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Bolen Park Turns Heads

Park swap proposal from developer who sits on Commonwealth Transportation Board has some raising questions about a possible conflict of interest.

A developer's proposal to build Philip A. Bolen Regional Park on an alternative site in exchange for building rights on the original park site has focused scrutiny on the developer himself.

The unusual proposal of Leonard "Hobie" Mitchel, who is president of Lansdowne Community Development and is responsible for bringing both Lansdowne and South Riding into being, has raised questions about Mitchel's obligations. As a senior member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, Mitchel helps decide where Virginia's transportation funds get spent — a powerful position in a cash-strapped, car-clogged state. Critics have called Mitchel's position on the board in light of his day job as a developer a conflict of interest.

In response, Mitchel asked for an official opinion from Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, who found that Mitchel did not in fact have a conflict on interest in the eyes of the state.

At Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, Mitchel made a presentation regarding his park land swap proposal. He has not received permission to even file a rezoning request for the development, called Creekside, since the park land in question is county-owned at the moment. Mitchel and his partners own the surrounding land.

Also on hand was Del. Richard Black (R-32), just back from Richmond. He spoke in Mitchel's defense in light of a Washington Post story published that morning that questioned Mitchel's "two hats" as a developer and Commonwealth Transportation Board member.

"I cannot think of any citizen in Loudoun County who has done more to address the very real issues dealing with transportation, dealing with the development of the county, than Hobie Mitchel," Black said. "He has been enormously effective."

As for Mitchel, he was unfazed. "I can stand the heat," he said.

MITCHEL'S PROPOSAL is this: scrap the plans for Bolen Park in its current location on 400 acres southeast of the Leesburg Executive Airport. Construct it instead on a site southeast of the original site west of Goose Creek and north of the Dulles Greenway. That location, at 500 acres, would also include two school sites, potentially an elementary and high school.

The developer would also give the county $200 million in transportation improvements via a public/private partnership with Clark Construction and Shirley Contracting Company, the same group responsible for the Route 28 Public-Private Transportation Act, Mitchel has proposed the PPTA construct Sycolin Road improvements, Battlefield Parkway improvements, widen Belmont Ridge Road, add an interchange at Belmont Ridge and Route 7 and construct Crosstrail Boulevard from Sycolin to the Leesburg town line.

"This contribution will far exceed the transportation needs generated by our project," Mitchel said. The proposal also includes $90 million in capital facility improvements.

What he wants in return is this: consent to annex the original Bolen Park land into the Creekside development for a 1,350 acre total that would become the site for 4,235 homes. Mitchel envisions a main-street community including an extensive trail system.

There's only one thing, Mitchel said, he needs to make Creekside a reality.

"We need your permission," he told the supervisors.

THE ORIGINAL BOLEN Park plan has been creating headaches for the county since it was approved by voters in a $16.2 million bond referendum in November 2001. The first phase of the project, which includes ball fields, restrooms and trails, still lacks $5 million dollars. Phase two, which includes a recreation center and trail improvements, needs $27 million to be completed — and the county hasn't earmarked a penny for it yet.

Still, Mitchel's proposal has stirred skepticism. His presentation on Tuesday, designed to help alleviate supervisors' concerns, didn't answer all their questions.

"I see ... a lot of chocolate, a lot of dessert here," said Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run). "I've got some meaty questions that get into some of the detail of it."

"There's not very much new information in what you're showing us," said Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge). "You want to build us a park. In exchange, you want to build us a town that's larger than Purcellville right next to the airport, and that's something we have to consider."

Supervisors agreed to submit questions to Mitchel in writing.

If the county gives Mitchel the go-ahead to file a rezoning application including the Bolen Park site, it can pull consent at any time, according to County Attorney Jack Roberts.

MITCHEL'S PROPOSAL has gotten a lot of attention from outside county auspices as well. The Piedmont Environmental Council has filed a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request to make public all documentation and communication on Creekside.

Mitchel, a Loudoun resident, appeared on Tuesday to be handling all the attention with aplomb.

"Sometimes being a lightning rod is how you get a public debate," he said. "I take my public service very seriously."