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Bolen Park To Stay Put

Developer withdraws controversial request to build on park land southeast of Leesburg.

Developer Leonard "Hobie" Mitchel announced Tuesday that he will no longer seek to build homes on the proposed Philip A. Bolen Park site.

Mitchel spent months trying to convince the county to allow him to swap the proposed park site for another tract east of Goose Creek in exchange for building rights on the original site, which would become part of a proposed 4,200-home development called Creekside.

The proposal drew fire from all around: the Town of Leesburg passed a resolution opposing it; the county attorney warned supervisors against accepting it; the Leesburg Executive Airport commission said it would threaten the airport, the town's economic engine; Loudoun County Fire & Rescue wondered what would happen to a 92-acre facility it was promised on the park site.

Still, Mitchel had his supporters on the Board of Supervisors. Last month, Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run) attempted to get the county's Transportation/Land Use committee to recommend allowing Mitchel to submit the rezoning paperwork for his proposal.

Staton's attempt was unsuccessful, and dissenting supervisors pointed to a February resolution that all discussion on Creekside would be ceased until a joint planning process with the Town of Leesburg could be completed.

THIS DOESN'T MEAN that Creekside is going away. The development was first proposed in comprehensive plan amendment form in August 2004, and Mitchel said he intends to pursue that route.

What he won't pursue is the permission to build on county-owned park land.

"I didn't see the majority support for consent at this time," Mitchel said. "If it's not there, it's not there. I think it's still a great idea."

Mitchel added that his company, Lansdowne Development Group, will continue to support finishing Bolen Park.

Partial funding for the park was approved in a $16.2 million bond referendum in 2001, but that still leaves a $5 million deficit for phase one, which includes ballfields. Another $27 million is needed for phase two, which includes a recreation center.

Mitchel's proposal included the complete construction of Bolen Park on the alternate site plus $200 million in road network improvements.

As he moves ahead with the rest of the Creekside proposal, which includes over a thousand acres west and north of Bolen Park, Mitchel said he'd still find a way to build while including improvements for roads. Clark Construction and Shirley Contracting Company have already filed a public/private partnership request with the state based on Creekside's approval. Now that's up in the air as well.

"We'll see how it shakes out," Mitchel said.

LEESBURG MAYOR Kristin Umstaddt said she was "very happy" to hear that Mitchel had backed off the Bolen Park proposal.

"Our constituents were strongly opposed to the Creekside proposal and want Bolen Park developed at the site voters approved as soon as possible," Umstaddt said.

Leesburg Executive Airport commission chair Steve Axeman was "thrilled" to learn that Bolen Park would continue to serve as an uninhabited buffer for the airport.

"You’re not putting high-density, age-restricted homes under a flight path," Axeman said.

Airplanes would have flown as low as 800 feet above the proposed houses.

At a May 10 public hearing with the Leesburg Town Council, the only speaker supporting the proposal was Mitchel's attorney. Over two dozen residents urged the Town Council, which had already passed a resolution opposing the development, to take their message to the Board of Supervisors.

The Town Council and the Board of Supervisors will hold a joint meeting on June 6 to discuss the Joint Land Management Area, which is overseen by both governments, and includes the land owned by Mitchel.

Umstaddt said the Town Council has two meetings scheduled to prepare for the joint meeting and will discuss how to provide water and sewer to Bolen Park — an issue that, last December, Mitchel offered to solve if he were allowed to build the alternative park.

BUT ALL of Mitchel's promises weren't enough for some.

"I see a lot of chocolate, a lot of dessert here," said Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) after a March presentation from Mitchel.

Mitchel also received heat for maintaining his seat on the Commonwealth Transportation Board, a governor-appointed body that decides how the state's transportation funds are spent. Critics called it a conflict of interest, and in late March, Mitchel stepped down after serving under three governors.

His plans to build on Bolen Park may have ended, but Mitchel, the developer of both South Riding and Lansdowne, still wants to bring thousands of homes to the land southeast of Leesburg.

Leesburg residents who already feel crowded by encroaching development still need to be vigilant, said resident and Piedmont Environmental Council employee Gem Bingol.

"A lot of issues remain," she said.