'Smart Growth' Becomes Official

'Smart Growth' Becomes Official

Board stretches zoning ordinance to fit comprehensive plan.

Pajama-clad Citizen for Property Rights (CPR) members booed as the Board of Supervisors put the proposed zoning ordinance to bed Monday following more than two hours of public comment.

Others stood up to clap and cheer at a meeting attended by more than 100 people. CPR members wore bathrobes and slippers in protest of the meeting starting at 7:30 a.m., an hour-and-a-half before the regular scheduled time. Chairman Scott York (R-At large) said the earlier meeting time "freed up as much time as possible" to accommodate the number of speakers, which turned out to be more than 40.

"Is this a perfect document? No. This is the solution that was handed to us by the folks in Richmond," York said, adding that the board aimed to balance growth with "appropriate constraints."

After taking office in 2000, the Board of Supervisors asked the state legislature to slow the county's growth rate and was told the county already has the tools, so the county revised the 1993 comprehensive plan and updated the zoning ordinance and zoning map needed to implement the plan. The plan was adopted in July 2001, with another year of study, workshops, public hearings and the use of focus groups to amend the zoning ordinance and draft a new zoning map.

THE PLAN, which serves as a guide for development in the next 20 years, reduces the number of new homes that can be built in the county by 47 percent, distributing 27 percent of the reduction in the suburban eastern end of the county and 77 percent in the rural west. The plan reduces the potential county population from 682,000 residents to 438,000 residents and cuts the number of new housing units by 208,000 units from 370,000 to 162,000 units.

"Zoning is a very powerful tool, but it must be used with caution and restraint. We found the proper balance that will serve the county in the long-term," said James Burton (I-Mercer).

Before passing the revised zoning ordinance and zoning map, the board considered several amendments to the motion. One of Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin)'s amendments includes a grandfathering clause for landowners who have received written notice before Jan. 7 from the Department of Building and Development about pending subdivision, site plan or boundary line adjustment applications that are approved for signature but do not have the legal documents signed. The clause allows the landowners to resubmit the applications by Feb. 9 if they include the signatures and necessary legal documents.

Terrance Wharton, department director, said 52 applications awaiting signatures would apply to Kurtz' amendment, which passed with a unanimous vote.

"The more exceptions we grant, the more we open ourselves up," Burton said.

Supervisor Drew Hiatt (R-Dulles) wanted the grandfather clause to include all subdivision applications awaiting signatures, which Wharton said total 373, but his amendment failed 7-2 with Hiatt and Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) voting in favor.

"Many of these applications were delayed," Hiatt said, adding that some of the delays were not the applicants' fault and that the applicants have complied with existing rules. "There has to be some trust in government [that] government is not going to switch the rules on you."

ONE OF THE APPLICANTS is the Shockey family, which is considering filing a lawsuit against the amended zoning ordinance as allowed within 30 days of the ordinance's adoption date. CPR president Jack Shockey, who owns an 800-acre farm in Arcola with his mother and two sisters, spoke to the board before the vote was taken, pleading for the board to reconsider the "downzoning [of] two-thirds of Loudoun County while density packing eastern Loudoun."

The adopted zoning ordinance changes the zoning of the Shockey farm from A-3 (agriculture) and CR-1 (countryside residential) to general industrial, while the properties to the east and west of the farm remain residential, Shockey said. "I believe that the remapping of the Arcola area that the majority of this board has approved is nothing more than pure discrimination against my family because of our outspoken protest of the massive downzoning and wasteful spending of taxpayers' dollars," he said, later calling the zoning ordinance a means of "spot zoning."

Shockey plans to base his lawsuit on claims that the board did not identify a change in circumstance that since 1993 would require the rezoning. "Where is the study regarding affordable housing in this county, and where is any kind of fiscal impact study in regards to this zoning ordinance?" said Shockey, whose lawyer is Hunton & Williams in McLean.

York said Shockey has been threatening to sue the county for awhile, adding that the county has not received any other "specific threats" for additional lawsuits that could be filed against the county. "I believe that there will be folks who will challenge what the board has done. The courts will decide," he said, adding that the possible lawsuit filed by the Shockey family "will be a potential frivolous lawsuit."

Shockey's comment about spot zoning is "ridiculous," York continued. "The whole comp plan and remapping was a comprehensive overview of the county," he said about an amended zoning ordinance that is expected to save the county at least $250 million in infrastructure costs. "I've been very concerned about the future of the county for many years. ... We are where we are fiscally because of the amount of development that has occurred in the county."

BURTON POINTED OUT that the county's debt increased from $1 million in 1993 to $700 million this year and that the county has built 33 new schools since then. Debt payment for the county increases at a rate of about $10 million a year and is expected to jump from $74 million this year to $98 million next year, he said. "Eight to nine percent growth year after year cannot be sustained," he said.

The zoning ordinance passed 7-2 with Hiatt and Delgaudio voting against. "I am loathe to support a plan that won't give the same quality of life to my constituents" as it does for those living in the west, Hiatt said.

Mark Herring (D-Leesburg) called the plan "the people's plan," though a few residents who spoke out against the plan would not agree.

"If this is smart growth and such a great thing, how come so many people are complaining about it," Shockey said, adding that he considered the early meeting time and holding the meeting on a snow day when the county schools were closed as an effort "to speed up the process."

York said the county's policy for snow days is to cancel committee and commission meetings, but not necessarily Planning Commission and Board of Supervisor meetings, as adopted by the previous board.

OTHER RESIDENTS had their say, including Shockey's mother Haseltine Shockey. "The land I've worked for 60 years is all I have. This land and our farm is my family history," she said. "The action of the Board of Supervisors will take away my family dream. I ask you why."

Loudoun resident Roy Stiltner said the zoning ordinance is "plainly unfair to farmers." "You're putting all your smart growth cuts on our children [by] blindly rushing into something for the sake of smart growth," he said. "The farmers are bearing the burden of this."

For Salvatore Cangiano of Loudoun, the zoning ordinance will reduce property values. "I'm all for smart growth, but this program is not smart growth," he said.

The zoning ordinance will cause the cost of housing to rise, according to Barry Allbright, who represented the Dulles Area Association of Realtors at the board meeting. "It will limit the housing available to residents. ... If we limit their housing, prices go up," he said.

A few residents supported the revised zoning ordinance.

"Everywhere I turn to go to bird watch and to fish, I run into trees being cut down," said Darrell Schwalm of Sterling. "We're treating our land like our virgin forests, clear, clear, clear. ... We desperately need an ordinance to implement" the green infrastructure.