In an attempt to keep the property open to the public, the NOVA Parks, Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, and their partners recently made an offer to buy River Farm in Mount Vernon, but the American Horticultural Society board of directors has voted to decline their offer, looking for their original asking price of $32,900,000 that they say they need to keep the society in operation.
“We deeply appreciate the interest of NOVA Parks in River Farm and their proposal to purchase an option on the property, which if exercised, would involve payments to AHS over several years. We deliberated carefully over the proposal and its terms and concluded that their offer as currently written simply does not meet AHS’s needs. So, with thanks to them for their interest, the board declined the offer,” noted AHS Board Chair Terry Hayes.
Paul Gilbert, the executive director of NOVA Parks, said their offer was “based on the appraised value,” and noted that the $32 million price is an unsupported value constructed on “completely unrealistic expectations,” he said.
Locally, elected officials have supported the purchase of the farm to keep it undeveloped. Earlier this month, Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Delegate Paul Krizek (D-Mount Vernon) were behind a successful effort by both the Virginia Senate Finance and Appropriations and House Appropriations Committees to come up with the money. This included $2 million in funding to preserve River Farm in its proposed budget, and another $5 million in combined funding for the preservation of both historic Chickahominy tribal lands and River Farm.
Mount Vernon Supervisor Dan Storck (D) is anxious to preserve the farm too. “While disappointing, AHS’ decision is unsurprising,” Storck said. “We all remain committed to working with AHS to find a way to preserve this beautiful place of history nestled within the Mount Vernon community. I, personally, see this as part of the process you would find with any real estate sale. I remain hopeful that the AHS Board will support the criticality of preserving this historic property for the public and future generations. We know this commitment has been a long-standing mission of the AHS Board and its members,” Storck said.
The AHS Board says they will continue to review and consider offers and would prefer that the buyer of the property would maintain it for single use and not subdivide it, continuing to allow the public to access the property as much as possible. "The Board welcomes further dialogue with NOVA Parks to the extent they are interested in submitting a different proposal," the Board said.
Gilbert said that NOVA Parks and the AHS Board are still keeping the dialogue open on the purchase. If NOVA Parks buys the farm, it will remain undeveloped and open to the public. “That’s what our proposal does,” Gilbert said.
Still For Sale
Local agent Sue Goodhart of Compass Real Estate Group in Alexandria has listed the farm, calling it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own 27 plus acres of riverfront property in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.”
“Imagine owning an estate renowned for its unobstructed views of the Potomac River and impeccably maintained gardens,” the listing states.
With the pandemic impacting everything for the last year, the AHS feels that they need this sales price to expand their national impact. They will find another site for their headquarters said Bob Brackman, Interim Executive Director, “Once River Farm is sold, AHS will determine the best location for its headquarters to serve and build our national audience.”
Steeped in History
River Farm, located just off the George Washington Memorial Parkway, has a long history, starting with Giles Brent Jr., and his wife, a princess of the Piscataway tribe, who owned it in 1653 or 1654, the listing states. Then George Washington bought it and made it part of his plantation. Malcolm Matheson bought the property in 1919 and remodeled the home, and in 1973, American Horticultural Society (AHS) board member and philanthropist Enid Annenberg Haupt provided funds for the AHS to purchase the property, the listing states. The grounds now house the offices of AHS and are used for weddings, events, and gardening.
Haupt intended for the property to remain open to the public.
Historic Overlay District?
The County is currently considering the creation of an Historic Overlay District (HOD) for the River Farm property. New state legislation recently approved by the House and Senate will allow the county to protect the land by permitting inclusion of a provision in our historic preservation ordinance that would allow public access to “an historic area, landmark, building, or structure, or land pertaining thereto, or providing that no subdivision shall occur within any historic district unless approved by the review board or, on appeal, by the governing body of the locality as being compatible with the historic nature of such area, landmarks, buildings, or structures.”
“I remain hopeful that the AHS Board will support the criticality of preserving this historic property for the public and future generations,” Storck said in a community email. “We know this commitment has been a long standing mission of the AHS Board and its members.”