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Plans could be in the works to develop nearly 179 acres currently home to the Foxfield racecourse, according to recent court filings in a lawsuit against the Foxfield Racing Association.
A group of Albemarle County residents filed the lawsuit against the Foxfield Racing Association in the county’s Circuit Court in December seeking an injunction to prevent the sale of the property, which is on Garth Road in Albemarle’s rural area.
Recent court filings suggest the owners have considered either subdividing the Foxfield property into 17 building lots or developing some lots while keeping the racetrack.
The plaintiffs in the case argue that the land is held in trust by the association for the benefit of Albemarle County residents and others.
They cite the will of the late Mariann S. de Tejeda — who owned the property and started the Foxfield Races in 1978 — as evidence that the land should be held in perpetuity for the races. Tejeda died in 1983.
“I have but one wish for the remainder of my lifetime and after my death,” Tejeda wrote in her will. “That is to apply all my time, energies and financial resources to the perpetuation of the Foxfield Races in Albemarle County for the recreation, education and enjoyment of the people of Albemarle County and their friends and visitors of Virginia who appreciate equestrian sports, competition and related activities.”
The steeplechase and timber races are held in the spring — drawing at least 20,000 people in recent years, many of them college students — and in the fall, which is a smaller, family-oriented affair.
The Foxfield Racing Association and its director, Thomas Dick, claim in court documents, however, that Tejeda did not intend to create a trust in her will because of previous mismanagement of trusts in Virginia and California to which she had been a beneficiary.
“As a result of those … negative experiences, she did, with clear and unequivocal language, leave the Foxfield property, the residuary estate and the bulk of her real and personal property to the Foxfield Racing Association, the nonstock corporation which she had created in 1977 as Foxfield Steeplechase Inc.,” the defendants wrote in one of their motions to dismiss the suit.
As a nonstock corporation, the defendants argue that the Foxfield Racing Association has control over its property and the power to sell it.
“The plaintiffs have no standing to intervene in corporate affairs, and even if a trust had been established, they are not settlors or trustees or other parties with the authority to intervene in trust affairs,” the defendants’ filing said.
The defendants also filed a demurrer on Jan. 19 in response to the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary injunction, arguing that the group of Albemarle residents failed to state any facts in their complaint supporting the claim that the alleged beneficiaries would suffer “irreparable harm.”
The defendants submitted a motion on April 25, asking the court to suspend discovery — or pretrial efforts to obtain evidence — pending rulings on the motions to dismiss and the demurrer.
Arguments on the motion to suspend discovery will be presented at a court hearing on June 2. A subsequent hearing will be scheduled later for the other motions.
In the meantime, Judge Cheryl Higgins signed an order agreed to by both sides on May 12, temporarily suspending discovery of the parties until the June 2 hearing.
The plaintiffs filed documents on Tuesday making their case against suspending discovery. They argue that rules of procedure require that discovery continue despite the filings of the demurrer and the motions to dismiss.
They also claim, “Tom Dick has been less than candid with the court.”
Although Dick signed an affidavit on Jan. 16 saying that the land is not currently “listed for sale with any real estate broker, nor is any sale of this property eminent [sic],” the plaintiffs allege plans for a proposed development on the Foxfield property were submitted to Dick on the same day.
An exhibit to the plaintiffs’ recent filing details plans for a development called Hermit Thrush. The proposals, which were drawn up by Kennon Williams Landscape Studio, include one option with a maximum of 17 lots and another that would develop some lots but maintain the Foxfield racetrack.
Other documents attached to the plaintiffs’ latest filing include a $17 million, two-year listing agreement for the property that Dick’s late brother and the former president of the Foxfield Racing Association, Benjamin Dick, had signed. The agreement lasted between November 2014 and November 2016. Benjamin Dick passed away in 2015. The plaintiffs allege that this attempt to sell the Foxfield property “was kept secret from the community.”
A correspondence from October between Thomas Dick and Frank Hardy, of Frank Hardy Sotheby’s International Realty, discussing potentially developing the land also was attached.
“These facts strongly suggest that, while Tom Dick may not intend to sell the Foxfield property by using a broker or as a single large parcel (as his late brother Ben secretly intended to do), he does intend to break it up and sell it in pieces, thus destroying the property as the venue for the races that the late Mrs. Tejeda intended to be carried on there in perpetuity,” the plaintiffs wrote.
C. James Summers, the attorney for the Foxfield Racing Association and Thomas Dick, declined to comment.