GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin and his wife last year successfully petitioned Fairfax County to designate their horse farm as an agricultural district, which led to a 95% reduction in the taxes they pay on the 31.5-acre property in Great Falls that surrounds their home.
The agricultural district reduced the Youngkins’ real estate tax bill on the farm by a total of $151,844.90 in 2020 and 2021 combined, according to public information that the Fairfax County Department of Tax Administration provided to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said in a statement that the couple sought the agricultural designation as part of a commitment to environmental stewardship and conservation.
“The Youngkins made their home in Fairfax County in order to meaningfully enjoy and care for the unique land and habitat of the area,” the statement said. “The Youngkins are wholly committed to keeping the land protected and preserved, and remain in full compliance with all local, state and federal laws, regulations, tax codes and ordinances.”
They and other neighbors maintain a trail that is mostly on the Youngkins’ property and is open to hikers and horseback riders and are thrilled to share it with others, the statement said, “so they can also enjoy the beauty of the land and the results of the Youngkins’ conservation efforts.”
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in June 2020 unanimously approved a request by the Youngkins that their farm become an agricultural and forestal district, a designation allowed by state and local law for property owners who meet certain criteria and agree not to develop their land for eight years.
The decision was consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan, which encourages such districts in order to preserve the rural character of the environmentally sensitive area, according to county records.
The districts “encourage the preservation of significant tracts of agricultural and forested land throughout the County by providing a reduced real estate tax assessment in exchange for a commitment to preserve the land for the length of the term,” read a 110-page report from county government staff, who recommended approval.
The Youngkin farm is one of 43 such districts in Fairfax County, one of the wealthiest areas in the state and Virginia’s largest jurisdiction by population with more than 1.1 million people.
The tax break for the agricultural district involves the Youngkin farm, but not the house they built in 2005. The Youngkins first applied for the agricultural district in October 2019 for their property, Mane Manor LLC and Normandy Farm LLC. They opted not to include the land that their house sits on, which would have lowered the tax bill even further.
The seven parcels making up the farm were assessed at $6,818,370 in 2020, which would have resulted in a tax bill of $80,695 at market value. But at the agricultural district rate, the assessment dropped to $376,900, and the resulting taxes owed for 2020 were $4,460, a reduction of nearly 95%.
The assessed value of the farm this year is $6,750,040, which would have resulted in a tax payment of $79,211.72 at market value, according to the county. But with the agricultural district, the assessed value drops to $306,930 and results in a 2021 tax payment of $3,601.82 — a reduction of more than 95%.
A state government panel called the State Land Evaluation and Advisory Council establishes the lower rates for the districts and they fluctuate.
At the time of approval, the farm property included two outdoor riding arenas, stables, horse pastures, and storage buildings. Equestrian facilities are typical in the area, along with stately homes, pastures lined with short, wood fences, and scattered woodlands, according to county records.
County records from before the application was granted indicated that the Youngkins wanted to add a horse boarding service and new, indoor riding arena on the farm, but that the property was intended for their personal use. Suzanne Youngkin is a member of the Virginia Tech Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center Advisory Council.
Conservation officials analyzed the property as part of the application, and the Youngkins agreed to abide by a soil and water conservation plan and forestry plan, and are restoring trees and vegetation to keep a large part of the land in its natural state.
The properties on the farm were previously owned by various people, and the Youngkins bought the land over time, making the most recent purchase in 2019.
Youngkin, a former private equity executive, has contributed $12 million of his own money to date in his effort to win the governorship. He faces Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a former governor, in the November election.
In early 2020, there was some confusion over what the Youngkins intended to do on the farm.
Some neighbors emailed members of the Fairfax County Planning Commission saying they would object to any planned commercial operation or boarding business, according to a county transcript of a 2020 planning meeting.
John Ulfelder, the Dranesville District planning commissioner, noted at a meeting that the agricultural and forestal district application was strictly a determination on whether the property met the requirements for that district and to be eligible for real estate tax relief.
“Moreover, the applicant ... makes it abundantly clear that she has no intention of running a commercial riding and boarding stable on the property. It is intended solely for the applicant’s personal use,” Ulfelder said at the meeting, adding that he had visited the property and wanted to personally thank the Youngkins for reinvigorating equestrian use of the property and for good stewardship of the land.
Later, at the June 2020 meeting of the Board of Supervisors, Suzanne Youngkin said that while she didn’t intend commercial use, she was leaving open the possibility that she would “share” one of the barns, according to a video on the county’s website.
The Youngkins did not seek a commercial operation and don’t intend to, the campaign said. They overhauled the farm, according to the Normandy Farm website, which calls it a “Premier, boutique barn and historic horse farm located just 18 miles from the heart of Washington, D.C. dedicated to the well-being and training of equine athletes. ... With state-of-the-art facilities, full-service care, the area’s top trainers and care-givers, attention to detail and a club-like environment, The Stable at Normandy Farm excels at providing a high-end, healthy environment for horses and riders alike.”
The Youngkin campaign said the training and boarding on the farm is minimal.