On Wednesday, September 5, Warren County Attorney Dan Whitten filed a non-suit motion on the County’s legal request to have golf removed as a required use of the Front Royal Golf Club property it purchased in 2005. A notice of the filing to drop the litigation was mailed out to involved parties the following day.
The stunning development came one day after the Warren County Board of Supervisors adjourned to a Closed Session that lasted over two hours, and included discussion of the golf course litigation.
In a September 6 press release, county officials downplayed legal implications of the non-suit filing and noted it could be re-filed within six months. They acknowledged the input of golf club members at an August 21 public hearing. A contingent of the club’s membership, now estimated at down to about 100, appeared in support of county board reconsideration of its decision to move away from golf as a use of the 62-acre property gifted for the recreational use “including golf” of county citizens in 1938. See Related Story
“Nonsuiting the case at this juncture makes the most sense since it would likely be the spring before the case would be heard,” County Board and Golf Club Advisory Committee Chairman Tony Carter is quoted in the County press release. Carter said the board would use the time “to closely watch the revenue picture over the next several months to see if there is significant community support for keeping the course open.”
Responding to public hearing criticism of the County’s management of the golf course, Carter added, “With drier weather, we pledge to continue to make improvements to the condition of the course to improve the golf experience.”
As Royal Examiner previously reported the property was gifted 80 years ago for the recreational use of citizens and visitors to the county in memory of “Billy” Carson, the son of Agnes and William Carson who died at age 16. According to the club website the golf course was designed by William Carson.
The county government purchased the property in 2005 with the continued stipulation that “the current nine (9) holes for golf located on the 62 Acre Parcel, will be used and maintained only for golf.” That purchase was from the renamed management entity then known as the Front Royal Country Club. The County then altered the name to the Front Royal Golf Club and undertook the operation of the property as a municipal golf course, adding walking trails through the property.
However, as time passed that use has become an issue with some supervisors, the Fork District’s Archie Fox being a leading voice against continued County support of the golf course’s operational funding. As we reported of the public hearing discussion the County has estimated annual revenue shortfalls from $30,000 to as high as $110,000.
Club member Staige Miller Jr. countered that most county-managed recreational activities operate at a loss. And Miller noted that even on the high-end annual deficit estimates, the required revenue to balance the golf club budget equates to one-quarter of one penny of real estate tax revenue.
The County’s filing for a declaratory judgment removing the golf requirement for the property notes that in 1938 there were no other golf courses in the community, but now there are four privately-operated courses. County officials have pointed to higher golf course expenses and a national trend of closures of private courses – an argument at least one club member has countered presents more reason for the County to continue to maintain its municipal course, should the future bring closures of those privately-operated county courses.
We asked County Attorney Whitten if court-appointed guardian ad litem Chip White’s response to the County filing for a declaratory judgment to remove golf as a use of the property had any impact on the decision to non-suit the case.
White, appointed to represent the interests of the “unknown heirs or assignees” of Agnes and William Carson, filed a response challenging the County’s ownership of the property should it fail to live up to the original conditions of the deed of gift of the property. White’s filing states that should the current management entity by whatever name fail to meet the 1938 deed of gift condition of recreational use “including golf” which the County signed off on in 2005, the property would revert to the ownership of the Carson heirs or assignees.
White supports that contention by noting that the 1938 transfer excluded mineral and other rights to the property. He also contends that the property’s controlling entity originally named the Recreational Center of Front Royal, was likely initially controlled by the Carson family.
However, Whitten responded that he had sent White “the title insurance policy for the property which the County acquired by deed dated April 14, 2005, from the Front Royal Country Club (formerly known as Recreational Center of Front Royal), and said deed was recorded in the Clerk’s Office of the Circuit Court of Warren County, Virginia as instrument number 050003897.”
He added that “The County has clear title to the property, and there is not a reverter clause in the deed.”
Royal Examiner was unable to reach White for a response prior to publication of this article. It will be added when available.