With the Town of Purcellville talking about turning a portion of its 189-acre Aberdeen Property into a hops farm, discussions have shifted to focus more on what has been happening on the property in the past rather than what can happen in the future.
The Town Council has targeted the property, located on Short Hill north of town, as an opportunity to generate income. It turns out, the property is already doing that.
Town Manager David Mekarski last week informed the Town Council that Chris Tranchitella of Tranco Farms has been planting corn on up to 98 acres of the property since 2011, paying the town $25 per acre. Mekarski said he only recently found out about the deal. While Mekarksi said that Tranchitella’s written contract with the town ended in 2016, he verbally renewed it with former public works director Alex Vanegas each year after. Although Tranchitella has already spent $32,000 on herbicides to prepare 120 acres for $52,000 worth of planting this year, Mekarski has ordered him to cease and desist, ruling that the contract is not valid.
“You don’t authorize anyone verbally, you don’t give any contract extension verbally—you put it in writing,” he said. “As town manager, I wouldn’t advocate that practice.”
Tranchitella has not responded to phone calls or email on the matter.
Mekarski said that when he asked Tranchitella why he had already applied the chemicals without verbal consent, Tranchitella said that in the past the town’s authorization had always occurred after applying it. “I believe he was being honorable about those statements,” Mekarski said.
Revenue coming from the property is something that has confused many in recent years. Internal Revenue Service restrictions on the tax-exempt bonds used to finance the town’s purchase of both the Aberdeen Property and the Fireman’s field complex kept the town from generating excessive rental revenue from the properties as a whole.
When the town in 2015 increased rent payments for the Purcellville Teen Center, which formerly managed operations in the tabernacle, it was forced to refrain from accepting rent payments from Tranchitella.
“We were not allowed to make more than a certain amount of money on our tax-exempt bonded property,” Town Attorney Sally Hankins said. “Those moneys we were receiving were putting us over that threshold and for that reason we were no longer taking moneys from the farmer.”
The town has since refinanced that debt and removed those IRS restrictions, meaning it can now generate more revenue from the properties.
Mekarski said that in recent years, in lieu of Tranchitella paying the town for rent, Tranco Farms has mowed the area. With that maintenance work, he said that the town has probably realized an annual financial gain in excess of the $3,000 that the original contract anticipated.
Tranchitella’s farming operation could impede the town’s desire to turn 10 acres of the property into a hops farm to be leased to individual growers. If the hops farm ever became a reality, the town would most likely seek to irrigate the hops using reclaimed water from its nearby water treatment plant.
When Fraser asked about the herbicides’ impact on the property’s three wells, Stacie Alter, the town’s water treatment plant operator, said that the wells had not been sampled yet because they are not part of the town’s active water system.
Alter said that the Marsh Well, which is adjacent to the property and sits in “similar geologic conditions” as the Aberdeen wells, is frequently sampled and found to have low nitrate detections—about 2-3mg per liter. “The water across the street at the Marsh Well is absolutely safe,” she said.
Alter said that the town could expect to see similar test results in wells on the Aberdeen Property.
Mekarski is going to discuss matters further with Tranchitella before presenting the Town Council with additional information at its July 10 meeting.