Five months after the Virginia Supreme Court invalidated the county's zoning ordinance, a divided Board of Supervisors voted July 20 to reinstate building limits in western Loudoun.
The 5-4 vote came after Republican supervisors Lori Waters (Broad Run) and Jim Clem (Leesburg) joined the board's minority slow-growth supporters to back a plan crafted by Clem and Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge).
The Clem/Burton plan will allow slightly more building than the zoning that was thrown out by the Supreme Court, but its adoption is a victory for slow-growthers in the county who were shocked by the court's decision and feared it would mean suburbanization for the rural west.
Malcolm Baldwin is a Lovettsville sheep farmer. He's also one of a group of 25 western Loudoun landowners who tried to intervene in the court case after the Supreme Court's ruling was announced.
While the landowners failed to get intervener status, Baldwin is pleased with the way things turned out.
"I think it's good news," he said. While the Clem/Burton plan allows a little more development that he'd like, "I think it's a good compromise."
JACK SHOCKEY, president of Citizens For Property Rights, is not so pleased. He called for a return to A-3 zoning, or one house per three acres, and said both the Clem/Burton and the more development-friendly Tulloch/Staton plan were unsuitable.
"I think the Board of Supervisors made a terrible mistake," Shockey said. "I think they put themselves much in the same position as two to three years ago with the downzoning of the landowners and the farmers."
In January 2003, when the county enacted very strict building limits in the west, developers and landowners — including Shockey — filed 200 lawsuits within days, charging the county with devaluing land without proper notification. Shockey said the county could expect more of the same this time around.
There's one thing both Baldwin and Shockey can agree on, however: nobody expected this ostensibly pro-development Board of Supervisors, with its majority first-term Republicans generally voting in a block in favor of development, to pass a plan to clamp down on development after the Supreme Court gave it a chance to open the door to more homes in the west.
When the court ruling was announced, Baldwin thought growth controls in the west were finished.
"I really thought ... the majority of the board was hell-bent for A-3," he said.
Shockey thought his years-long fight against building controls was over.
"People called this the zoning war," he said. "I thought the war was over. Now they're rekindling it all over again."
THE BATTLE over the west may have been won by slow-growth advocates, but the war is far from over.
Now, the Clem/Burton plan must be evaluated by county staff and the Planning Commission, be vetted through public hearings and come back to the Board of Supervisors for final approval in a process that will take months.
"This is not an enactment of a damn thing," Clem said. "Do I expect this to be the final document? It probably won't be. Who knows?"
The repercussions the Clem/Burton alliance will have on county politics are unknown as well. Burton, the board's outspoken liberal, and Clem, a former Leesburg mayor who doesn't seem to take guff from anyone regardless of his politics, are an unlikely duo. And Waters, in her first term, has proved to be tougher on developers than some expected.
The four supervisors who lost in their bid to allow more building in the west — Bruce Tulloch (Potomac), Mick Staton (Sugarland Run), Eugene Delgaudio (Sterling) and Stephen Snow (Dulles) — decried the decision and warned of future fallout.
"I feel [the Clem/Burton plan] leads us down the same path we traveled before," Staton said. "It will have the same results as before. It will continue to divide the county, and continue the divisive debates and the bitter feelings we have had year after year after year."
Delgaudio alluded to the 2003 election, which saw the decimation of the then slow-growth board and replacement with his five new Republican colleagues, as he addressed Chairman Scott York (I-At Large).
"I was one, and now I am six," he said. "There are six Republicans on this board. Don't underestimate the people of Loudoun County, don't underestimate the truth getting out, you slick devil, you .... It is a temporary victory."
THE CLEM/BURTON plan will allow one house per 20 acres in the northwest and one house per 40 acres in the southwest. It will also allow, for the first time in the west, a rezoning option to allow one house per 7.5 acres or 15 acres in each of the two zoning areas.
Clustering and spin-off lot options, as well as the rezoning, are also included in a bid to make the plan accommodating for landowners, Burton said.
"Its intent was to give the landowner as much flexibility as possible in developing his land," Burton said. "We had not had rezoning in the west in the past, but this is a chance to let people have a little density in exchange for proffers, which would definitely help ... our capital facility needs."