Golf range owner jailed for zoning violation

In 1994, John Thoburn, owner of the Golf Park at Hunter Mill in Fairfax County Virginia, planted more than 700 trees at his newly opened practice range. The county had required that Thoburn construct a large berm and plant the trees atop it to shield nearby residences from night lighting Thoburn planned to erect. Thoburn did as required (at a cost of about $125,000) but earlier this year, Fairfax County decided it wasn’t sure whether the berm was the right height, and also thought that some of the trees needed to be moved. Until the matter was resolved, the county told Thoburn he should close down his range.

It gets better.

Thoburn’s operation was originally approved by the county, and Thoburn claims he still is in full compliance with the original permit. Regardless, the golf range does not yet actually use night lighting, which was the whole point of the berm to begin with. So when the county ordered him to close up shop while they decided what he should do about the berm, Thoburn had had enough and refused.

Now it gets bizarre.

At the request of Fairfax Co. zoning officials, a county judge jailed Thoburn on Feb. 16 and he remains there as of this writing. In addition, Thoburn is racking up a $1,000 per day fine.

Meanwhile, an internal disagreement among county zoning employees is delaying a decision about what actually needs to be done. Apparently, the argument is over whether the berm should be 362 or 364 feet (above sea level). Plus, a county arborist has decided that some trees that Thoburn moved (with county approval) subsequent to their original planting need to be moved back to the original location. All the while, Thoburn sits in jail.

Thoburn’s wife, also threatened with incarceration (she is legal co-owner) has fled to Texas with the Thoburn children to avoid the county’s wrath.

To top it off, the Virginia Dept. of Transportation just unveiled its plans to expand a nearby road. Sure enough, the expansion would take much of Thoburn’s property.

As you might guess, this situation didn’t come out of nowhere. Thoburn has long felt that Fairfax County held a grudge against him and his family.

It’s hard to disagree.


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