A SMALL DOSE OF REALITY
Read here a bit of background on the Ballyshannon Fund.
March 3, 2005: To my employees at Bundoran Farm, our farm business associates, Edge Valley neighbors, friends and family as I welcome you to my home today to meet Bob Baldwin and David Brown.
Is it not amusing that when a person sells a security holding or a valuable asset for a great deal of money, very few people would ever consider that transaction as being any of their business, however, when real estate is being sold, folks come out of the woodwork with opinions? I have always thought that my neighbors’ business is their own and I try to keep my opinions to myself and simply wish them well.
Nevertheless, being realistic about human nature, and - with pleasure and hope for a bright future - I report here that Bundoran Farm is under contract to be sold to Qroe Farms, a preservation development company. No broker was involved. The terms are cash and there are no seller-imposed restrictions on the property. That’s the same way we Scotts bought these properties, long ago. None of the Scotts have any present or future financial interest in anything Qroe proposes to do here, so I offer herein only my personal thoughts…
Not much will change immediately, except that, eventually, more people will be able to enjoy – as owners – this magnificent valley in which we are located. My mother will live in her home for as long as she chooses; I shall do the same in mine. Our farm employees will continue their employment under the same agreements as are now in effect. Our orchard and pasture leases, rental house leases, and hunt club agreements are all being assumed by the new owner. Our carriage operations and horse-teamster training classes will continue and we will remain members of a community of which we have been a happy part of since 1940.
Why will we stay here at Bundoran after the sale? Because we have confidence that whatever the Qroe Farm leadership does with Bundoran, they will aim for the highest standards of aesthetics and environmental protection. We appreciate Qroe’s interest in the continued sustainable management of our mountains as commercial forests and our fertile pastures for livestock production, mixed with discreet residential designs.
Last fall, a number of us - as neighbors in this valley – joined up to apply for USDA Forest Legacy funding to protect our 2500 acres of contiguous, un-fragmented mountainous forests from development as home sites. Qroe’s offer arrived – unsolicited, and “out of the blue” - after we had become Finalists in the Forest Legacy application. While we did not require Qroe to continue our support for this project, the Forest Legacy application will remain in place with the participation of the new owner as well as the enthusiastic leadership of our Congressman Virgil Goode.
Most of these same neighbors have also, for several years now, presented a formal standing offer to sell the vast majority of our development rights to a conservation buyer through the good offices of the Piedmont Environmental Council and The Nature Conservancy. Unfortunately, neither environmental group has been successful in finding such a buyer and dismissed our neighbors’ expectations of their lands’ values as being far too high. On this matter, you were right and these environmental groups wrong, as this sale demonstrates.
As I presented our neighbors’ case for participation in Forest Legacy to the Forest Stewardship Committee, I made reference to two strong pressures on rural landowners:
- repeated, unsolicited offers on our properties at extraordinary prices, and
- local political chatter recommending severe restrictions on our lands.
Efforts continue, by many here in Albemarle, to demote agriculture and forestry from its present “first-priority” rural land use status in Albemarle’s Rural Comprehensive plan, to impose down-zoning of rural lands for the second time in twenty five years, and to impose arbitrary phasing of rural - but not urban - projects. These strongly negative political influences seem to be constants, yet repetitive unsolicited offers have caused us all to consider our options carefully.
These “good ideas” to “protect the farms” and “protect the mountains” all come from perfectly nice and well-meaning people who have worthwhile goals in mind, but rarely any idea of what it takes to operate such properties. It happens that I share many of their goals, but often find myself differing as to proposed rules and regulations to achieve them. Over the last decade, I have observed a growing groundswell of urban citizens attempting to impose their personal priorities on rural property that they did not own. Their philosophical approach has resulted in an increasingly urban-oriented Board of Supervisors, which is now about evenly split between members who support such new restrictions and those more attuned to private property rights. Given that the rural owners I happen to know have been – by any standard – responsible, caring stewards of their lands, the prospect of the next election swinging against our rural ethic is deeply disturbing.
Accordingly, the more I learned of the ideas -- like the ones coming out of our various County study groups -- and reviewed the demographic trends that no longer favor agricultural and forestry enterprises, the more I concluded that I should own a whole lot less rural real estate in such a political environment. My sad realization is that, eventually, my rural neighbors will be overwhelmed by such “good ideas”. So, I had very slowly become open to alternative scenarios.
Although I am happy to serve my community whenever asked, in some ways I wish I had never been seated on the Rural Area Focus Group and, later, the Mountain Ordinance Committee. My ignorance - of the strength of the political opposition - was blissful, two years ago. Absent what I learned about the philosophies of my fellow citizens, I would have gone to my grave as owner of Bundoran. But my Last Will would have triggered a public auction, and who knows which buyer would appear and what would have happened thereafter? While I’d be long dead and past caring, the almost certain purchase by a “build and leave” developer after my parents’ and my lifetimes of stewardship disturbs me greatly. Accordingly, I find Qroe’s philosophy, its leaders, and its offer very appealing.
I met the new owners several years ago. Serving on the Rural Area Focus Group, but not knowing much about real estate development, I began to read up on rural development projects. A few environmental groups had published glowing reports of Qroe Farm’s magnificent record of sensitive development: all of Qroe Farm’s plans seemed to focus on agriculture as a first-priority use. Curious, I traveled to New Hampshire to study their work. I was impressed, particularly so with the large amount of productive lands preserved forever as commercial forest and productive agriculture. Qroe’s Preservation Development is explained in detail at www.qroefarm.com.
We had never, even casually, discussed a sale until Qroe’s unsolicited letter arrived recently, offering to buy our properties. Because of my growing concern – and only that - about the changing priorities of our Albemarle County government, I said “Maybe” for the first time in my life. Over the past decades, I had declined a dozen such offers from others. A few e-mails later, we agreed on all terms.
No specific project plans have been proposed. We sold our land because we believe that Qroe’s past performance represents the leading edge of responsible real estate development. We both look forward, with curiosity and pleasant anticipation, to seeing how they will proceed. Change per se does not threaten us; nor does development, if it’s well done. We have confidence in Qroe Farms, in Bob Baldwin and David Brown as the gentlemen they quite obviously are, and we hope for a pleasant future that includes a warm ongoing relationship with our new neighbors.
My mother joins me in offering our warm regards and deep appreciation for the respect you have shown us over many decades. We both hope that we have reciprocated in kind, and our invitation to my home today is another effort to do so.
Fred W. Scott, Jr.
......... so this is where the funding for Ballyshannon Fund comes from. Ballyshannon Fund hopes to educate others about the economic realities of rural enterprise; about those issues that my neighbors and I...after lifetimes working in the country...intuitively understand:
It's really simple:
.............. Soils, water, forests, and economic success are all tied together.
We also sponsor the Ballyshannon Fund Forum
at Piedmont Virginia Community College