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For Immediate Release

Saturday, February 17, 2001

Contact: Jo Thoburn

Man Jailed For Not Planting Trees

On February 16, 2001, at the request of Fairfax County, Virginia, zoning officials, Fairfax County Judge Michael P. McWeeny threw Vienna, Virginia, resident John Thoburn in jail for not planting trees at the Golf Park at Hunter Mill.

Workers planting trees in 1994
at the Golf Park at Hunter Mill

The court ordered Mr. Thoburn to close the Golf Park until the trees were planted. When Mr. Thoburn refused, he was cited with contempt of court and jailed and fined $1000 each day he is open.

"Unfortunately, Fairfax County gave me two bad choices: go to jail or go out of business," said John Thoburn. "I'm just a small businessman trying to make a living to support my wife and kids, if I have to stay in jail to keep the doors open and feed my family, I will."

Jane Gwinn, the Fairfax County Zoning Administrator, has refused to act on several site plan amendments filed by Mr. Thoburn over six weeks ago which would have cleared-up this whole situation.

Instead, Jane Gwinn has been personally insistent that Fairfax County pursue the closure of the Golf Park.

"Fairfax County claims to be friendly to the small business owner. In truth, there are too many over-zealous bureaucrats with unrestricted powers over the property-rights of its citizens," noted Jo Thoburn, sister-in-law, and spokesman for the family. "The whole thing is just bizarre, we're talking about planting trees."

Mr. Thoburn had already planted over 700 trees when he opened the Golf Park in 1994. The 300 trees in question are in conjunction with a berm that Fairfax County required Mr. Thoburn to build in order to add lights to his Golf Park. There are not lights at the range at this time. Furthermore, Mr. Thoburn is still in full compliance of his original occupancy permit (non-RUP).

Workers planting trees on the
outer perimeter of the Golf Park

The berm was completed last spring to a height required by the BZA (Board of Zoning Appeals). Since that time, the BZA and Fairfax County Zoning Administrators have had an internal squabble over whether the final height of the berm was to be 364 feet or 362 feet. Aerial surveys are scheduled in the coming weeks to determine the actual height of the berm.

When the trees were originally planted in 1994, some trees were moved with approval from the site reviewer to better shield the houses across the street. A new county arborist has now decided that any tree that was not planted on the original site plan location must be replanted in the original location or on the berm.

Furthermore, Mr. Thoburn is waiting for Fairfax County to designate the kind and height of the trees that are to be planted.

"It's a Catch-22. Fairfax County Zoning Administrators know perfectly well that the trees would die if planted this time of year. Plus, there is a very real possibility that the trees would all have to be torn down if the county rules that the berm has to be built higher or lower after the survey," said Jo Thoburn. "Fairfax County is simply being unreasonable."

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