Supervisors Resurrect Project
Ex-Board Questioned Belmont Glen Costs
By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 17, 2004; Page LZ01
Republican members on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors this week approved a modest housing development in eastern Loudoun that has been the source of controversy over the course of two county boards.
The 196-home Belmont Glen development along Goose Creek was rejected by the previous board after contentious debate over environmental and fiscal issues. The attorney representing the developers was J. Randall Minchew, chairman of Loudoun's Republican Party. Minchew later filed a lawsuit seeking to reverse the board's decision.
Minchew was one of the architects of the GOP's successful bid in November to elect a majority on the Loudoun board, and Tuesday's 6 to 3 vote marked the end of an episode that had blurred the lines between politics and business in the nation's fastest-growing county.
Minchew declined to comment. But GOP supervisors said the project closely adheres to -- and even exceeds -- the standards for development set up by the previous board.
"They are meeting all of the requests that have been asked of them," said Supervisor Mick Staton Jr. (R-Sugarland Run). He said the developers are offering substantial cash, land and road contributions to the county as part of a project that is much less dense than the previous board allowed in the area.
Supervisor Jim G. Burton (I-Blue Ridge), who joined Supervisor Sally R. Kurtz (D-Catoctin) and board Chairman Scott K. York (I-At Large) in voting against the project, argued that the developers had backed away from an earlier pledge to provide a higher cash contribution to the county to offset some of the public costs associated with the development.
"I just wish they would have contributed more. They were able to," Burton said.
Burton and Staton acknowledged the zigzagging nature of the project's recent past. As Staton put it dryly: "This application has had quite an interesting history."
After the former board rejected the project last year, it moved to reevaluate the matter. But supervisors failed to muster a majority when it came time to approve the project in December. The difference was the November election.
Then-Supervisor Charles A. Harris, a Democrat from the Broad Run District, declared he could not consider the project in an unbiased fashion because of his anger at the way Republican candidates, backed by Minchew, ran their campaigns. Harris referred to the GOP winners as the "Minchew Six" and accused Republicans of running deceptive campaigns meant to muddle the county's long-running growth debate and obscure their plan to roll back growth controls put in place by Harris and his colleagues.
That claim was rejected by the successful GOP candidates, who said Harris and his board brethren had failed to manage growth despite the implementation of a series of what opponents termed extremist land-use policies. Harris and other candidates had themselves run bare-knuckled campaigns, Republicans argued.
As one of his final actions in office, Harris said the only proper course, given his overwhelming post-election sentiments, was to recuse himself from voting on Minchew's client's project. And that left Belmont Glen without enough votes for approval.
Earlier this year, the board settled the Belmont Glen lawsuit with Minchew, whose law firm represents scores of clients seeking to overturn the growth-control policies put in place by the last board. That settlement led to Tuesday's party-line decision by GOP supervisors to approve the development by voting to rezone the land.
Despite the cantankerousness of the decision-making process, the Belmont Glen project is relatively small, and the rezoning was supported by the county's planning staff. Even without seeking a rezoning, Belmont Glen's developers could have built 143 houses "by right" or without board approval.
School and other capital costs associated with the larger project approved Tuesday total $6.47 million, according to staff calculations. Those calculations are based on a new, lower set of estimates -- approved by Republican board members in June -- for what each home costs the county.
Costs associated with the smaller, by-right project would have been $4.72 million, according to the staff calculations.
The developers have agreed to provide the county with $2.4 million in cash, land and road contributions for the project, according to county staff. If they had built the smaller project, they would not have had to pay anything.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company