Fairfax Co. family farm fights to add rope-climbing course, despite red tape

- Is government over regulation putting a northern Virginia family farm at risk?

The owners of the Whitehall Farm in Fairfax County say they've been trying to add environmentally-friendly businesses to their 200 acres of farmland. There's already a state law in Virginia allowing farmers to add extra income, but standing in their way are Fairfax County's zoning officials,  whom the farmers say are blocking efforts to cut through red tape.

At one time, farms were everywhere in Fairfax County. But over the years, in the name of progress, they have dwindled. Nadine Vazquez and Jeff Waters own Whitehall Farm, which has been in Nadine's family for 60 years. It's a fight to keep their heads above water, so they say when the owner of a rope-climbing adventure course wanted to set up an environmentally-friendly rope climbing course, they thought their prayers had been answered.

But not so fast. Fairfax County zoning officials tell them despite a Virginia law letting farmers operate side businesses on their property, Vazquez and Waters would need a permit from Fairfax County-- which could cost between $17,000 and $100,000.

"It doesn't make any sense to me, Waters said. "I would hope at some point we could come to some sort of resolution. Hopefully (zoning) board will vote in our favor and that will be the end of it. We can't afford to get a special permit to get the ropes course here, and I don't think we can keep doing this without more revenue."

Whitehall Farm is currently home to chickens, pigs, cows, horses-- and that means a lot of expenses. Running a farm isn't cheap, so to bring in extra income, they have added businesses like a compost company that is run by veterans, and a farmer's market selling their locally-grown produce, meats, and Virginia-made soaps and gourmet items.

The pair says Fairfax County is now standing in the way of the rope climbing business, which could bring in $4 million over 10 years. Vazquez and Waters say zoning officials told them they'd need a special permit because rope climbing is not a "natural farm activity." The farmers say to them, it's old-fashioned red tape and bureaucracy, and they can't afford to pay thousands of dollars in permit fees just because they want to add a fun, healthy activity that could help keep their family farm in business.

"I would like this to be a step into what a farm looks like, because a lot of people don't know what a farm looks like anymore. For young people to experience holding a chicken, looking at pigs, looking at cattle and just enjoying nature," said Vazquez.

FOX 5 reached out to Fairfax County officials to get their side of the story, but they have not responded as of yet.

Vazquez and Waters say they plan to have their neighbors over on June 10 to try and drum up support for their cause. They also plan on being at the Fairfax County Government Center on June 28, when Whitehall Farms tries to make its case directly to the zoning officials themselves.
 

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