Bad men? New numbers show spiraling cost of Biscuit Run

A year ago, an outgoing governor hailed the purchase of a flailing subdivision called Biscuit Run as a "bargain" for Virginia taxpayers. Now, however, newly leaked documents show that taxpayers may end up paying more than twice the price promised for a new park by then governor Tim Kaine. Moreover, the documents show that while thousands of Virginians were battling banks and losing their homes to foreclosure, Kaine's deal scooped up millions in tax credits to bail out some of Virginia's wealthiest people from their bubble-era bet.

Thanks to this deal, it appears that Dave Matthews Band manager Coran Capshaw and the Band's fiddler, Boyd Tinsley, are among the well-heeled investors who could end up losing little or no money on Biscuit Run, even though the nearly 1,200-acre parcel on the south side of Charlottesville appears to be a mammoth botch in the annals of real estate speculation.

"I think somebody's head has to roll," says Rob Schilling, a former Charlottesville City Councilor who now works as a radio talk-show host. And it's not just conservatives who are unhappy. The Democrat who created the conservation tax credit system worries about abuse of the program.  

As for the man who lured the notables into Biscuit Run, veteran real estate speculator Hunter Craig, he isn't talking. But documents that slipped over the Hook's transom around Christmas are speaking volumes.


A friend in Orange

In the fall of 2009, a year after the Wall Street collapse, Biscuit Run was in need of a lifeline. Craig had led a team to buy it four years earlier for $46.2 million. Despite a lifetime in the construction industry and a hard-fought rezoning that gave his team the right to build 3,100 homes, Craig had not built a single one.

Saddled with property taxes pegged to the bubble-era purchase price as well as an eight-figure mortgage that had gone into delinquency, Biscuit Run gave every appearance of becoming the biggest foreclosure in Albemarle history. Until unusual things began happening.

When Courteney Stuart penned her investigative cover story two months ago, she theorized that the only way the tract's wealthy investors could have wriggled out of their delinquent loans and retained their investment was finding an appraiser willing to value the place over $86 million. Such a number would pave the way for the state to issue tax credits based on the notion that the sellers are donating land to the citizens of the state.

However, in order to win conservation tax credits, the investors would have to find an appraisal showing that the 1,194 acres of land– even though now mired in an unforgiving housing market– were worth more than the $9.8 million cash they received as payment. And if they were really lucky, they'd want to find an appraiser who determined that the property– contrary to the tides of the souring economy– had actually increased its value. Apparently, they found the appraiser to do just that in the form of Patricia O'Grady-Filer.

Working from an office on Main Street in Orange as Piedmont Appraisal Company, O'Grady-Filer valued the land at $87.7 million, nearly double the bubble-era price paid for the property.

"That's a big number," says State Senator Creigh Deeds. "That's just a big number."

Deeds has a reason to take it personally; he's the father of the conservation tax credit program, and he says he wants to protect it–- just as he wants to protect open space. Back when he was a Delegate representing the greater Bath County area, he pushed fellow Virginia lawmakers to enable the program.

"The tax credit program was my baby because I was convinced we had to create incentives to protect open space," says Deeds. "When I see the tax credit program abused, it really bothers me."


The victory lap

At a January 8, 2010 press conference some called a victory lap, outgoing Governor Tim Kaine grinned broadly as he announced that the state had purchased Biscuit Run for the "bargain" price of $9.8 million. However, according to the leaked documents, the actual cost to taxpayers has more than doubled– and it could still go higher.

"It was a very pleasant surprise," Dave Matthews Band fiddler Boyd Tinsley remarked at the press conference where he and Kaine publicly commented on their close personal friendship. Tinsley noted that he'd been unaware of the donation until just weeks earlier.

"Any loss we've taken pales in comparison to the contribution we've made to the community," he said, confessing he wasn't certain about all the logistics of the deal.

The documents show that he and the other wealthy investors, operating as Forest Lodge LLC, were eventually offered $11.7 million in conservation tax credits. Sold on the open market at about 80 percent of their value, they're almost as good as cash. But they weren't enough for Craig's crowd.

Craig's team took the credits, the documents show, and have appealed for a higher amount based on the $87.7 million appraisal by O'Grady-Filer– an amount which, if used to recalculate the credits, would unleash more than $31 million for Forest Lodge.

The end-of-2009 deal garnered immediate controversy shortly after the announcement for yanking the land out of Albemarle's long-planned growth area. Soon the secrecy-shrouded appraisal would take center stage even as the amount remained hidden. Throughout various media investigations, state officials insisted that revealing the number would somehow compromise private taxpayer information.

"That this number had to be dug up," says talk-show host Schilling, "shows that somebody was scared of the media finding out."

And thus the leaked documents.


The envelope

The envelope arrived around Christmastime, six weeks after a pair of local features on the Biscuit Run deal including the Hook's October 28 cover story. Inside the bulging, taped-up envelope, was evidence that O'Grady-Filer was the lifeline thrown to Forest Lodge, which was attempting to leverage it to maximize recovery of their ill-fated speculation.

Among the documents was a December 30, 2009 letter from O'Grady-Filer to Forest Lodge explaining that her appraisal was estimating the fair market value of the property. And she asserts that her fee was not contingent on the value.

Her letter doesn't mention that a prior appraisal put the value at less than one seventh of her $87.7 million figure.

"If they could have gotten anywhere near that, they would have sold it for that," says Dennis Rooker, an Albemarle Supervisor, who's repeatedly expressed displeasure with the deal. "Additional parkland is alway nice," Rooker says, "but I don't think this was an appropriate use of the system."

Before the deal closed, O'Grady-Filer's verdict was already receiving scrutiny, and another document shows that Craig brought in another appraiser to review her work.

"I called to her attention several items that required additional clarification, support, and correction," writes Midlothian-based appraiser James H. Boykin. "With the requested changes and clarifications now having been made by Ms. Filer," writes Boykin, "I am pleased to recommend approval of her valuation."

However, even if the developers and this fellow appraiser were smiling, O'Grady-Filer's number ran into some scrutiny from another arm of the state, the Department of Taxation, which knew about the earlier, much lower appraisal.


Taking a risk

A purchase price of $46.2 million seemed steep even in bubble-fueled 2005, say several people with long histories of watching the ups and downs of real estate deal.

"It might have been that they were still giddy with the endless growth," says real estate agent Roger Voisinet, who recalls that by that point, experienced property watchers were already worrying that the exuberance would soon be coming to an end.

The $46.2 million was only the beginning of the expense of turning a rural property into homes and infrastructure-backed neighborhoods. At 1am on September 13, 2007– after nearly two years working with lawyers, planners, and consultants– Hunter Craig at last won the rezoning.

"This will be the gold standard for the neighborhood model plan," he promised the Supervisors, according to an online report by Charlottesville Tomorrow. Craig's plan would place 3,100 homes on 828 acres and hand over nearly 400 acres for a school and a new county park.

To win the rezoning, Craig committed the built-out Biscuit Run to paying $41.15 million in cash and non-cash proffers, according to the Charlottesville Tomorrow report. Although over $20 million of the proffers were land, Biscuit Run had just saddled itself with $17.9 million in cash obligations. 

The deal had begun in 2005, the year that saw two-bedroom bungalows on Charlottesville streets selling for over $400,000– some after bidding wars had broken out. It was also the year that A&E network debuted a new show called "Flip This House."

Who didn't want to get involved in the real estate frenzy?


The Midas touch?

Biscuit Run is named for the meandering stream on the south side of Charlottesville where for years the Breeden family invited the community for potluck dinners and into-the-night discussions of soapstone sculpture. The late family patriarch, I.J. Breeden, who had northern Virginia development experience under his belt, had purchased the tract in 1971 for $1 million, believing that county development would focus on the southside because of its proximity to Interstate 64.

Hunter Craig was no stranger to savvy real estate deals. Son of [Daley Craig and brother of] Sam Craig of Craig builders, he graduated from Hampden-Sydney College and eventually became son-in-law to concrete magnate Wick McNeely.

In the late 1990s, he identified a set of parcels at the corner of Hydraulic and Emmet, bought it, sold it at a profit, and let others struggle to develop what may eventually be called Albemarle Place. He would also develop the Crozet neighborhood known as Western Ridge– quite a feat since that tract was landlocked until Craig won the right to construct a private bridge over CSX tracks. Most recently, he threw his real estate acumen into unlocking a complicated property involving a long-term land lease for a soon-to-open Whole Foods supermarket next door to the K-Mart along Hydraulic Road.

But even a master chess player occasionally makes a move that begs for a do-over.


The seeds of destruction

By the time Hunter Craig stood in front of the Albemarle Supervisors three years ago in apparent triumph, the undoing of Biscuit Run had already begun.

Pundits would later look back and point to 2007 as the year that the housing bubble had already begun to deflate. The annual climb in real estate valuation ceased, providing an external clamp on new projects. But internally, Biscuit Run had another problem: carrying costs.

Craig certainly wasn't the only one to identify real estate as the next big thing in the new century. Out in Crozet, a father-son development group created Old Trail Village by nestling a golf course under a scenic Blue Ridge backdrop. Closer to town, another team launched an eco-friendly community called Belvedere. Neither neighborhood has come close to completion. But neither could compare to Biscuit Run in sheer size or financial audacity.

In addition to at least $12.3 million in cash put up by the investors, Biscuit Run was funded with a $33.3 million loan from banking behemoth UBS. If Forest Lodge were paying the typical prime rate of interest– the best rate given to commercial customers– it was initially paying seven percent.

In April 2008, Craig's team refinanced their debt in a higher amount– $34.3 million– with Bluefield, West Virginia-based First Community Bancshares. The loan was so big that First Community farmed out the risk to other banks.

It may have seemed big to the Forest Lodge investors, too. For starters, they were borrowing a million more than the original loan. And even if they were now paying just a five percent rate, interest alone might have amounted to $4,700 per day, $143,000 per month, $1.7 million per year. That's a relentless drain on coffers– particularly for a property producing zero income.

On the September 2007 morning when Craig made his "gold standard" comment after winning the rezoning, the residential real estate market had already begun unraveling. Belvedere looked like a ghost town. Old Trail had been used as a location for a Steve Carell comedy, Evan Almighty, involving an unfinished housing development. And Biscuit Run would soon show signs of a struggle.

 In its November 2009 quarterly report, the bank revealed that Biscuit Run's new owners had fallen behind on their note. But unlike the ordinary people who lose houses and dreams to the nightmare of foreclosure, Hunter Craig and company had some powerful allies.


When good deeds become good deals

Thanks to Creigh Deeds and other legislators, Virginia is home to a conservation tax credit program that's among the most generous in the country. It's a key reason that Governor Kaine was able to meet his stated goal of putting 400,000 acres under conservation by the end of his term.

But it comes at a cost.

If an investor buys a parcel of land for $3 million, then turns around and immediately gives up the right to develop it (either by donation to the state or to a non-profit group), all the public hears is that the land has been saved from development. But what if that investor finds an appraiser like Patricia O'Grady-Filer, someone who can find value above what the market will bear?

If the appraiser will value the land at, say, $15 million without objection from the state tax department, then millions in tax credits are unleashed. Conservation tax credits are 40 percent of the donation, i.e. 40 percent of the appraised value minus any cash tossed into the transaction.

Such appraisal-fueled donations, however, unleash not only conservation tax credits. Accountants say that such "donors," many of whom may never have wanted to develop their sprawling estates anyway, can also take state and federal tax deductions on their "losses."

Land records suggest that big names and big farms have participated. For instance, in late 2006, Craig's father-in-law, Wick McNeeley donated development rights at his 1,478-acre Chapel Springs Farm in Free Union.

The value of McNeely's donation– made to the Nature Conservancy– might have run into the millions. Yet it remains secret, as the state tax department insists that this is private information between the two parties to the gift.

Ironically, however, the program operates under total secrecy to the people funding it: the taxpayers.

Thanks to that veil of secrecy the public might never have known how sweet the deal was for the Biscuit Run investors. However, Forest Lodge wasn't satisfied with donation. Their desire for state cash inadvertently brought scrutiny that may have undone the work of Patricia O'Grady-Filer.


The fly in the soup

One of the more controversial aspects of Biscuit Run was putting nearly $5 million in so-called transportation "enhancement funds" into the deal. Enhancement funds are federal money, but they entail state oversight.

When the Virginia Department of Transportation was asked to commit $4.8 million to Biscuit Run, it ordered an appraisal. And VDOT found the property worth just $12 million.

The earlier VDOT appraisal sparked a debate when the Virginia Department of Taxation was shown the request from Craig's team to issue tax credits based on O'Grady-Filer's $87.7 million figure.

"Because the fair market value of these appraisals differed so significantly," the Department wrote in an unsigned report issued just two months ago, "the Department authorized another appraisal that indicates a fair market value of $39 million."

That translates into $11.7 million in tax credits to Forest Lodge. That puts the total cost to Virginia taxpayers for cash and conservation credits at $21.5 million.

According to another over-the-transom document, Forest Lodge took its tax credits and sold them– all the while continuing to appeal for the right to use O'Grady-Filer's valuation.


'the decision to jump on it'

Albemarle County had long made Biscuit Run a centerpiece of its multi-decade growth plan. So there were raised eyebrows when plans to make it a park were suddenly announced.

"If they were looking for parkland in the area, they probably could have gone down the road to Mead and gotten four or five times the land for less money," says Albemarle Supervisor Dennis Rooker, "and they wouldn't have eviscerated the county's growth area."

He's talking about a tract recently sold by MeadWestvaco. A former logging site of nearly 5,000 acres near Ash Lawn-Highland, it sold around the time of the Biscuit Run deal for $23.75 million.

The buyer, a company headed by Greenbrier Resort owner Jim Justice, paid about what taxpayers have already paid for Biscuit Run– and got four times as much land. (And Rooker notes that because 400 acres of Biscuit Run was already dedicated for parkland, the state really got just 800 acres for its money.)

"I don't blame the developers at all," says Rooker, who says the state abdicated its duty to seek out the best deal. "I don't believe the state acted as a proper gatekeeper for tax credits."

Not everyone is so harsh in their assessments.

"I really think it was a decision that was born out of opportunity," says Rex Linville of the Piedmont Environmental Council. "They made the decision to jump on it."

That opportunity, however, meant a lost opportunity for a local family.

Up near the Rivanna Reservoir, the eight-brother Murray family had been carefully nurturing their 800-acre Panorama Farms as a mulch business and as a place for recreation with its scenic views of the Blue Ridge and easy proximity to the city's populous northern suburbs.

Even though it's in private hands, Panorama has become an unofficial park, a site for athletic events including UVA track meets, bicycle rides, and the annual footrace honoring the late Kelly Watt, the Albemarle High standout who died of complications from heat stroke in the summer of 2005.

 While Murray family members say they don't want to talk about what could have been, sources indicate that Panorama has been groomed as a possible park site. By contrast, Biscuit Run was long planned for development since as early as the 1960s when developer Charles Hurt owned the land.

"That's a big chunk of change coming off the tax bill," notes Albemarle assessor Bob Willingham. 

The rush to deal also leaves a 100-home subdivision still lying within the confines of Biscuit Run.


The donut hole

By all appearances, the Breeden family might appear to have been the biggest winner in the Biscuit Run deal when they sold it to Forest Lodge for $46.2 million. But in fact, says Elizabeth Breeden, it's not exactly the case. She was left holding a tract of land in the middle of what will become a state park and is now looking to negotiate with the state to swap the landlocked parcel with a parcel closer to a public road.

The right was included in the sales contract, but what hasn't been fully straightened out is what sort of proffers the Breedens might get stuck with. Obviously, 100 houses don't require the same level of infrastructure as 3,100, but the County, according to several sources, hasn't been clear on what they may attempt to extract, and Rooker admits that's a question for which no one yet has an answer.

"I would think there would be some proffers that would go with that part of the property," says Rooker.

Meanwhile, says Elizabeth Breeden, she and her family are left paying hefty real estate tax on the donut hole of now residentially-zoned land inside the state park perimeter with no idea of when they might be able to start developing.

Breeden hopes it will be sometime in the next 10 years and says that's why she agreed to go along with the sale of the land to the state in the first pace– a deal she and her family members could have vetoed if they'd objected.

But, like so many, she realized that the market for mammoth housing developments had soured.

"I thought it was going to be 30 years before we'd get to develop if they hadn't sold," she says. "This way, I think it might be within my children's lifetime– not just my grandchildren's."


Mining the opportunities

The donut hole sitting in the middle of a future state park isn't the only oddity of the Biscuit Run deal. Since the state stepped in to limit the tax credits below what Craig had wanted, the bank didn't get fully paid back. In fact, if the sale produced only the $9.8 million cash and $11.7 million in cash, then the bank might remain owed another $12.8 million.

In a shareholder report, First Community Bancshares once cryptically alluded to "additional collateral" as securing Craig's troubled loan.

That has banking sources suggesting that one or more of the principals, including Craig himself, might have pledged additional property to guarantee the loan. One intriguing clue comes in a report from the bank that Hunter Craig helped found, Virginia National.

Last year, in a proxy report, VNB noted that all 203,947 shares of VNB stock Craig owns– worth about $3 million at the current stock price of $15– have been pledged to cover an unnamed commitment.

Could Craig be forced to part with the bank he helped create? Could First Community Bancshares, a bank with its roots in the coal country, find itself suddenly owning over eight percent of a Charlottesville-based bank?

Another possible issue– at least for anyone wishing to luxuriate in a pastoral setting at Biscuit Run State Park– is that First Community Bancshares has another way to get paid back: mineral extraction.

According to the deed of sale filed December 30, 2009, First Community Bank reserved the right to mine the site for the next seven years. The PEC's Linville says he doubts there's anything worth mining at Biscuit Run– and he points out that a counterintuitive piece of the state's law regarding conservation donations requires that in the cases of full donations of land, mining rights must be retained.

Linville may be right that Biscuit Run wouldn't be worth mining for minerals, but actually, Albemarle County is already home to some mines. The most prominent is the mountain-top removal underway by Martin Marietta Aggregates on Red Hill Road in North Garden.

While such strip mining at nearby Biscuit Run is forbidden by the agreement, other extraction may occur as long as the bank follows a state-vetoable written plan and as long as it removes its machinery and restores "any disturbed ground to its original contours."


What if?

What if the state hadn't stepped in to buy Biscuit Run? Given the current sluggish state of the real estate market– particularly for massive developments– it seems likely that Forest Lodge investors were headed for foreclosure,  a situation that would have put them in the same boat as Patricia Kluge, whose foreclosure auctions on multiple high-end Albemarle County properties have made news on several occasions this year. 

As stated earlier, carrying costs– mortgage, property taxes– had climbed well into the millions over the four years Forest Lodge owned the Biscuit Run property, and the loan to First Community Bank was already delinquent by September 2009– three months before the sale was announced. 

If the property had hit the auction block, would anyone have stepped up to buy– and what price might the land have brought?

Looking at several other recent Albemarle County land transactions, it's hard to imagine the land– saddled as it was with more than $40 million in cash and non-cash proffers– would have brought anything close to the $46.2 million Forest Lodge paid in 2005. Proffer-free 4,500-acre MeadWestvaco sold for $23.75 million– a per-acre cost of just over $5,000. And just down the road from Biscuit Run, a 277-acre property with five houses sold earlier this year for just $3.5 million, a per-acre cost of $12,600. 

If a potential buyer used that per-acre cost, by the Hook's calculations he would have paid $15 million for the Biscuit Run property– leaving Forest Lodge investors still deep in the hole and the new buyer still saddled with those proffers and a slumping housing market that wouldn't support 3,100 new homes anytime soon.

If the property had foreclosed, who would have been stuck with the loss, Forest Lodge or First Community Bank? That, say financial experts, depends on several things. If Forest Lodge declared bankruptcy, they might have gotten out from under the $34.3 million loan– but not if any of Forest Lodge's investors had personally guaranteed the loan– something the bank may have insisted on before issuing such a sizable chunk of change. First Community spokesperson Robert Pettry did not return the Hook's call, but has previously declined to comment on any specific loans.

If a new buyer had come forward, they might have purchased Biscuit Run for a song– along with all the development rights. Craig and company would have suffered, but the development area in the County would have been preserved and the state's tax coffers might be $20 million fuller– or the state might have bided its time and worked out a state park deal with one of the other property owners in the area, a move that would have deprived Kaine of his end-of-term conservation celebration.

Of course, that's not what happened– and it now seems possible that the hefty appraisal was a factor in Forest Lodge's agreeing to the $9.8 million sale price.


A regulated industry

After dialing myriad appraisers over the summer, Hook reporter Courteney Stuart got a hunch that O'Grady-Filer was the appraiser with the magic number.

"I can't help you with that– I'm sorry," O'Grady-Filer said before hanging up the phone and then declining to return subsequent calls. New requests for comment, left by email and voice-mail in late December, have not been returned.

Records on file with the state's board of professional regulation show that O'Grady-Filer earned her appraisal license in 1995.

The Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation's records indicate that two appraisers had their licenses revoked last year and that already this year there have been four revocations in addition to various other lesser punishments for appraisers who fail to abide by professional standards set by the federal government.

"The entire industry has been getting more scrutiny due to the real estate bubble," says Mary Broz-Vaughan, the Department spokesperson.

Broz-Vaughan notes that anyone can file a complaint about an appraiser but that the state is prohibited from revealing whether any active complaints are lodged against any particular appraiser. The record shows no evidence that Filer has ever been the subject of a completed investigation. She will, however, need to renew her license by next October.

If the Filer-O'Grady appraisal is allowed to stand for use on the conservation credits, and if Forest Lodge LLC's owners could receive the full amount of state and federal tax deductions on their capital loss, then the investors might end up turning a profit, and the total cost to taxpayers could actually climb as high as $72.82 million– which is nearly $27 million more than Biscuit Run developers paid for the property at the height of the real estate bubble in 2005.

The anonymous document leaker worries that the combination of state-enforced secrecy combined with retreating media scrutiny could allow something like that to happen.

There is, however, a precedent for revoking credits based on inflated valuations.

In 2003, the Silver Companies placed 430 acres along the Rappahannock River into conservation easement and sold off the credits. However, three years later, the state– claiming the appraisals were overblown– revoked the credits, leaving Silver to deal with hundreds of individuals who'd purchased the credits and who now owed back taxes. The matter wasn't fully settled until mid-2010 when Silver refunded $7.2 million to the investors and the state.



The secrecy, say critics like Schilling, is what needs to change. After all, with a deal like Biscuit Run, how is anyone to judge whether the taxpayers were ripped off? And there were certainly other options for parkland.

And although it was a Democrat who smiled on the Biscuit Run deal, his Republican successor Bob McDonnell has previously expressed his own support for the deal– prior to details about the appraisal emerging. A promised response from the Governor through his spokesperson for this story was not forthcoming. Just like Kaine, McDonnell hopes to place an additional 400,000 acres in conservation easements during his term. 

Although there have been calls for McDonnell or Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to investigate the transaction, it doesn't look like that will happen. McDonnell, who has received over $63,000 in campaign contributions from Hunter Craig, recently appointed Craig to the UVA Board of Visitors. Cuccinelli's office handled the Biscuit Run closing. Through his spokesperson, Cuccinelli declined comment. 

As for Creigh Deeds, the state senator says he plans to introduce legislation enacting stricter standards for open space donations during the upcoming session of the General Assembly. 

–with extensive reporting by Courteney Stuart


Note: The printed version of this story contained an error. Craig's father's name is Daley, and his brother is Sam. A few bracketed words above fix the error in this online edition.


This story is a part of the The Biscuit Run cash grab special.


This smells bad.

Who initiated this fiasco? Did Tim Kaine instruct his people to make it happen or did someone in the conservation office go a little crazy to save a tree?

Sadly,this issue calls the whole easement program into question. Thanks to Governor Kaine and the financial commitment of the legislators, we have large eased areas that protect our viewshed and water resources. I hate to hear the snarkiness that is unravelling a very successful program that is helping maintain the rural character of our community.

it has nothing to do w/dem or rep, it has to do with the rich v. the rest of us. those who pay to write the legislative bills, and those who pay the nation's bills, those who pledge allegiance to multi-national profits and those who pledge allegiance to their communities; those who believe that the serfs should work for "the economy" and those who actually create an economy by their work. the two-color/one-party system has something for all: whatever flavor histrionic fable you want to suit your existing world view for most- especially the most stupid and/or undereducated, and piles of cash and unlimited safety net for the top 5%. welcome back to the middle ages folks...

The Biscuit Run deal is a combination of incompetence and corruption. If Bob McDonnell goes along with this deal, and he certainly cannot deny knowing about it like the Forbes case, then the Governorship will be his last political office. The deal is an example of taxpayer abuse, especially the confidentiality aspect, and we cannot blame the Feds on this one. This one was hatched and incubated right here in the (once) Great Commonwealth with Kaine, Deeds, and McDonnell right in the middle of it.

It's privatized profits and socialized losses for the well connected good ol' boys.

Astrophysicist and Meterologist Piers Corbyn is interview today on a certain somebody's show on without the dash speaking about his 85% accurate annual climate predictions based on the influence of lunar phases on solar winds. If you have any doubts about carbon-based global warming, please tune in. He even looks and talks just like guitar god Jimmy Page!

Comparing the value of Biscuit Run to MeadWest Vaco or the other large land deals shows why the Hook is in journalism and not real estate. The property was entitled for 3100 homes. The value is in the entitlements (i.e. what can you build on it). You can't build much on the MeadWestVaco land. At $30,000 per lot, the property is worth $93M. The value was there, the problem was the housing market disappeared. So maybe it wasn't worth $87M, but it was never worth the $12M that VDOT lowballed it at. Oh, and poor Elizabeth Breeden is going to have to live in the middle of a park with only $42M to pay her property heart bleeds for her.

Where's Cuccinelli when we really need him?...oh yeah, fighting the global warming crusade


First let me say, I am NOT being critical of what you said, I agree with you 110%.

However, I would love to know what "the rest of us" can do to stop this nonsense. You have to be rich to run for political office hence whoever runs will tell "the rest of us" what we want to hear. Of course, once elected they will just do what they have been doing all along...making themselves and their peers wealthier and more powerful.

This story just infuriates me. I do realize that no one has been convicted of anything but the "appearances" sure seem to be there.

Maybe it is time to write my state senator and representative and let them know how infuriated I am. I have very little hope that it will do any good but I feel compelled to do "something".

I don't like the slurping at the public trough, but my pleasure at seeing the Biscuit Run development fall through outweighs my distaste for the corruption.

GMW, I disagree with your assertions. If the property was worth anywhere near your claims they would have sold for cash and kept some land to develop later as part of the deal. The state should have let it go into foreclosure and bid on the courthouse steps or negotiated with the bank.(or better yet passed it up) There was ZERO reason for them to pay this dearly for this land. That 30k per lot figure you like to toss out there does not include proffers or the required infrastructure that costs about 25k per lot and leaves you with a net of 15 million on a good day.

The state had no interest in the development rights and should not have paid for them. This development did not "save" anything. Those of you who think that they stopped a development will see once the economy recovers and there are smaller developments in YOUR neighborhood. Removing these lots from development will only come into play 200 years from now when every other lot is consumed. If someone wants a home in Albemarle county all they need to do is read the listings for a lot for sale and the yellow pages for a builder.

This deal was sketchy from the word go and hopefully someone will look a little deeper to find out the chain of events and the timeline. We deserve to know who at the state was first approached and who was involved in the decisionmaking. We need to know when Tim Kaine got involved and who and how they managed to get highway funds for it.

This is a National story and deserves a lot of scrutiny.


Did you even read the story? It simply points out that tax payers could have got 5,000 acres of park land for much less than they've ended up paying for an 800 acre park at Biscuit Run if they'd somehow been able to buy the MeadWest Vaco property....there's no comparison between Biscuit Run and the MeadWest Vaco as development property in the story.

here are properties CURRENTLY FOR SALE.

figure out which combination of 1200 acres you would like to get for 20 million bucks (or 2000 plus acres and homes to boot.)

The state should have approached the county and asked a simple question...

"we are about to spend over 20 million dollars on bisquit run, if we were to allow you to suggest alternatives that you think would be better what would you say?"

They can always ask it in hindsight now.. it might make a good story.

I have to think that the 100k the Governor just doled out today was hush money and the fact that they gave 1/8th of it to Albemarle one year after giving us 20-50 MILLION is very strange indeed.

The second-to-last paragraph in this news story says it all. Good old boys clubs flourish wherever enough money, power, and position are involved. Award-winning journalism, Hawes. Thanks. This is why I try to buy goods and services from businesses who advertise in The Hook.

Ok all you real estate experts, let's not forget that this property is located close to town and is readily accessible. It has locational aspects that make it far more desirable as a public park than the other options presented in the article. At least let's admit that in 25 or thirty years, the citizens of this community will be very happy to have a large park so close to the city limits. New York has its Central Park, Philly has Fairmont, and we will have Biscuit Run.

Wasn't Kaine the same guy who tried to turn Jens Soering over to Germany?

I have never seen anyone work so hard to attempt political suicide in his last weeks in the Governor's Office.

The Nature Conservancy is the richest environmental group in the world and their activities in this community need closer scrutiny. They have been known to cut deals for their wealthy investors.

" Such appraisal-fueled donations, however, unleash not only conservation tax credits. Accountants say that such "donors," many of whom may never have wanted to develop their sprawling estates anyway, can also take state and federal tax deductions on their "losses."

Land records suggest that big names and big farms have participated. For instance, in late 2006, Craig's father-in-law, Wick McNeeley donated development rights at his 1,478-acre Chapel Springs Farm in Free Union.

The value of McNeely's donation-- made to the Nature Conservancy-- might have run into the millions. Yet it remains secret, as the state tax department insists that this is private information between the two parties to the gift."

The Nature Conservancy is making deep inroads into this communtiy --time for an investigation of this organization


honestly? i have been through the rage and nausea and frustration and the ineffectual attempts to shine light on what happens under our very noses and must admit i am beaten down. our nation has been stolen bit by bit and there is none of it left except the shiny tatters of itself used as decorations on the lapels of the greedy pigs who profit from its destruction and the repackaged echos of itself that pump out of the tv as they con us. the tipping point has been reached, the experiment has not only failed it has been turned on itself in a shockingly blatant manner. the irony of the national socialists reading the constitution in the legislators chamber - errr, trough - while the welfare socialists listen and the country goes to seed is too painful to contemplate for long. got to go to the Buddha, Christ, any one of the big Kahuna's, give up, and follow their advice: the material and the temporal lead to misery, love and selflessness lead to bliss. we'll see.

Instead of giving up engagement in your own community stew, I would hope you would consider the precepts of Thich Nhat Hahn, who is well known, as is the Dalai Lama, for staying engaged in the problems of our world. There may be a middle way, and there certainly is much to do to keep the politicians of our own community honest and responsive to their citizens.

you go nancy. good luck. probably better off meditating and cultivating compassion and respect for individuals... but if your form of engagement is tilting at windmills - i.e. keeping politicians honest - good for you; I recommend getting a fulfilling hobby though.

@ RT Greenwood: You are beginning to catch on.
McDonnell may keep denying that he knew about the Forbes scandal, but it's increasingly clear that he did.

@ stew: Nancy's right; hang in there. In any democratic republic, citizens must stay informed, be committed to the core values of democracy, and remain engaged in public discourse and the development of public policies. In essence, a democracy is as good as its people.

This whole sordid affair lays bare the hypocrisy that some here have alluded to, and that is the willingness and greed of the rich to seek and take public subsidies, often using deception and blatant lies, while simultaneously bad-mouthing government and praising the "free market," a market they love except when it works against them.

The evidence is daunting. Reagan-Bush1 era tax cuts for corporations and the rich caused huge budget deficits and more than quadrupled the national debt.

Bush2 era tax cuts, directed to top incomes, and Bush2 era deregulation ballooned the nation's debt and broke the economy. But who got bailed out? Worse, groups like the Chamber of Commerce campaigned for and demand more of the same.

In Albemarle County, sixty percent of all land is in the land use tax subsidy program, first-cousin to state and federal land conservation and easement tax credit programs. And conservative legislators, like Rob Bell, want state taxpayers to help subsidize the county's land tax subsidy, a subsidy, like the Biscuit Run deal, that goes primarily to wealthy people.

The Biscuit Run deal illustrates the disconnect (the lie) between what conservatives SAY and what they DO.

The Constitution was written, in part, to "form a more perfect union, and to "promote the general welfare."
But conservatives don't believe in it.

Tax cuts for the wealthy do not pay for themselves (not even close) nor do they result in job creation or "trickle down" to everybody else.

Supply-side economic policies do not promote the general welfare, they enrich the already-rich. Worse, they are the direct cause of huge budget deficits and the gargantuan national debt. And they led to a broken economy.

The not-so-secret dirty secret is that conservatives who tout the "market" and trash government are masters at using government to enrich themselves from the public treasuries at local, state and national levels.

That is what needs to be corrected.

@democracy BRAVO !

Do not lump the Tea Party in with the conservatives. I have never seen a movement that more represents the little guy/girl than the Tea Party.

The Tea Party is tired of the K Street lobbyists (liberal and conservative), big business, special interests, quid pro quo voting arrangements, the Biscuit Run deals-- ALL OF THEM-- buying their politicians, getting MORE than their slice of the pie, and handing the bill to the little guy/gal-- hence the Tea Party.

Join us!! Jefferson Tea Party is the org. Put that together with a dot and you can find that on the internet.

No Liberals and No Country Club Republicans

Tea Party Principles and Goals

1. Limited Government
2. Constitutional Governance
3. Fiscal Responsibility
4. Lower Taxes
5. Free Enterprise
6. Reduce the National Debt
7. Repeal and Replace Government-Run Health Care
8. American Sovereignty and Exceptionalism
9. The Rule of Law
10. Personal Liberty with Personal Responsibility

@ RioDistrictGuy: what if a Hook advertiser was a very large investor in Forest Lodge? Then what do you do?

The Tea Party IS all about the little guy (who just happens to head a huge oil company).

The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party

THe Tea Part is all about the little girl too (if her name is Sarah at least).

"A hall full of elderly white people in Medicare-paid scooters, railing against government spending and imagining themselves revolutionaries as they cheer on the vice-presidential puppet hand-picked by the GOP establishment. If there exists a better snapshot of everything the Tea Party represents, I can't imagine it."

Those don't seem to me like the sort of people who could/would do anything about deals like Biscuit Run. All they might do is change the names of a few people who would profit from corruption.

Great reporting. This article exemplifies what's wrong with our economy, and why we are losing the middle class, to the peril of all of us.

Today's NYT -Robert Reich

"For three decades we’ve cut taxes on the wealthy while real wages stood still.”

mc is correct. this is a story for national news. payback politics and greed are the backbone of our recession. the great state of va and the co of albemarle should set an example for the nation by taking this situation firmly in hand. hunter craig has been a full time lobbyist for his own wallet for years.courting both parties and getting paybacks from all. he did not attend the university of va and has never contributed anything to them. he should not have been named to the board of visitors and having attempted to rig a tax appraisal etc etc to drain money from the already empty coffers of the taxpayers he should be removed. he does deserve as an example to our county and country for the Internal revenue service to dissallow Biscuit run tax credits that are being sold . the Irs can and must stop this abuse now and make an example that will end the future attempts.they have the real power and the final say about these tax credits. they can do in one day what it would take craig deeds 10 years to do. let's hope they do for the sake of justice. again. this story is so nationally newsworthy to our fellow americans who are also paying for government favors with their hardworking and dissapearing dollars each day.please continue such great truthful journalism practices hawes spencer and courtney stuart.

"the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree" is certainly an appropriate saying when it comes to the father son team of hunter and daley craig. mr craig sr. was close to being indicted in 1970 for illegally reporting the number of building hook up permits to the county for his four seasons development. i am sure the dailey progress archives have all the stories surrounding the slippery slopes of that development.

Why do these people continue to try to cut deals to enrich themselves? When is enough money enough ? Is this the way they want to be remembered, or don't they care ?

I hope the Hook continues to investigate this, and that what appears to be a taxpayer scam is corrected, and those who participated are punished no matter how wealthy or influential they are in the community or in the state.

It seems like another group of rich and affluent and ready to take the tax payers for a ride. And the Gov and his AG don't really care. I guess Birds of a Feather...

Since no one at the state level seems interested in pursuing this, maybe the Feds should get involved. That is, if they can clean up their own act enough to do it.

Obviously, the appriasal was bogus. This who deal smells.

The easement system can work. I am a 'wealthy land owner" so despised by Hook readers. I worked hard and smart and fair, earned a bundle of money, and bought a great piece of Albemarle County. Then, I put it in easement. I could have developed it for more money but now it's protected forever and I got a nice tax break. I think that was all fair and square...a true win-win for everybody. If my original purchase price is in the county records for everybody to see, I don't know why the terms of my easement aren't public as well.

It would stand to reason that there is something there that would not be welcome to public eyes. We all lost when the RE market went sounth. I guess someone figured out how to make us pay for their loss also.

@ Mary Smith
Nobody "despises" you. And you make a good point...if the purchase price for your land is public, and if the public is subsidizing the tax break you get for the easement, then why not make that public too?

I'm going to presume that your land is in the county land use program, where it gets subsidized, and you also received federal and perhaps state tax credits for the easement. Is that the case?

My guess is that the "great piece of Albemarle County" you bought has some zoning and/or development restrictions. I'd also venture to guess that you didn't buy it to develop it.

Meanwhile, those who do not own large parcels of land get no subsidy. Nor do they get to use your land.

@ R.T. Greenwood.
As you must know, most Tea Partyers ARE conservatives, and most of them identify themselves AS or identify WITH Republicans.

You list 10 Tea Party "principles," but what do they mean?
For example most Tea Partyers (like yourself) are older. I'll guess that you either already receive or or on the cusp of getting Social Security. Medicare too.

So, does your adherence to "Limited Government" and "Lower Taxes" and "Personal Liberty with Personal Responsibility" mean that you want the privatization of Social Security and the dismantling of Medicare? Please explain.

I am curious. Does your belief in "Constitutional Governance" mean that you are in favor of the constitutional principles of forming "a more perfect union, and "promoting the general welfare?" If not, why not? If you are, then what do those principles mean to you?

The utter hypocrisy of the Tea Party and other conservatives is illustrated by the Tea Party principle and the Republican House efforts to "Repeal and Replace Government-Run Health Care.

First and foremost, health reform legislation did NOT create government-run health care. That is a flat-out lie.
PolitiFact, the non-partisan Pulitzer prize-winning fact checker, called it the 2010 "llie of the year."

Moreover, the Congressional Budget Office analysis shows it would shrink the deficit over time ("Fiscal Responsibility") and help to rein in health care costs and reduce the nation's debt, and it maintains current health insurance structures.

Additionally, it expands health care to millions of more people thus promoting the general welfare of society.

And you are against this, because....?

The convoluted Tea Party principles expose conservatism for what it is. It's a bankrupt ideology, posing as patriotism.

You've been swindled by charlatans who cloak themselves in the flag. The flag, however, is a symbol for equality, justice, popular sovereignty, tolerance, freedoms, and the general welfare of the nation.

Conservatism is, in very real economic terms, a well-orchestrated raid on public treasuries by people who favor oligarchy over democracy, and greed and power over community.

It undermines core democratic principles and values.

the easement tax credits are one of the few things we do to invest in our future. regardless of the benefit to the wealthy land owner, as long as the easements hold up in perpetuity, the county will always have nature and grenspace. mary, e.g., may not have ever planned to develop her property, but now no one behind her will be able to either, and if it takes an incentive to get mary to provide that long term protection then so be it. compared to all the other things we "invest" our tax dollars in, this seems worthy and almost shockingly long viewed for america. that said, abusing the system and getting many more times the value in credits than the law allows is still a crime and a scam.

and it well known that the tea party is just a front for the wealthy who want all of the wealth and industry of our nations individuals to benefit corporate "citizens" masquerading and "the economy." unfortunately, this is true of any grass roots organization - if it has juice, it will be co-opted by the corporate aristocrats. why? because they can. even the supreme court is currently owned by the national socialist right. their reading of the constitution is so self serving you have to laugh or cry. the wonder is why so many of us are so willing to put our (collective) necks in the velvet noose? and even to hate those who advise us not to? go figure....

While I am a big supporter of state parks and conservation easements in general, this deal just stinks of political favors and bad conservation. At the very best, this will be used as a local day-use park for neighbors as what Virginian wants to travel to the outskirts of Charlottesville for a holiday when you can drive 20 minutes further to the world famous Shenandoah National Park. From my understanding, there are no outstanding natural or scenic features on this land at all.

This is the worst type of bailout and everyone associated with this deal should be fired or voted out of office. The worst part is that all of us taxpayers will never know how much we paid to bail out the former owners who made a horrible investment.