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Western Loudoun Draft Takes First Steps

The Board of Supervisors sends a proposed draft for rezoning western Loudoun to the Planning Commission for recommendation.

Nine months after the Virginia Supreme Court threw out the 2003 Board of Supervisors rezoning of western Loudoun because of lack of public notice, a new rezoning proposal will be advertised to the public.

The Board of Supervisors has sent the draft to the Planning Commission, which will give its recommendation back to the board in 82 days, on March 6. According to the projected timeline, the Supervisors could take action on the proposal in June of 2006.

In January 2003, the county enacted strict building limits in western Loudoun, limiting the AR-1 zoning district to one unit per 10 acres, and AR-2 to one unit per 50 acres, zoning districts. Within days, 200 lawsuits from developers and landowners were filed against the county, charging it with devaluing land without proper notification. In March of this year, the Supreme Court of Virginia found the county had not provided sufficient public notice of the downzoning, reinstating the A-3 zoning district, or one unit per 3 acres.

THE NEW PROPOSAL, said Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run), is extreme. He said the reasons given for pushing the proposal through the process are faulty. The three reasons, according to Staton, include the worry that western Loudoun may run out of water if a lot of development is brought in; increased traffic; and fiscal reasons stating development is too costly. Staton voted against the proposal, but offered the board a compromise, requesting a form be mailed out to landowners allowing them to opt out of the proposed rezoning.

"I will vote to remap these districts," he said, "if you allow the opt out." Staton said if only a few landowners decided to opt out, then the board would deal with less land to rezone and minimize the number of lawsuits. If a lot of landowners choose to opt out, then the board would receive a clear indication of what the people affected think about the proposal. Staton added there is precedence to this concept since the Supervisors voted 9-0 to allow landowners to keep the AR-1 and AR-2 zoning as set in 2003, after the courts threw it out. About 5,000 acres of land opted into the previous AR-1 and AR-2 districts. "What's the harm about hearing directly from landowners," he said.

Supervisor James Burton (I-Mercer) said he strongly disagreed with Staton's idea, calling it another one of his grand-standing plays. "It defeats zoning," which is instituted to protect the landowner and the landowner's neighbor, he said. Burton added there is no precedent for such an action because the board previously allowed owners to opt into a zoning district, not out of it.

Chairman Scott York (I-At-large) also rejected the idea as he saw it as a way for those opting out of the zoning to earn extra income.

Opting out, Staton said, does not mean leaving land unzoned, it means the land would be zoned in the previous A-3 zoning. As far as extra income goes, he said downzoning devalues land, and therefore landowners under the A-3 district would pay higher taxes.

Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) said if A-3 zoning was retained, the cost incurred from development would exceed the tax revenue collected. Staton's motion, she said, was an endorsement of A-3 zoning, which is financially wrong for the county.

Staton did get support from Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles) who said the opt out would not create inconsistent zoning in the area, since zoning there is already inconsistent because of the previous opt in.

"I support it. It allows our citizens to exercise the right over their property," he said.

The motion to send a form to the landowners failed in a 3-5-1 vote, with Supervisors Staton, Snow and Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) voting for, and Supervisor Jim Clem (R-Leesburg) absent during the vote.

STATON SAID the current proposal limits the landowners' ability to use their land. As far as the concern about water levels in Loudoun not supporting denser development, Staton said, "Rural-economy uses use far more water than residential uses."

Recently, he said, a presentation in front of the board showed a nursery in western Loudoun uses 150,000 gallons of water per week. A house, he said, on average uses 450 gallons of water per day, calculating to 3,150 gallons per week. According to those calculations, almost 50 residential houses can be built instead of one nursery as far as water use is concerned.

As far as traffic goes, he said, under the current proposal major roads still fail by 2030 due to traffic coming from places such as Winchester and West Virginia.

The third faulty reason, according to Staton, is development is too costly. "We control the tax rate," he said. "If we want to reduce the cost, we vote the spending down."

The irony, said Staton, is if large lot development is required, in the long run the landowners will be forced to sell their land to large developers. As the assessments rise, the landowners will be less able to pay the taxes because they will not be making money from the land because of the limitations. Eventually, they will be forced to sell the land and large developers will be the ones with the money to buy it. If the land is put in the hands of farmers, then rural economy will remain the principal use, he said.

BURTON SAID he is happy with the current proposal, originally submitted by himself and Clem. He said it restricts the number of houses that can be built and provides for a thriving rural economy.

"I am pleased we are moving towards resolving this issue," said Burton, adding the current proposal allows all kinds of options to the landowners. He said the spin-off option is a great addition, allowing the owner to sell his property one lot at a time after subdivision. Burton said he believes the process will only move forward from here, and the board will act on it according to the given timeline.

Supervisor Bruce Tulloch (R-Potomac) said the proposal is the best thing for citizens of western Loudoun County. He said the board is moving in the right direction, but the proposal is not the end product. "We're not even close," he said.