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Loudoun Cautioned About Swap

County Attorney Cites Park Deal's Complexity

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 23, 2004; Page B01

Loudoun County Attorney John R. Roberts warned in a confidential memo to the Board of Supervisors that a developer's proposal to swap 400 acres of public parkland for tens of millions in road money and a smaller park is potentially illegal and could put the county at risk.

In the e-mail, sent Friday to the county's nine supervisors and four senior staff members, Roberts cautioned the board not to allow the developer, Creekside LLC, to "create a false sense of urgency," and counseled against moving ahead with the extraordinarily complex plan without detailed information.

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"There is no precedent for this proposal," Roberts wrote. "If the developer is telling you that you need to consent before he shows you anything, don't believe it."

A majority on the Board of Supervisors voted to disregard that advice Tuesday, passing a resolution instructing Roberts to begin working with landowners to draft the county's consent. A vote on the final agreement was set for Feb. 1.

Creekside needs the county's consent because the 400-acre Philip A. Bolen Memorial Park site near Leesburg would be turned into a subdivision as part of the deal. "I would strongly urge that you ask for a complete copy of the application prior to providing any consent," Roberts wrote.

The proposal is being put forward by Creekside's Leonard S. Mitchel, who, as a member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, helps oversee the Virginia Department of Transportation. Mitchel said he hopes to help make a county asset -- parkland -- more valuable by securing permission to build a large new community there.

He is asking to build 3,500 to 5,000 homes as part of a town center-style development. Creekside controls about 1,100 acres nearby, and 80 homes are allowed under zoning laws, Mitchel said. About 300 acres would go to the new park, which Mitchel would pay to build, and the rest would be part of his residential and commercial project.

Mitchel said that if the deal is approved, he would allocate $150 million for countywide road improvements as part of the state's public-private transportation initiative. That money could then be combined with about $50 million in public funds already dedicated to Loudoun projects.

It's the potent mix of public and private goals, and his "out of the box" partnership, that make the project viable, Mitchel said.

"The public purpose is the only reason this would move forward. If it wasn't for that, we don't think we'd get off first base with this thing," he said.

Mitchel's dual role as developer and an overseer of state transportation decisions has shaped debate on his proposal.

Mark Smith, a Washington lobbyist who is a member of Loudoun's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, said Mitchel has a "striking conflict of interest."

"Mr. Mitchel needs to make a decision between profit and public service. He can't have it both ways," Smith said.

But Supervisor Mick Staton Jr. (R-Sugarland Run) said it is proper for Mitchel to deal in both the public and private spheres.

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