Fairfax supervisors extend agricultural status of major Great Falls parcel

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Jan. 22, 2019, renewed a nearly 470-acre agricultural district located at 219 Seneca Road in Great Falls.

Smack dab in the middle of northwest Great Falls is nearly 470 acres of a comparatively undeveloped land that, for the next decade at least, will remain classified as an agricultural-and-forestal district.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Jan. 22 unanimously granted a 10-year extension of that status to the site at 219 Seneca Road, which has been under that designation since 1981.

Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville), who moved for the district’s renewed, expressed wonderment that such a huge piece of property has remained relatively undeveloped.

“For it to be preserved this long is just an amazing thing,” he said.

In order to preserve significant tracts of agriculture-and-forestal land, the county provides reduced property-tax assessments to the sites’ owners if they keep the land at its present use and development density for the decade-long term. If the owners withdraw from the district before the term ends, the county will impose a penalty and back taxes.

The applicants, Patowmack Farm and Edith’s Log Cabin LLC, own 469.98 acres about three-quarters of a mile north of Beach Mill Road. The property includes 180.1 acres used for active agriculture (hay production) and 287.9 acres of open and forested space. Portions of the latter have been harvested in the past, but the forest’s understory has been gobbled by a burgeoning deer population in recent years, according to the county’s staff report.

 The site also has 1.98 acres devoted for residential purposes. There are four residences, three of which are rented to farm owners who work on the farm. The buildings include a log cabin built between 1928 and 1935; a manor house constructed before the 1900s; a house built before 1945; and a house constructed in 1946. A variety of farm-related buildings, barns, silos and sheds also dot the property.

When the county in 1981 first established the property as an agricultural-and-forestal district for an eight-year period, the site had 638.81 acres consisting of the Spalding property (470.99 acres), Nall property (131.78 acres) and 36.06 acres owned by the Nature Conservancy.

Virginia at that time required such districts to have at least 500 acres, but the General Assembly in March 1987 cut that total to 200 acres. The status of the Nature Conservancy’s acreage expired after the initial eight-year term, and the Nall property’s owner withdrew from the district in January 1988.

The Board of Supervisors in October 1988 extended for 10 years the 470.99-acre Patowmack Farm district and renewed it for another decade in January 1999. The district ended up at 469.98 acres after Patowmack Farm gave about 1.51 acres to its neighbors in exchange for 0.5 acres that could be used to widen the farm’s Seneca Road driveway entrance.

Until spring 1991, the farm’s main agricultural use was as a dairy farm, the 30 cows on which produced between 40,000 and 60,000 gallons of milk monthly, according to the staff report.

Jefferson Branch stream valley and many of its unnamed tributaries cross the property. Approximately 93 acres are  classified as resource-protection areas under the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance. About 286 acres are designated as an Environmental Quality Corridor.

Orlando Spalding, a manager and partner at the farm, thanked supervisors for considering the application and said he appreciated the assistance provided by county staff.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D) thanked Spalding for applying to renew the district yet again.

“I appreciate your taking care of that beautiful property,” she said.

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