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A group of concerned Albemarle citizens has filed suit against the Foxfield Racing Association to prevent the racecourse and surrounding land from being sold.
The complaint, filed Dec. 30 in Albemarle County Circuit Court by attorneys with the firm Troutman Sanders, calls any attempt to sell Foxfield “unwarranted.”
“It is also unlawful because the continued operation of the races and use of the land for that purpose is mandated by the terms of [a] testamentary trust,” the complaint continues.
The complaint alleges that the Foxfield Racing Association has attempted to sell 137 acres or have it listed for sale.
However, the property does not appear to currently be listed for sale.
James C. Summers, attorney for the Foxfield Racing Association, declined to comment on the matter.
At issue is whether the last will and testament of the late Mariann S. de Tejada should be held in perpetuity according to her wishes.
“I have but one wish for the remainder of my lifetime and after my death,” de Tejada wrote in a will executed on May 23, 1983.
“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 and of Virginia who appreciate equestrian sports, competition and related activities,” she wrote.
De Tejada died on Dec. 26, 1983.
The plaintiffs in the case argue they are all beneficiaries of the trust and are thus entitled to a ruling because they are all “concerned citizens and owners of land” near the property.
The suit states that de Tejada purchased the property in 1973 from Grover Vandevender, the huntsman for the Farmington Hunt Club.
De Tejada was the original president of Foxfield Racing and helped incorporate Foxfield Steeplechase Inc. to carry on equestrian pursuits in Vandevender’s honor and memory.
When de Tejada died, she was president of Foxfield Racing. Benjamin Dick was vice president and served as one of the co-executors of her will.
The property passed into the hands of Foxfield Racing on May 7, 1987. Benjamin Dick had by that point become president.
“By accepting the bequest from Mrs. Tejada’s will, Foxfield Racing became a trustee by operation of law, with the Foxfield Property and proceeds derived from the use thereof being the [matter] of the trust and subject to the conditions of the will,” the complaint states.
The suit seeks a judgment on whether the Foxfield property should be held perpetually in trust and whether the current owners can sell any portion of the 137 acres on which the races are run.
The suit also seeks an injunction requiring the races to continue “in the normal course of business.”
The plaintiffs in the case are John H. Birdsall, Harry Burn, Reynolds Cowles, Landon Hilliard, Kiwi Hilliard, John G. Macfarlane III, Dudley Macfarlane and Jack Sanford Jr.
Birdsall has lived near the property since 1987 and spent some time as a member of the advisory board of the Foxfield Racing Association. The suit states the board was disbanded after some of its members “became frustrated with the lack of transparency in Foxfield Racing finances.”
A letter dated March 28, 1991, from Dick to Birdsall acknowledges there were disagreements.
“We are all grown professionals and aside from our bruised egos, Foxfield will survive as we have despite petty and unnecessary disputes,” Dick wrote. “We fully know our obligations, we shall proceed as we always have in good faith, with diligence, and with the greatest intent to maintain Foxfield as the community asset Mrs. Tejada solely envisioned.”
Benjamin Dick died in August of 2015 and since then his brother Thomas has been become president of Foxfield Racing.
In December, attorneys for the plaintiffs sent a letter to Summers expressing concern about a potential sale.
“We realize that as a businessman based in Winchester, Mr. Dick may not be able to devote the same attention to the Foxfield Races as his late brother,” wrote attorney William Hurd of Troutman Sanders in a Dec. 15, 2016, letter. “There is, however, great interest in ensuring that the Foxfield Races continue and that the property remains dedicated to the purposes set forth in the will of Mariann S. Tejada.”
The letter asks Dick to consider expanding the board of directors of the Foxfield Racing Association. It also states that Summers told the attorneys in a phone call that there were no plans to sell the property.
The Foxfield website states that the Spring Races will be held on April 29. The beneficiary of the race will be International Neighbors Charlottesville.
The land is located within Albemarle’s rural area and could be developed.
“The number of lots that could be created would depend on several things, including how many development rights it has, whether or not there were any conservation easements on the property,” said county planner Elaine Echols.