This portion of Fones Cliffs along the Rappahannock River was once the site of Pissacoack, home to the Rappahannock people. Photo: Jeff Allenby/Chesapeake Conservancy

Controversial Fones Cliffs Planned Development Site Now Up for Bankruptcy Auction

By Whitney Pipkin, Bay Journal News Service

Plans for luxury development on a strip of forested cliffs along Virginia’s Rappahannock River may not come to fruition, a bankruptcy sale notice confirms.

The 1,000-acre property on an ecologically and historically valuable stretch of Fones Cliffs in Richmond County will be auctioned off during an online sale on Nov. 3 to help satisfy the owners’ debts.

This will be the third sale of a Fones Cliffs property in recent years. Conservation groups have played key roles in purchasing two other large chunks of the Northern Neck landscape, which is home to one of the largest concentrations of bald eagles in the country and is culturally important to the Rappahannock Tribe.

One 252-acre property that had also been slated for development was purchased by The Conservation Fund in 2018 and then by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the next year. The Chesapeake Conservancy purchased another 465-acre property from Northern Neck Lumber Co. and donated it in April to the Rappahannock Tribe.

Representatives from those environmental organizations are aware of the upcoming bankruptcy sale but provided no further comment. Bidding for property — which sold for $12 million in 2015 — will start at $4.25 million.

Virginia True Corp., the property’s owner, filed for bankruptcy in 2019 after contentious plans to build an 18-hole golf course, spa and hundreds of homes on the property ran into major headwinds. The bankruptcy filings included a revamped plan for the property: a combination of federally funded housing, a hotel and luxury condos in 10-story towers.

Two years before that, Virginia True broke ground on the property by illegally clearing 13 acres of trees from the riverbank. After several days of rain, a portion of the cliff face slid into the waters below. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality levied a $200,000 fine against the company for the violations.

DEQ is listed as a debtor in the bankruptcy filings, behind the Florida-based Diatomite Corporation of America, which provisionally rezoned and then sold the property to Virginia True.

The real estate listing focuses on the property’s “incredible views” from more than a mile of cliffs along the river. It states that the land is currently zoned for light agricultural use and says a preliminary development plan previously approved for the property is “now potentially expired.”

Qualifying bids for the property are due by Oct. 31.