After more than a decade of battles with neighbors, environmentalists and other groups, a developer who owns property adjacent to a controversial golf-course development planned on Fones Cliffs is selling it to a conservation group.
Ultimately, the property will be purchased by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Terrell Bowers, who owns the parcel he called Rappahannock Cliffs, had been in the process of asking Richmond County for a rezoning so he could build 10 high-rise condominiums that would house 200 units. The cliffs above the Rappahannock River about halfway between Port Royal and Tappahannock draw hundreds of bald eagles, are important to watermen who fish in the river and are a historic area for the Rappahannock Tribe.
“Many people will rejoice that a large section of this iconic landmark will be conserved forever instead of built out with 10-story condominium towers or houses,” he said.
Bowers was working in the commercial real estate business in Richmond in 2003 when he purchased the 250 acres along Fones Cliffs as a weekend getaway. He built a four-bedroom house on the property that now sits abandoned, windows broken, teetering on the edge of the eroding cliffs.
He had considered a conservation easement on the land, but then made plans to build condominiums.
Now a resident of South Carolina, he sent out a press release Wednesday announcing the property was under contract with The Conservation Fund, a national group that acts as an intermediary for federal agencies because it can move much quicker to purchase properties. In this case, the property will eventually be sold to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which already owns the neighboring Rappahannock River Valley Wildlife Refuge.
Heather Richards, Virginia state director for the Conservation Fund, confirmed there is a contract on the property, but could not divulge the purchase price. She said funding will come from a variety of sources and is still being worked out. The Fund plans to close on the deal by the end of the year.
Richards said the group had been talking with Bowers for years about buying the property. Bowers said Fish and Wildlife has been in talks with him since he bought the property 15 years ago.
Bowers also said he was scheduled to go before the Richmond County Planning Commission next week to request rezoning for 200 condominium units consolidated into 10 four-story buildings.
Then came what he calls a “twist of fate.” The Conservancy Fund made an offer on his property. But it was when his wife called to say her car had broken down next to a cornfield in South Carolina that things began to change.
“Deane was burning hot on the side of the road. She had to get towed 25 miles to the mechanic, who couldn’t look at it until the next week, and get a ride home another 30 miles away,” Bowers wrote in his press release.
Then came news of Hurricane Florence.
“The expectation was that we would have to evacuate. And she wouldn’t have a car, he wrote. “I could either stay put and go to the Planning Commission and head home Tuesday, or rescue the damsel in distress.”
He said he drove back to South Carolina, where his wife convinced him to sell the property to the Conservation Fund.
“She helped me see ... in the big scheme of things it was the right thing to do,” he said.
Next door to Bowers’ property is nearly 1,000 acres of similar property owned by the New York development company Virginia True Corp. Problems began last year after more than 13 acres were cleared to build a golf course on the environmentally sensitive Fones Cliffs without proper permits or erosion, sediment or stormwater controls.
Heavy rains caused the cliffs to erode into the river, which led to fines and citations from the state Department of Environmental Quality. The case was referred to the state Attorney General’s office last month.
Richards said the Fund, which has conserved more than 70,000 acres since it was established in 1985, is not in talks with Virginia True, but added that “hope springs eternal.”
“We would love to see as much of Fones Cliffs preserved as we can,” she said. “If there’s an opportunity to talk with them, I would welcome that opportunity to sit down with and figure out a conservation solution for that property as well.”