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January 4, 2019

“Pit bull” development lawyer retires after 34 years

File Photo/Lawrence Emerson
Merle Fallon frequently testified before Fauquier’s planning commission and board of supervisors, which changed the county zoning ordinance 27 times because of his work, the lawyer says.
File Photo/Lawrence Emerson
Mr. Fallon joins Piedmont Environmental Council staff member Rob Marmet at Old Bust Head Brewery in 2015 to discuss how the community can stop construction of a high-voltage transmission line through eastern Fauquier.
We’re not enemies. I don’t think we ever had a cross word with each other. I don’t think he ever yelled at me or I yelled at him.
— Supervisor Holder Trumbo
Merle Fallon
• Age: 72

• Home: Nokesville until recent move to K

• Work: Warrenton-based land use lawyer, 1984-2018; Fauquier County Parks and Recreational Department director, 1975-81.

• Education: Law degree, George Mason University, 1984; master’s degree, education, Virginia Tech, 1975; bachelor’s degree, history and political science, 1971, Virginia Tech; George Mason High School, 1964.

• Family: Wife Vicki; 2 grown daughters.

• Military service: Army, corporal, 1967-69.

• Hobbies: Running
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
He came to Fauquier more than four decades ago as the county’s first parks and recreation department director.

About six years after he joined the agency, Merle Fallon in 1981 quit the job to attend George Mason University’s law school, planning to return to Fauquier to clean up in the land development business.

By most measures, Mr. Fallon, who opened a practice in Warrenton in 1987, did just that.

The list of commercial and residential projects he got approved and/or developed in Warrenton alone includes:

• The Walmart at 700 James Madison Highway (Route 29).

• A 45,000-square-foot office building at West Shirley Avenue and Carriage House Lane.

• The Children of America daycare center off West Shirley Avenue.

• 750-unit Southside Self-Storage on Industrial Road.

• The 350-home Olde Gold Cup and Silver Cup subdivisions.

• The 120-lot Whites Mill subdivision.

Mr. Fallon also handled the rezoning of the 1,000-home Brookside development near New Baltimore and managed the project during its first four years.

Along the way, he established a track record of successfully challenging local land-use regulations that he viewed as obtuse, unfair or illegal.

“I counted a few years ago the county had changed its zoning ordinance 27 times to deal directly with things I had done,” Mr. Fallon told more than 100 people who attended his Oct. 12 retirement party in the John Barton Payne Community Hall in downtown Warrenton. “And there have been at least 10 more changes since then.”

Former county Zoning Administrator Carolyn Bowen, who attended the party, described her relationship with Mr. Fallon as friendly but frank.

“He told me the way it was, and I told him the way it would be” on land-use matters that required her interpretation, Mrs. Bowen, who served as zoning chief from 1972 to 2003, recalled with a laugh. “But, I never had a run in with him. I always liked him and got along with him.”

Not one to mince words, he also believes in transparency, Mr. Fallon said.

“I think (county) staff would tell you that I would stab them in the chest, but I would not stab them in the back,” he said.

Even so, some county government and elected officials mostly have good things to say about him.

“He’s been a gentleman and a professional,” Deputy County Attorney Tracy Gallehr said. “I wouldn’t say that about a lot of attorneys I’ve dealt with.”

County Administrator Paul McCulla agreed: “I’ve always found him to be extremely professional and willing to discuss matters intelligently. He always had what he considered the betterment of the county at heart.”

While he and Mr. Fallon disagreed on land-use matters, they did so constructively, Supervisor Holder Trumbo (Scott District) said.

“We spent a lot of time on issues — how to make them work better,” Mr. Trumbo explained. “For all of our differences of opinions on things, I think in the end we had a relationship that functioned very well.”

The Scott District supervisor likes to “kid about the whole adversarial thing” between them.

“We’re not enemies,” Mr. Trumbo said. “I don’t think we ever had a cross word with each other. I don’t think he ever yelled at me or I yelled at him.”

It helped that they understood their respective roles as supervisor and attorney in Fauquier’s land-use review process, he said.

“Just as I am a gear in the machine, Merle is a tool used by the development community to get things accomplished,” Mr. Trumbo added. “And that’s why I think both of us never took what we were going through personally.”

To the contrary.

When Mr. Trumbo needed the county zoning ordinance amended to allow him to operate a vehicle storage business in his family’s former IGA supermarket building in Marshall, he hired Mr. Fallon to represent him before the planning commission and board of supervisors, which has final authority.

Because of Mr. Fallon’s “experience” and track record, “he seemed to be the choice,” said the supervisor, who recused himself discussing or voting on the request.

“I’ve seen Merle operate enough to know that he would handle the situation efficiently and get the results I needed,” Mr. Trumbo said.

Warrenton lawyer Robin Gulick has known Mr. Fallon for more than 40 years.

As a former member of the county’s parks and recreation board, Mr. Gulick helped him to lead the department.

Mr. Fallon has a “disarming” and admirable gift for candor, he said.

“He was that way with the parks board,” Mr. Gulick said. “He’s that way today. He’s just honest without any varnish. He tells it like it is.”

After Mr. Fallon earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Virginia Tech in 1971, the West Virginia native planned to attend law school.

But a chance to help coach Tech’s cross country team and manage its student center sidetracked him.

“I ran a bowling alley, pool hall, game room and helped book concerts and speakers,” Mr. Fallon said.

Little did he know that an invitation to attend the May 1975 Gold Cup races — then at Broadview Farm in Warrenton — would prove life-changing.

“While we were up here, I saw the advertisement (in The Fauquier Democrat) for the recreation director’s job and applied for it and was hired” in October 1975, he recalled.

Among other things as director, he oversaw the planning of C.M. Crocket Park near Midland.

The project involved county government’s purchase of 17 acres adjoining the park’s future lake.

Mr. Fallon and Mr. Gulick negotiated the land acquisition deal with owner Leslie Jean Hinegardner.

Mr. Hinegardner had agreed to sell the 17-acre parcel to the county for $15,000 — a big bargain in those days for potential lakefront real estate, Mr. Fallon suggested.

He and Mr. Gulick outlined the deal in a closed session with the county board of supervisors.

“They refused to spend $15,000 for the land until they needed it, even though I explained to them it would cost a lot more, once (the plan for) the lake was generally known,” Mr. Fallon said. “I walked out of that meeting, I looked at Robin Gulick and said, ‘These folks don’t have a clue about what’s coming. I’m going to quit my job and go to law school and become a land-use lawyer.’ And that’s what I did.”

In 1981, Mr. Fallon’s first year of law school, the county paid Mr. Hinegardner $176,000 for the 17 acres.

“I recognized that there was an opportunity here to be in the right place at the right time, as the county began to grow, and I knew it would,” Mr. Fallon said of his decision to pursue a land-use law career. “I anticipated the county — 40 miles from the capital of the most powerful nation on Earth — was going to grow, and in fact it has.”

As a new lawyer, Jennifer Moore joined Mr. Fallon’s firm about 11 years ago.

“He’s a wonderful guy to work for,” Ms. Moore said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor.”

A born teacher, Mr. Fallon gave generously of his time when she had questions about land-use or municipal law, she said. “He loves explaining things and how things work. It’s just in his nature to do that.”

And despite the perception of him as a “pit bull” or “junkyard dog” in advancing clients’ interests, Mr. Fallon has mellowed, she said.

“He has a soft side,” Ms. Moore said. “He really does. People on the other side of the case don’t see it, but it’s there.”

A few factors figured into his decision to retire at the end of 2018.

“I’m 72,” he said. “And I don’t want to work 70, 80 hours a week. You’ve got to do that, if you’ve got a trial. If you don’t, you get your hat handed to you, and that’s not fair to the client. It’s just time.”

He wants to spend more time with family and “do other things” with his life.

In the fall, Mr. Fallon sold his interest in Fallon, Myers & Marshall to his partners. He and his wife Vicki recently sold their home near New Baltimore.

Today, the couple, who have two grown daughters, bought a $1-million place on Kiawah Island, near Charleston, S.C.

“I’ve never belonged to a country club,” he said. “Now we belong to the country club in Kiawah. I’m going to run on the beach, probably a marathon, maybe teach at a community college.”

Contact Don Del Rosso at Don@FauquierNow.com or 540-270-0300.
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P.Lawrence · January 9, 2019 at 10:25 pm
No matter what "side" you were on with an issue...you always knew that Merle would be straight forward in his position. I always appreciated his gentlemen-ly demeanor and frank interaction. This level of character is diminishing in our interactions and that is not good for us as a society. Thanks for being a participant in the "arena" and wish you good health and joy in your retirement.
Tony Bentley · January 7, 2019 at 1:17 pm
Another good ole' boy rides off into the sunset with his bags of money. South Carolina does have hurricanes.
mcm37 · January 5, 2019 at 11:55 pm
Nice job getting rich off of forcing Fauquier residents to cede their county to sprawling developments and increasing traffic. Way to leave it a worse place than when you began.
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