types of lots being auctioned.

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    2. I think the issue - which may have gotten lost in translation here - is that the county cannot use eminent domain to force an acquisition of the property and then transfer the property to a non-public entity - in this case NVCT.

      You can go further in the weeds here: https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/1-219.1/

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