During a meeting that ran into the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 5, the Board of Supervisors voted to approve a downzoning plan created by Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run). Despite last-minute issues that threatened to sink the proposal, Supervisors voted along what have become traditional lines, approving final aspects of the plan 5-4.
"This issue, more than any other, has done more to divide this county along such harsh lines," Staton said immediately before the roll call vote. "Too many people have approached this as an all or nothing gamble. This isn't a gamble. This is people's lives, their livelihoods."
The Dec. 5 vote brought to an end almost two years of debate over the future of the county's rural west.
IN MARCH 2005, the Virginia Supreme Court overturned the 2003 zoning created by the previous board. Following the court's decision, the Rural Policy Area reverted to A-3 zoning, which allows for one dwelling unit per three acres.
The current board worked on several proposals, emerging with an advertised proposal that became known as the Clem/Burton plan. While the Clem/Burton plan would have restored a large amount of the zoning created in 2003, it was less restrictive to development and allowed higher densities than the 2003 zoning.
The Clem/Burton proposal supported AR-1 zoning, which allows for one house per 10- or 20-acre lot, in the northern portion of western Loudoun, and AR-2 zoning, which allows for one house per 20- or 40-acre lot, in the southern portion.
Besides the two supervisors who created the plan, Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) and Jim Clem (R-Leesburg), the Clem/Burton plan gathered support from Supervisors Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) and Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) as well as Chairman Scott K. York (I-At large).
THIS SEPTEMBER, Staton proposed amendments to the Clem/Burton proposal, which garnered support from Supervisors Stephen Snow (R-Dulles), Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling), Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) and, surprisingly, Clem.
Staton's amendments were what he considered a compromise, allowing cluster development at a density of one residential unit per five acres in the northern portion and cluster development in the southern portion that allows for one unit per 15 acres. In addition, Staton's proposal allowed for an option for landowners to divide in either 10- or five-acre parcels.
While the majority of the board did not believe that Staton's proposal needed to be readvertised as a whole in September, they did send several of the amendments back through the public process.
Until the final approval was given last Tuesday, western Loudoun remained zoned at one unit per three acres.
AT TUESDAY'S MEETING, however, it seemed like Staton's proposal might not have enough support for approval after Snow said he could not support a plan that did not have a grandfathering clause. A grandfathering clause would allow applicants who have submitted subdivision applications to continue through the county process at one unit per three acres.
"People have invested a good amount of money," he said. "They have done all that we have asked them to do and then to close them out is [not right]."
Earlier in the meeting, Burton had made a motion to approve the Clem/Burton plan and Kurtz had made a last-minute appeal to both Snow and Tulloch, asking for their support.
"Do you really want to continue to support a plan that continues to erode my constituents' rights?" she asked. "Do you really want to ignore the majority of the public that testified?" Kurtz called the downzoning a "fundamental moral issue."
When additional support for Clem/Burton did not come, the board prepared to vote on Staton's plan. Snow's announcement caused the board to enter a closed session with County Attorney John R. Roberts to discuss the ramifications if Staton's plan failed.
FOLLOWING THE closed session, Tulloch announced that if Staton's plan was not approved he would change his vote and support the Clem/Burton plan. Only those on the prevailing side of a vote can decide to reconsider a previous motion.
Tulloch said the decision to support Clem/Burton was against what he originally wanted for western Loudoun, but that he wished for the debate over its future to end.
"There is enough fault here to plaster the world," he said. "I am going to end this discussion today. Whatever Mr. Snow decides to do, Mr. Snow decides to do. It will absolutely end today. If I burn some bridges, so be it. I will stand behind my vote."
During the roll call vote, Snow paused before voting in support of Staton's plan, giving the proposal its needed fifth vote.