Loudoun Looks at Settling Lawsuits
Growth Controls May Be Affected
By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 27, 2004; Page B01
Loudoun County's Board of Supervisors has held a series of closed meetings over the past seven months to debate the future of the county's ambitious and controversial growth controls.
Today, after their scheduled closed session, the supervisors could vote to settle some of the more than 100 lawsuits seeking to overturn building restrictions imposed by their predecessors last year.
One case set for consideration was brought on behalf of a large landowner who was also a campaign staff member for one of the Republican supervisors. Also poised for consideration, possibly today, is the issue of the county's restrictive rural zoning, which sharply reduces the number of homes that can be built in county's less-developed west.
Under Virginia law, local governing boards may meet in secret to discuss legal matters such as suits.
The strict land-use policies were implemented by the previous supervisors, who were elected on promises to control growth. The board approved the new rules last year after three years of work sessions, hearings and often-raucous public debate. But in November, county voters elected six GOP supervisors, many promising to roll back the limits. Settling the suits could in essence rewrite the rules that were enacted after a long public process.
Some of the plaintiffs are top campaign donors to the board's GOP majority, and in at least one case, supervisors have met with representatives from companies that were large donors and their attorneys to discuss potential settlements, supervisors said.
Advocates of the building curbs, such as James Burton (I-Blue Ridge), a three-term supervisor, said members of the new board are working to dismantle county land-use rules behind closed doors to avoid scrutiny.
"The previous board went through a three-year open process," Burton said. "Accepting any settlement offers that change the zoning is a back-door approach. It bypasses the public, and I think that's wrong."
Burton said it remains unclear whether a majority of supervisors will vote to settle key cases in an area of eastern Loudoun that stretches from Leesburg to south of Dulles International Airport and is known as the transition zone. That area has been eyed as a future location for tens of thousands of new homes.
It is also unclear whether a majority of supervisors will vote to settle suits challenging the county's rural zoning, which limits building in western Loudoun to one home per 10, 20 or 50 acres, depending on location. One approach being considered would ease those restrictions but not revert to the old rules that allowed one house per three acres.
Supervisor Stephen J. Snow (R-Dulles), chairman of the board's land-use committee, who supports rolling back the building rules, said he would not comment on pending cases. But Snow criticized the previous board, asserting that supervisors ignored the wishes of many opponents in the run-up to passage of the building restrictions.
"I just don't believe they were genuine. I don't believe they did a service to the citizens of Loudoun County," Snow said. Although he would not discuss his expected votes, his views on such land-use cases should surprise no one, he said. "I'm a property rights individual. . . . There's no secret there," Snow said.
Lawyers representing Roma Dawson, who worked as Snow's campaign treasurer before November's election, have filed suit against the county challenging building restrictions on her family's 225 acres in southern Loudoun.
The Dawsons have an agreement to sell their property to Greenvest, the county's largest landowner and a major GOP campaign donor. Greenvest is also challenging many of the county's building restrictions.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Supervisor Stephen J. Snow says of those who passed the restrictions: "I don't believe they did a service to the citizens of Loudoun County."
(Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
_____Growth and Development_____
Md. Panel Backs Study Of Rte. 32 Widening (The Washington Post, Jul 22, 2004)
Loudoun Approves Ex-Chairman's Farm for Development (The Washington Post, Jul 7, 2004)
Southern Pr. George's Debates Development (The Washington Post, Jun 13, 2004)
Loudoun Approves More Utility Lines (The Washington Post, Apr 21, 2004)
Prince William Board Approves Restrictions on Big-Box Stores (The Washington Post, Apr 21, 2004)