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Changing Direction

A slew of comprehensive plan amendment applications startle the county.

In an unprecedented fell swoop, 20 developers have simultaneously proposed amendments to Loudoun County's comprehensive plan that, if accepted, will essentially erase the previous Board of Supervisors' work to prevent rapid growth in the county. In the past, the county had received one or two applications a year.

The 20 applicants, who turned in their proposed amendments last week, join six applicants from the spring round of comprehensive plan amendments (CPAMs). This year was the first that the county accepted CPAMs twice during the year; the board recently voted to restore the process to once a year in 2005.

With few exceptions, the CPAMs suggest rezoning tracts of land owned by the applicants to higher density, planned developments. In total, the applications affect 10,065 acres of land, much of it in an area dubbed the "transition area" by the previous board. The transition area had lower housing density limits in order to maintain the county's gradual change from the suburban east to the rural west.

"Clearly, this is an attempt to completely overhaul the comprehensive plan without having to go through a full-blown public process," said Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge). "This is doing it on a piecemeal, ad hoc basis."

A preliminary evaluation of the CPAMs is supposed to be completed by county planning staff within 30 days. Burton has his doubts that the staff is prepared to handle the flood of applications within a month.

"The staff is swamped with this. I don't know what's going to happen," he said.

After the preliminary evaluation, the Planning Commission will either reject the application or schedule a public hearing and ask the planning department to conduct a more thorough review. Eventually, the application will come before the Board of Supervisors, who will accept or reject it after a second public hearing.

Whether the number of CPAMs will cause the county to handle the process in a different way is unknown. Supervisors may discuss it at their upcoming retreat, scheduled for Sept. 9 and 10.

THE ONSLAUGHT of CPAMs suggests that, at least according to developers, a fundamental flaw exists in the comprehensive plan as it stands. Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles) ran on a platform opposing the comprehensive plan, which was approved in 2001 and reduced the number of new homes allowed in the county by 41 percent.

Snow maintained that developers chose to try to get higher densities via the CPAM process, rather than the traditional rezoning process, because the smart-growth minority on the board — Burton, Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) and Scott York (I-at large) — continued to vote against rezoning applications that had "met every requirement."

"What's the message?" Snow said. "I think there's concern that, 'We followed what we were told to do.' They probably see this as a chance to get a fair hearing."

As for Burton's assertion that the CPAM process ducks the public, Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run) isn't so sure.

"The CPAM process was designed to give private citizens a chance to present their ideas on how Loudoun County should grow," Staton said. "Loudoun County government does not have all the answers all the time. If you have a better idea, let us know."

When asked if the county had developers, the sole group to apply for CPAMs this year, in mind when he mentioned private citizens, Staton said, "If they own land, they're paying taxes."

The CPAM process "has nothing to do with sleight of hand," Snow said. "In fact, I would be very optimistic that the people would like some of the projects."

RESIDENTS IN DULLES, Snow's district, had better like the projects or speak up, since 11 of the fall CPAMs affect Dulles south and are located squarely in the transition area. One is an ambitious 4,200-acre project that is the largest planned development the county had considered.

Greenvest L.C., of Vienna, has proposed a project encompassing four separate developments: Arcola, Broad Run Village, Lenah and Greenfields, the largest of the four and located on the south side of Braddock Road. In total, the project would add 14,000 homes by 2018, with construction beginning in 2008.

Approval of the Greenvest CPAM would dramatically change the face of southern Loudoun in a way other than adding new homes: the company has proposed building six schools, reserving space for a regional park with athletic facilities, building $207 million in road improvements and donating 50 acres of land in the Arcola area for a hospital.

In total, Greenvest is offering $462 million in improvements in exchange for building rights.

Loudoun Healthcare spokesman Tony Raker confirmed that Loudoun Hospital Center has been in talks with Greenvest.

"We're always on the lookout for a good site," Raker said. "This is the first one to come along to actually donate the land."

Loudoun Healthcare is no stranger itself to CPAMs; earlier this year it proposed an amendment to add a healthcare facilities policy to the comprehensive plan. One of the proposals in the amendment included a hospital in the Dulles south area. Loudoun Healthcare's CPAM has received preliminary approval from the Board of Supervisors.

WITH ALL THE TALK of widespread changes to the comprehensive plan, some Loudoun residents are worried about the direction the county is about to take.

"There is a coordinated effort by many landowners and developers to change land use in the county," said Susan Klimek Buckley, a Sterling resident and co-founder of the Eastern Loudoun Civic Network, which was formed to help facilitate communication on crucial issues among residents.

"From a citizen's perspective, the critical issue is not just how much growth, but it is the process that you undertake," Buckley said. "As leaders of the fastest growing county in the nation, are you going to have an open debate?" she asked the supervisors on Sept. 7.

Marcia DeGarmo, an Aldie resident, voiced her disapproval of the CPAMs.

"These are really assaults not only on the very carefully-worked-out land policies of the county, but they are really assaults on citizens," DeGarmo said. "We are going to have plenty of building without any comprehensive plan amendments passed."

She urged the supervisors not to be "instruments of developers" and instead, put together a new comprehensive plan through the usual process.

FOR OTHER citizens, however, the CPAMs mean more affordable housing in Loudoun.

"I want my grandchildren's teachers to live in the place where they work," said Patricia Shockey, of Leesburg. "I ask that you make it possible for new people to move into the county."