Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Herrity has told county staffers to "get their butts out there" and help a family whose property taxes have doubled since 1982, when the county changed the status of their land near Washington Dulles International Airport.
When the board of supervisors refused last month to change its land-use plan for Jeanette and James Bohanan's 1.75-acre home site from industrial to residential, the roomful of county residents booed.
Jeanette Bohanan had asked the county to return her home to the status it had held until the board designated the site for industrial development. She called the latest decision "devastating."
Herrity said last week that the change "was an awful thing to do to somebody."
Centreville Supervisor Martha Pennino said the Bohanan family's situation "is so tragic."
This week, after hearing a lot of sympathetic rhetoric and learning that Fairfax staff members had not yet discussed possible solutions to the problem with the Bohanan family, Herrity took action.
"I have told them the staff to get their butts out there to offer her some possibilities," Herrity said. He said county staffers had told him that there were ways to deal with the tax increases the Bohanans had experienced.
Herrity cautioned that he was not sure the Bohanans would accept solutions the county might produce.
Herrity's remarks came after several county employes said the staff had determined that the problem had to be solved by Herrity's office.
Bohanan had asked the county more than six months ago to return the land where she and her husband James have lived for 35 years to residential status during this year's review of the county's land-use plan. Even though her request had support from the county planning commission, the board voted against it. Herrity said the "plan amendment was not the way to handle" the problem.
Pennino said the change would not have resulted in a tax decrease because she had been told by the county's legal department that the tax rate would remain industrial based on the potential use of the land. "I asked the board to rezone it back, but did not get anywhere," Pennino said.
Pennino said the board is "afraid of another Occoquan decision" because returning the Bohanan land to its residential status might be construed as down-zoning. The board's 1982 decision to down-zone and limit development of land in the Occoquan watershed led to a lengthy court battle.
"They are afraid that someone will go back into court," Pennino said. The Bohanans' land "should have been left residential," she said.
Herrity said this week that "there are some creative ways to handle this." He said the county staff will be working to come up with solutions.
Bohanan is wary of "creative" ways to solve her problem. She wants the land returned to its residential status because she wants to live in the house for the rest of her life and pass it on to her children "when the time comes."
Pennino mentioned tax deferrals as a possible solution. That would mean that the Bohanans could pay residential taxes on their home now and defer the industrial levy until the property changed hands.
"For the heirs to have to pay the deferred taxes . . . that's not right," Bohanan said. She and her husband have no plans to sell, but prefer to save the land for their children, who they say want the land to stay residential.
"If something happens to us, it is just not right for the children," she said. "If he Herrity thinks the answer is tax deferral, I will talk to them, but I'll never agree to it."
Bohanan also said that adding accumulated industrial-rate taxes over a long period of time probably would make the property hard to sell to a commercial user anyway for any sort of profit.
But selling is not what she wants to do. Bohanan said she wants to stay in her house even though airplanes using the nearby airport fly low over it daily.
She said the county's position that changing the land-use plan designation would not change her tax rate supports her plea to return the land to residential status.
"If it didn't make any difference, why not rezone it back?" Bohanan asked.
The Bohanans live on a fixed income. He is disabled. At this point, they qualify for tax relief and pay property taxes on only part of their land.
So long as the land carries an industrial designation, Bohanan said the value is going to go up as development spreads in the Route 28 corridor. Bohanan said she is worried that the value of a three-quarter-acre portion of their home site quickly will surpass $65,000. "Our net worth is going to be over $65,000 because we're zoned industrial. It's going to knock us off tax relief," she said.