Special Tax to Finance New Bridge in Greenlea

By Kafia A. Hosh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 21, 2009

More than a year after Crooked Bridge was severely damaged by flooding, cutting off the 50 residents of the Greenlea community from the rest of Loudoun County, help is on the way. But it won't come cheaply.

Loudoun County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to create a special tax district in Greenlea to finance the replacement of the privately owned wooden bridge with a $400,000 concrete span.

Under the plan, which is supported by a majority of property owners in the tiny neighborhood south of Leesburg, residents will bear the full cost of the project. The Greenlea Homeowners Association will take out a private loan with a 6 percent interest rate, which will cost about $660,000 over a 15-year term. Payments will be divided among the 19 property owners, meaning that each one will pay about $35,000 over the loan's term.

The county has agreed to collect the payments at the same time it collects semiannual real estate taxes. Each property owner will make a payment of $1,158.90 toward the loan when paying the tax bill.

County officials declared the 40-year-old bridge unsafe for cars after floodwaters and debris caused its railings to shift during a storm in May 2008. Despite that warning, residents have been routinely driving over the bridge, preferring to take their chances rather than park on the other side and face a long walk to and from their cars. But with trucks unable to cross, residents have not been able to get delivery of items such as fuel oil and propane tanks.

Fourteen of the 19 Greenlea property owners signed a petition in favor of the tax district.

Karta Clark, president of the homeowners association, said the county's role in collecting the loan payments will ensure that all the property owners pay their fair share.

Supervisors quickly signed off on the plan mainly because it requires no public funds.

"To go through a bridge building process as a public road and a public bridge would take forever" because of the many bureaucratic steps involved, said Supervisor James Burton (I-Blue Ridge), whose district includes Greenlea.

But residents who didn't sign the petition, such as Brian K. Johnson, are concerned.

In a letter to the Board of Supervisors, Johnson said that residents have not received enough details about the terms of the loan and the required insurance for the project.

He also said that the project was too expensive and that "individual landholders should not be in the business of building and maintaining roads and bridges" that are publicly accessible.

Under state law, Johnson and other Greenlea property owners who oppose the tax district have 30 days to appeal the board's decision to Circuit Court.

Clark said that the damage from the flooding compromised the bridge's foundation and that engineers who looked at the possibility of repairing it deemed it a total loss.

"The solution has to have the stamp of approval of an engineer," Clark said. "We talked to a number of them. Nobody would deal with the structure that we had."

Clark said building a new span is the best solution for Greenlea, where many residents fear that another flood could destroy the bridge so completely that no one could cross it.

"When you have to hold your breath when a thunderstorm is coming by -- I mean, how many people have to actually deal with that situation?" he said.

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