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Conservation easement resolves long-running Foxfield dispute

A lawsuit that embroiled a famed horse racing track in Albemarle County has been dismissed because the property now is under a conservation easement.

The Foxfield race course and surrounding land have now been placed under an easement held by the Albemarle Conservation Easement Authority.

The easement, which resolves a three-year court battle, ensures that spring and fall steeplechase races are still allowed on the property, as well as the Women’s Four Miler and 10 other events specified in the deed of easement — but, if the Foxfield Racing Association stops holding races, all other events must stop.

The easement was publicly discussed at a July meeting of the Albemarle Conservation Easement Authority, and subsequently reviewed at other meetings throughout the late summer and fall. The authority wanted to see limits on frequency and types of events that could be held on the property.

“This is a wonderful outcome,” said authority member Peter Taylor in July. “It’s so much better than what it could have been.”

Earlier this month, before the easement deed was recorded, the parties in the lawsuit agreed to dismiss the case.

Under the easement, if the current or future owners of the property stop holding steeplechase races, or do not hold any races in a 24-month period, all public activities and events must stop and are prohibited from resuming without further approval from the Albemarle Conservation Easement Authority.

A conservation easement is a permanent agreement between a landowner and a conservation organization, or an easement holder, that allows the landowner to retain ownership of the land but places certain expectations on how the land will be managed and restricts what can be done on the land to protect resources on the site.

The easement covers about 168 acres of the property — 11.4 acres are already under an easement — and prevents 16 possible additional houses on the property. If horse racing on the property stops, the easement allows for one additional house to be built on the property, which already has two houses.

In August, Tom Dick with Foxfield Racing Association described to the authority his vision for the property if the races were to stop.

“The property, after dissolution of the Foxfield Racing Association, there would be a conversion to a charity, [the] Mariann de Tejeda Foundation,” he said. “It would have one reserved right. It would be for a private residence, one house and the other buildings that are allowed by one development right. And at that point in time, the property would be auctioned, and the proceeds would go to the Mariann de Tejeda Foundation, provided that the [National Steeplechase Association] sanctioned races have terminated. In other words, no more racing.”

In her will, former owner Mariann S. de Tejeda, wrote that she wanted her estate to go to “the perpetuation of the Foxfield Races in Albemarle County.” She died in 1983.

The Mariann de Tejeda Foundation has not yet been officially founded.

Dick said there was a “very clear effort” to continue the races.

Authority member Hamilton Moses said the body is very sympathetic with the goals Foxfield was trying to achieve.

“But we have to envision that a perpetual easement that survives for 50 or 100 years in perpetuity, and that long after we’re all gone successor owners will have different intentions for the property,” he said. “This document has to address that eventuality, so your good-faith efforts to tell us your intentions can’t be controlled from the grave.”

Moses said the authority has to help the association come to language that he can live with today that will meet their ends, but also protects the conservation value of the property.

At the ACEA meetings, the members went back and forth about appropriate types of events that could be held on the property, and ultimately removed a proposed farmers market from the list of events.

Albemarle has more than 104,000 acres under conservation easement. Earlier this year, the James C. Justice Cos. donated 4,500 acres of land for conservation.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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