Man Jailed For Not Planting Enough Trees
Saturday, February 17, 2001
Yesterday, at the request of Fairfax County, Virginia, zoning officials, Fairfax County Judge Michael P. McQueeny threw Vienna, Virginia, resident John Thoburn in jail for not planting trees 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 1997. 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).
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 1997, 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."
Tom Misel sent in the following e-mail from Dennis Fusaro, who works with Gun Owners of America.
From: "Dennis Fusaro"
In Wacky, over-regulated Fairfax County my brother-in-law, John Thoburn, has been jailed for not planting trees. This is a civil matter, but it shows the power you and I have allowed the bureaucrats to acquire and use against our property rights.
They use zoning and building codes to impose arbitrary demands. They get to interpret. You get to comply, or else ... . If you resist, they pile on and make it so difficult to fight you capitulate. They use your tax dollars to fight against you. If they want you gone, they can overwhelm you with demands and legal costs.
John's wife is in Texas. She is afraid to return to Virginia for fear that the Fairfax County Attorney might try to get the judge to put her in jail, too.
The borad of supervisors, elected by the people, keep selling a snow job to callers that the county attorney has "ordered" them not to talk about the court case. This is pure political eyewash.
The board can shut this case down at any time by ordering the case to be dropped, or their demands modified, so as to let John out of jail. They are the client, and they can stop the litigation if they want to do so.
The word is that they want to force the range to close so the business dies. There is evidence that they -- the bureaucrats -- want the land for some public use, and if they can shut down the business, the cost of condemning it goes way down.
Remember the bureaucrats ultimately think they own your land and your other property.
So please consider calling the Fairfax board again (or for the first time). Some of you may be able to find their e-mails and faxes.
Don't let them snow you! The FAirfax County Board of Supervisors has the power to drop the lawsuit against John Thoburn.
Here are the telephone numbers:
Chm. Kate Hanley: 703-324-2321
For more details, and future updates, please monitor:
I have bumperstickers that say:
"Free John Thoburn"
If you would be willing to buy one, all proceeds will go toward his legal defense in this effort.
I am asking $1.00 per sticker.
Please send any order requests to:
Include your check or money order or cash (risky) with your order. Please include a self-addressed stamped return envelope, it will make it easier to handle your request.