Supervisor James Burton (I-Mercer) does not know what to expect when he sits at the dais Jan. 5 with two other incumbents and six new board members.
"I really don’t know how the new board is going to be. Each board turns out to be different," said Burton, an incumbent board member along with Sarah "Sally" Kurtz (D-Catoctin) and chairman Scott York (R-At large). "Usually it takes a little while for each board to form its corporate identity. … I hope we can work out some areas of common agreement and learn how to work together."
Before the board is sworn in, county administration will provide board members-elect with a day-long tour of county facilities and programs and a series of work-sessions to prepare them for office. The three work-sessions will cover the rules of order, the responsibilities of the board and county staff, the county’s land use and budgeting processes and the county’s fiscal forecast, along with give a briefing of items county staff anticipates will appear on the January agendas.
"There’s a lot to do to gear the new board for office to get them in the governing mode," said Kirby Bowers, county administrator.
In turn, the board will be responsible for directing staff to carry out its decisions. The staff will provide professional advice to the board on policy issues, operations and the budget, but the staff’s ultimate role will be "to get the board where it wants to go," Bowers said. "We are and I am their administrative agent, and it’s my responsibility to carry out their decisions with the obvious help of staff and see to it that staff does that."
COULD THOSE decisions mean a change to the Revised Comprehensive Plan that the current board adopted in July 2001 and the revised zoning ordinance adopted this year, two planning documents that outline the county’s growth over the next 20 years?
"The majority of people approved what the board did. That’s why they returned two incumbent supervisors, Sally [Kurtz] and me. They agreed with the philosophy and decisions we made," Burton said. "I won by over 1,000 votes, which is pretty significant."
At the same time, "I don’t know what happened in the east. People in the west showed up in greater numbers," Burton said. "There was no excuse for people to not go to the polls. … Those candidates who had a strong organization and strong core following would win. They would vote and the majority of public didn’t vote. That was disappointing to me to see low turnout, particularly in the east."
Burton, York and Kurtz are the only Independent and Democrat members on the board, with the new members-elect all Republicans. Historically, the board has been Republican controlled for decades with the current board an anomaly, "a coalition of Democratic and Independent candidates," as Andrew Gupta, communication director for the Loudoun County Republican Committee, said.
This current board has three Republican members, including York who ran as an Independent, four Democrat members and two Independent members. The board "shepherded the county into a fiscal disaster" through irresponsible spending, Gupta said. "The success of the Republican candidates was a tribute to the hard work and common-sense message of each of the candidates. … The Republican team fully supports a managed growth plan."
BURTON has "no idea" whether the new board will keep the Comprehensive Plan in place. However, he hopes the board members will "take their time and learn what it’s like to be a supervisor before they make any major decisions," he said. "It’s a lot more work than candidates running for the job realize. When you’re a member of the public or a candidate, the answers to the problems seem simple to you. As soon as you sit at the daises, you realize the problem is more complex than it seems."
William Bogard (I-Sugarland Run), who was not reelected, doubts the new board will hold to its campaign promises. "If they hold true to their election promises of Smart Growth, then nothing will happen to the Comprehensive Plan," he said referring to the current board’s platform to slow the county’s growth in the out-years. "Look at how much money they got from the development community. If you don’t think there’s going to be paybacks expected, you’re out of your mind. … I have no doubt they are going to try increase the [county’s zoning] densities."
The Revised Comprehensive Plan removed 80,000 future housing units from the 1993 plan and decreased the zoning in western and other areas of the county. Developers who want to develop land have to pay capital facility fees to increase any zonings that are outlined in the zoning plan, so if the zonings are increased, "you’re letting them off the hook, so developers aren’t paying and taxpayers pay," Bogard said. "Smart Growth is development that balances economic, environmental and community requirements. The end product is things like distinctive communities that have amenities and have a variety of housing and transportation options. When you look at a well-rounded stable community, it’s the things you find there."
"Unfortunately during the campaign, many of the candidates tried to conceal their view on the growth issue," said Wes Corber, York’s campaign manager. "I don’t think the voters really know what some of these candidates have in mind in respect to the growth issues."
HOWEVER, "Nobody wants to see us go back to the way things were," said D.M. "Mick" Staton, board member-elect for the Sugarland Run District and a member of the Republican Committee, about the county’s rapid pace of growth in the 1990s. "We’re one county. We need to treat our county as one county. Land west of Route 659 is virtually off limits to new development, and the east is designated as the growth area."
Staton does not want to see western Loudoun lose its rural character and that "the Comprehensive Plan doesn’t density pack eastern Loudoun," he said, adding that the next board should review the plan. "No one expects growth to be stopped. It has to be managed."
Citizens for Property Rights (CPR) president Jack Shockey considers the decrease in zoning as the board’s Smart Growth effort to delay growth in western Loudoun and keep it as a holding area. "That’s not proper planning," he said. "There is absolutely no rational or justification to downzone that property. By downzoning that land in the west, you are not going to solve traffic and congestion problems."
Shockey calls the Smart Growth effort "a social experiment by an elitist group in western Loudoun County" that the voters rejected. "The citizens realized the repercussions of Smart Growth were at too heavy a cost. I believe that Smart Growth is a failed experiment in Loudoun County. … Back in 1999, nobody knew what Smart Growth was."
Residents in the Broad Run District are "happy with the direction the county is headed," said Supervisor Charles Harris (D-Broad Run), who lost reelection to Lori Waters, a Republican candidate. "People who are unhappy will turn out. Those who are happy aren’t motivated to turn out. … I think where turnout was high, Democrats won, and where it was low, Republicans won."
Harris plans to stay involved in politics at the conclusion of his term. "I’m hoping the new folks are reasonable and care about family values. Part of family values is clean air and clean water and reasoned development and a community that has a mix of work and recreational and social services and a strong public education system."
"We’re going to have road growth, not density packing development," said Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling), who will have more compatriots on the board, now that most of the members will be Republican. "I’ve worked very hard for these moments. … I’ve succeeded in getting across the message that Loudoun County needed to get a sane government and that sane government has arrived. … I’ll work hard to represent the people of the Sterling district and am extremely happy I’m not alone. They returned me and returned to power people who agree with my line of thinking. Eastern Loudoun needs to be represented on this Board of Supervisors."
A former member of the Board of Supervisors agreed. "What have these supervisors done in the past four years for the eastern part of the county," said Dale Pollen Myers, former board chairman from 1996-2000, adding that during the board’s term, taxes "skyrocketed," spending was out of control and traffic congestion was not addressed. "I’m very excited about the possibilities of the board members elected. … They started doing their homework. They’re willing to roll up their sleeves."