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Growth Foes Seek to Divide Loudoun in Two

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 16, 2005; Page B01

Gathered around folding tables in a cramped community center room decorated with a watercolor of an idyllic red barn, three dozen secessionists plotted to cut Loudoun County in two.

There was a Web designer, a software programmer, a geographer, a government investigator, a pet sitter, several local officials and much talk of revolution. Their goal: to form a more perfect county, or at least a less developed one, by breaking away from more suburban Loudoun.

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"Just as the Founding Fathers freed themselves from the yoke of the British, this is a similar effort," said Robert W. Lazaro Jr., an aide to county board Chairman Scott K. York (I) and member of the town council in the western Loudoun community of Purcellville. The group met there last week and will do so tonight.

Those assembled live in the vast expanse of semirural Loudoun that was the subject of a Virginia Supreme Court ruling two weeks ago. The ruling threw out strict growth limits and reopened a furious debate on the future of the nation's fastest-growing county.

Supervisors held an extended closed session on their legal options yesterday and voted to settle a number of outstanding lawsuits challenging the county's 2003 zoning law. Members of the Republican-led board said they are coming up with a process for setting policies on development in the western two-thirds of the county.

Current and former state officials who have spent decades studying the way new political lines are drawn in the commonwealth say the bid by the band of Loudouners to create two counties out of one faces extreme, if not insurmountable, obstacles.

Even so, the fact that it exists "maybe is a notice to those in political authority that all is not well," said M.H. Wilkinson, who headed the Virginia Commission on Local Government under six governors, Republican and Democrat. But, he added, "it is really a politically difficult solution."

Allowing Loudoun to split would require getting the General Assembly's approval to let all Virginia counties to break up under certain circumstances, a prospect that could cause lawmakers in areas with other simmering political beefs to balk, he said. "People would say, 'Let's don't put that fat in the fire,' " Wilkinson said.

The idea's backers insist that their proposal is no political stunt. They've been debating what they would name their new home. Catoctin County, a reference to local mountains, had backers last week. So did Western Loudoun County.

"We're having our first family spat," said Karl Phillips, another Purcellville council member.

They also have debated how far east the new county should stretch. For the moment, they have settled generally on Loudoun's two western magisterial districts. Whether the tax base could support schools and other services necessary for a separate county remains unsettled.

The advocates are sure, however, that they would impose strict zoning in their new county to control building that has transformed some rural areas into subdivisions of upscale houses on three acres apiece. Three-acre zoning is due to return after the court's ruling, which eliminated rules generally requiring 10 to 20 acres per house. Denser development also is being pushed around towns.

"If the Virginia Supreme Court won't help us, and the Virginia legislature won't help us and the local legislature won't help us, we've got to help ourselves," said Purcellville resident David Eno. "We're darn well sick and tired of being bullied by the developers and the big money."

Some in western Loudoun, however, balked at the idea.

"That's sort of asinine. I don't think you'll ever see that happen," said Peter Olechnovich, a Purcellville resident who works in development finance.

He was among those in a group with varied opinions that appealed to supervisors on growth policies yesterday. Citing the spirit of Thomas Jefferson, Olechnovich said: "Loudoun has suffered under the tyrants' rule for too long."

Supervisors voted yesterday to settle lawsuits brought by the family of Jack Shockey, leader of a pro-development group called Citizens for Property Rights. The settlement will allow home building on land zoned for industry near Dulles International Airport.

Supervisors also voted to settle other suits by agreeing not to appeal an earlier Circuit Court ruling that threw out environmental rules designed to protect streambeds.

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