- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2001

The "Shrubman" still isnt happy, but at least hes a free man.
John Thoburn, the self-proclaimed "political prisoner" and golf-range owner who waged a well-publicized war against Fairfax County, Va., over property rights, emerged from jail yesterday after 97 days.
"Its a victory," Mr. Thoburn told The Washington Times last night in a telephone interview. "Its a victory in that they werent able to close my business."
Circuit Judge Michael P. McWeeny, tired of the stalemate between the two sides, freed the businessman, who has come to be known as the "Shrubman."
But the judge ordered county officials to plant the 270 additional trees and shrubs they require at the 46-acre Golf Park at Hunter Mill near Reston. The judge also levied a $48,500 fine on Mr. Thoburn — $500 for each day he was in jail — and ordered that he reimburse the county for its work.
Judge McWeeny acknowledged that putting Mr. Thoburn in jail under a civil contempt citation had not been successful in compelling him to comply with a court order issued a year ago to plant the trees and shrubs. But Judge McWeeny said there was no doubt the county was within its rights to enforce the zoning rules.
"Whats been before me is simply a question of obeying the law," Judge McWeeny said. "Before I incarcerated him [Feb. 16], I gave him the option to comply or close the facility. He chose to do neither."
Mr. Thoburn, who contends he already met the landscaping requirements, told the Times last night he saw his release as "a small victory" for small-business owners across the county. "Nothing is different today than it was Feb. 16, when I was put in jail," he said. "No trees or shrubs were planted and yet my business is still open."
Nevertheless, Mr. Thoburn said he is disappointed with the judges ruling, saying the courts should protect the public, not bureaucrats.
"This is supposed to be the court of equity," Mr. Thoburn said. "But for failing to move some trees and plant some bushes, I get fined $40,000. Thats totally disproportionate to any interest at all. This serves no public benefit. This has strictly been about maintaining the power of bureaucracy."
Mr. Thoburn said he hopes the work will not begin until June 5, when the countys Board of Zoning Appeals will review his case. He has asked the board to grant him a special permit amendment that would nullify the judges ruling.
However, Mr. Thoburn would not say whether he intended to appeal Judge McWeenys order, and county officials could not be reached for comment last night.
The matter had become a crusade for Mr. Thoburn, 43, whose family fields international media calls, sports "Free John Thoburn" bumper stickers and, with the help of Washington-based watchdog group Defenders of Property Rights, has established a defense fund.
The Thoburns and Fairfax County have a long history of feuding over everything from the sale of hot dogs to the size of berms.
Throughout the latest battle, county zoning officials told Mr. Thoburn to comply with landscaping requirements or close his business.
Mr. Thoburn, who decided he would rather go to jail, said he planted more than 700 trees and shrubs at a cost of $125,000 in 1994, as required. Then the county changed its rules, Mr. Thoburn said, and demanded that he move 92 plants and add 50.
He refused.
County officials contend there are still 146 trees and 124 shrubs missing, all intended to shield neighbors from light and errant balls.
At a brief hearing yesterday in Fairfax County Circuit Court, Mr. Thoburns attorneys argued that what the county sought was impossible because Mr. Thoburn doesnt have the estimated $30,000 to $40,000 needed to do all the plantings.
Mr. Thoburn testified that the range loses $500,000 a year, that he was 60 days behind on his mortgage, and owed $100,000 in back taxes to Fairfax County and $25,000 to the Internal Revenue Service.
County Attorney J. Patrick Taves scoffed at the notion that Mr. Thoburn is destitute.
"Hes a very wealthy man, at least land-wise," Mr. Taves said. "If he cant make a profit, then perhaps he ought to sell some of the properties he owns."
* This article is based in part on wire service reports.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide