Vast Building Plan for Loudoun County Finds Itself in Foreclosure

(By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
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By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It was an astonishing plan, even for what was then the nation's fastest-growing county. Executives from a Virginia company called Greenvest LC wanted to transform thousands of acres of open fields and tree-lined gravel roads into a bustling suburb so vast it would have its own hospital and university campus, four elementary schools, a middle school and a high school.

They said it would be a new Reston or Columbia, 35 miles west of Washington -- the biggest development in Loudoun County's history, with more than 15,000 homes filling communities with such names as Greenfields and Broad Run Village.

Now a real estate shopping spree that made the company Loudoun's largest landowner at the height of the nation's housing bubble has been jerked into reverse, with a key lender moving to foreclose on more than 4,100 acres Greenvest companies pieced together for the project. The land is scheduled to be auctioned off Tuesday morning outside the historic red-brick courthouse in Leesburg, provided there is no bankruptcy filing or last-minute deal.

The auction leaves plans for billions of dollars' worth of development distilled in a foreclosure notice that reads like a bad day planner:

10:00 a.m.: 476 acres.

10:20 a.m.: 565 acres.

10:40 a.m.: 1,133 acres.

11:00 a.m.: 1,980 acres.

The sinking fortunes of Greenvest's biggest development tell the story of one company's overreach. But Greenvest is also part of a broader narrative on development in Loudoun, where politicians and economic realities have sent the pendulum on growth policies swinging back and forth for decades. After more than 120,000 people poured into the county this decade, the pace has slowed.

"Everybody said . . . 'Greenvest has got more money than God,' " said Betty Wheeler, who worked in residential real estate and lives with her husband and horses on eight acres beside one of the company's properties west of Dulles International Airport. "They were sort of like a bulldozer coming through. They thought they could do no wrong, and they found out, 'Yes, you can.' "

Greenvest was perhaps the most important private player in a struggle over the direction of the county's growth. The company aggressively tried to sway Loudoun officials to approve its projects. That effort helped blur the line between business and politics. A county official, for instance, cast votes in support of company development proposals despite business ties with another Greenvest firm. A lawyer representing Greenvest said the company did nothing improper.

Authorities announced a broad federal investigation in 2007 into the relationship between officials and development interests in Loudoun, although details of the inquiry remain shrouded in secrecy.

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