A majority of the supervisors have turned down Supervisor Mick Staton's (R-Sugardland Run) request to hold a special meeting to vote on the zoning ordinances and remapping for the Rural Policy Area.
Staton sent a letter to his fellow supervisors on Monday, July 31, asking for one board member to join him in signing a letter to support holding a special meeting. Special meetings must be requested by at least two supervisors.
His letter came just one week after the Planning Commission voted to send the Comprehensive Plan amendment (CPAM) to an Aug. 28 work session.
Both the board and the commission are on August recess.
The commission's decision followed a joint public hearing which was scheduled after the board decided at their June 20 work session not to accept the Planning Commission's certification of their earlier recommendations and instead to send the proposed amendment back to the commission.
Currently, the rural west is zoned at A-3, which allows for one house per three acres. The proposed policy changes support AR-1 zoning, which allows for one house per 10- or 20-acre lot, in the southern portion of western Loudoun, and AR-2 zoning, which allows for one house per 20- or 40-acre lot, in the northern portion
THE PLANNING COMMISSION'S original recommendations for approval came March 20 and the board needed to take action by June 18 in order to avoid recertification. It was when the June 18 deadline lapsed without a vote that the board decided to readvertise the amendment and hold another public hearing rather than risk making themselves vulnerable to lawsuits.
Since they chose only to send the plan amendment back to the Planning Commission, the board continued to work on zoning ordinances, or regulations, and other policies, completing its work at its work session July 5.
Staton said he was concerned about the affect continuing delays would have on interested parties.
"Citizens of this county, both for and against these proposed policy changes, want a decision from this board," Staton said in his letter. "They have waited over a year for a decision to be made and this limbo we find ourselves in is harmful to all sides."
Staton added that delay will hurt landowners, who will wonder whether it is worth their time and money to continue their subdivision process with hopes the board with adopt a grandfathering clause.
The grandfathering clause is the only aspect of the proposed policy changes that the board has not publicly debated. Under state law, all subdivision applications that have received preliminary plat, or site plan, approval are continued under the original zoning. Supervisors could vote to include grandfathering, which would allow applications in earlier stages to continue under the higher density A-3 zoning after the downzoning is adopted.
ONE OF THE main reasons some supervisors are hesitant to move forward without allowing the plan amendment to move through the Planning Commission is concern over possible legal action. The 2003 downzoning was overturned by the Virginia Supreme Court in March 2005 on a technicality, something the board hopes to prevent from happening again.
"We need to let this work through its proper process," Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) said, "so we have a decision that is sustainable and defendable."
Supervisor Jim Clem (R-Leesburg), who said he would be unable to attend any specially scheduled meeting due to a previously scheduled vacation, said he could not support Staton's request because he believed the Planning Commission deserved their time.
"You don't go doing something like this, jumping ahead of the Planning Commission," he said. "It is just not the proper way."
"Everyone agreed in a public meeting that we would let the Planning Commission finish their work," Tulloch said. "We need to let them do that."
Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) said he is willing and ready to work during the August recess, but felt that someone else should be the one to request the meeting.
"I think it should all be zoned A-3," he said, "so I think someone who supports the downzoning should be the one to sign the letter."
LIKE DELGAUDIO, Staton does not support the downzoning, but said he felt any decision would be better than a continuing delay. As for the legal concerns, Staton said the current Comprehensive Plan calls for large lot zoning and that the proposed amendment is mostly "cleanup."
"Things will not get any better by waiting to vote," he said in his letter. "In fact, I think we are all hurt even worse by delay."
In his letter, Staton wrote that he had spoken with County Attorney John R. Roberts, who said the Planning Commission could hold the plan amendment "indefinitely."
At the July 24 public hearing, the board set a deadline of Sept. 15 for the Planning Commission to make a recommendation and at least one supervisor does not believe they will hold it any longer.
"We requested the Planning Commission return the [plan amendment] to the board by Sept. 15," Supervisor Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) said in an emailed response to Staton. "I didn't hear a motion from them that they wouldn't, so I am trusting that their silence meant they would."
The Planning Commission's Aug. 28 work session is at 4:30 p.m. at Mercer Middle School in Aldie. The board's next business meeting is scheduled for Sept. 5.