With 6,000 names on a petition, a letter on Governor Northam’s desk, and a vote coming up by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, the sale of
the River Farm in Mount Vernon is far from a done deal.
There are many area voices speaking out against development on several fronts, including Virginia Senator Scott Surovell, (D-36) who remembers driving by with his fiancée in 1999, and later having a wedding ceremony on the farm.
“Our search stopped immediately,” he said, remembering the drive 22 years ago. “It’s a wonderful place for things like that.”
The planning commission is looking at the proposed sale of the farm, and the letter from Chairman Jeff McKay to Governor Northam, called it “a local institution in the Mount Vernon District, full of history, heritage, and natural beauty.” In the letter, McKay asks the Governor to add an emergency clause to SB 1457, that deals with “preservation of historic sites,” allowing the bill to take effect immediately at the April reconvened session, rather than on July 1, 2021. McKay conveyed his sense of urgency. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to preserve a piece of our history,” it stated.
Another angle the county is using involves a historic overlay district, which could limit the development of the property, and this goes up to the Board of Supervisors on April 13.
A few weeks ago, the NOVA Parks, Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, and their partners made an offer to buy River Farm, but the American Horticultural Society board of directors has voted to decline their offer, looking for their asking price of $32,900,000 that they need to keep the society in operation, they said. “Financial distress,” was one of the reasons the AHS needed that price for the property.
Surovell looked at the AHS financial situation, and says that financial distress is at best an exaggeration. “That is not the case if you look at their financial records,” he said.
The American Horticultural Society “is sitting on $2.7M in cash, took a $220K PPP loan, & is not in financial dire straits,” Surovell said in a tweet. “None of their public explanations for selling River Farm hold water.”
“We’ve been making every effort,” to save it, Surovell said.
George Washington originally acquired the farm in 1760, as the northernmost of his five family-owned farms. River Farm last went on the market in 1973, when philanthropist and gardener Enid Annenberg Haupt bought it, allowing AHS to move its headquarters from the City of Alexandria to River Farm. There were a couple of historic visitors at that time too - First Lady Pat Nixon joined Mrs. Haupt, at the dedication of the property, and together they planted a ceremonial dogwood tree in the garden. Haupt’s contribution called for River Farm to remain open to the public forever, but that stipulation reportedly did not make it onto the deed.
The offer made a few weeks ago by NOVA Parks, Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, and their partners was substantial, and Surovell remains optimistic. “We’re hoping they’ll come around,” he said. “It’s a hot issue,” he said.