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Loudoun Growth Forces Skirmish

Sheep, Songs Used to Send Supervisors Anti-Development Message

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 9, 2005; Page B01

Five years after they converged on the same chamber for the same purpose, and five days after Virginia's Supreme Court pushed them back together with a new intensity, the rival players in Loudoun County's development debate came on cue yesterday to the county boardroom to stage a colorful -- yet predictable -- rematch.

With a meeting of Loudoun's Board of Supervisors already scheduled for yesterday evening, mobilization e-mails with multiple exclamation points had been shooting across the nation's fastest-growing county since Thursday. That's the day the court, on a technicality, threw out the central feature of a growth-control law that had provided years of fodder for similar bouts of competing speeches and sign-waving.

Patrick Copeland of Hillsboro posts a sign in favor of growth control on Madeline, a sheep owned by Martha Polkey of Lucketts, standing with goat Jason. (Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

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Yesterday, those lamenting the court's ruling drew by far the biggest crowd. In all, more than 200 people poured into the boardroom, prompting a fire marshal to ask some to step into the lobby.

The show of force by growth-control proponents was intended to make a public relations splash and remind supervisors of the political consequences of their impending votes on the county's future growth.

They brought along a Merino sheep donning an anti-traffic message and performed an acoustic-guitar-backed chorus of a tweaked Tammy Wynette favorite. "Stand by our plan," they sang.

"It's not about the sound bite 'property rights,' " said Susan Klimek Buckley, who lives in the Sterling area. "It's all about money."

Before the meeting, former county board chairman Dale Polen Myers, a real estate broker, sent an e-mail to the developers, lawyers and landowners she's organized for years to thwart efforts to curb building.

"We need to be pro-active, not reactive. If we wait . . . it just looks like the evil developers are reacting to a public outcry," Myers wrote, calling for a preemptive counter-protest. "We can't give them those pictures or those sound bites to rally behind."

Opponents of the building restrictions drove a green tractor and a handful of pickups around the county building. "Coercion is not the American way. Property owners can voluntarily reject development on their own property," said resident Rose Ellen Ray.

Several of the Republican supervisors who actually could sway the decisions remained mum about their thoughts on the biggest public policy question local officials have faced in years.

"I have no comment on any of it," said Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run). The court ruled that building restrictions covering two-thirds of the county -- which were imposed after years of public hearings, planning sessions and political posturing -- were invalid because county officials had not clearly described the affected area in a required public notice.

The law generally required 10 or 20 acres to build each home, as opposed to the three acres per home that long had been county policy. The court's ruling, once executed by a lower court, means that the old rules will be restored. At issue in Loudoun now is what that will mean and what, if anything, officials should do about it.

Three board members -- Supervisors James Burton (I-Blue Ridge) and Sarah R. Kurtz (D-Catoctin) and Chairman Scott K. York (I) -- have called on their colleagues to hold a vote Tuesday on whether to fix the court's problem with the notice, to hold a new public hearing and to reenact the tighter rules.

But Bruce E. Tulloch (Potomac), who heads a Republican majority that took power last year after sharply criticizing the previous board's growth-control efforts, determines what gets put on the county's official agenda, and yesterday he declined to say what would happen.

He said he would reveal the board majority's decision today.

The court's action has left some GOP board members in a politically sensitive spot. To slam their predecessors' efforts to control growth was one thing. To be forced to take a clear public position on an issue that could fire up thousands of potential voters is another.

Supervisors also must decide whether they want to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling. Loudoun officials have 10 days after the court's order to apply for such a rehearing.

The court ruled that the county's notice was inaccurate and misleading because it referred to "the western portion of the county" when the area covered by the restrictions actually stretched far into the county's eastern half.

York said the county gave ample notice of its plans and said residents have long described the county's semirural expanse as "western Loudoun."

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