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CEO DATELINE – Report: Board members who backed sale of historic AHS headquarters resign

Oct. 1, 2021
By Walt Williams

Five members of the American Horticultural Society’s board of directors have resigned after supporting the sale of the organization’s historic headquarters in Alexandria, Va., the Washington Post reported Thursday.

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The resignations included Board Chair Terry Hayes and left the board half of its previous size. In a statement, the five departing members said they were leaving “to allow for the institution to forge a new path forward.” The remaining board members thanked the five for their service in a separate statement, although an attorney for one of the remaining members called the resignations the “end of the line for this self-inflicted crisis,” according to the Post. 

The society purchased River Farm, once owned by George Washington, in the 1970s using a generous donation from one of its former board members. However, the organization’s financial resources have dwindled in recent years, and its leaders said money used to maintain the property would be better spent on education and other organizational priorities. The group reported total revenue of $2.7 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020. 

AHS put its headquarters up for sale in January, listing the 27.6-acre property for $32.9 million. The decision was criticized by AHS members and local elected officials who feared the land would be bulldozed over for a subdivision or commercial development. AHS said the farm would remain a single-use property, preferably with continued public access.

Two offers for the property ended in a stalemate, the Post reported. One was from a private developer who pledged to preserve the farm as part of a larger $300 million complex that would have included a clubhouse and culinary school. The other was from a coalition of preservationists who wanted to protect the property from development.

The future of River Farm remains unclear despite the resignations, the Post reported. Local officials and historic preservationists want the land preserved as a public space, but AHS has not indicated whether it would support that option.