After losing three rezoning cases in circuit court in the last 16 months, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors has changed its attitude toward development, according to county officials and developers.
"Things are turning around out here now, starting to move in a more realistic and rational fashion," said county zoning administrator Joseph Trocino.
The board has begun meeting with developers at earlier stages of rezoning applications, said Trocino. For their part, developers have also grown more cooperative in meeting the requests of the zoning department about issues such as density, road locations, swimming pools and other amenities.
"It's in the interest of the board to negotiate these applications, since the development will occur anyway," said Trocino. "Personally, I'd rather see dollars spent on public services than on lawyers to fight a hopeless cause."
Trocino estimates the county's population will double in the next 20 years from its current 57,000 persons. Since 1960, Loudoun's population has increased by nearly 34,000, but the county experienced little growth in the last decade until recently, largely due to the hard line positions of its boards.
Loudoun supervisors showed a new willingness to negotiate, however, when they signed a preliminary agreement March 6 with Carl M. Freeman Associates and the Hanson Development Company. The board approved plans for construction of 684 townhouses and apartments on a 98-acre tract on the edge of suburban Sterling Park that was still zoned for agricultural residential use it was the first rezoning suit against the board in recent years to be settled out of court.
"Perhaps this is the way we should handle this sort of thing a lot more," board Chairman George Yeager said following the agreement. "We have the opportunity to gain a lot more for the county when we have a reasonable request. It is often a matter of detail and negotiation."
The board signed a second agreement June 9 that settled a 9-year-old dispute with the owners of 1,289 acres in eastern Loudoun near Sugarland Run known as the Levitt tract. The case was to come before circuit court judge Carleton Penn July 24.
According to the agreement, the board will rezone the property from A3, which allows one residential unit per three acres, to PDH12, a planned community designation. That will permit the eventual construction of about [WORD ILLEGIBLE] houses, townhouses and apartments for about 8,500 persons, roughly the number now living in Leesburg.The company owning the property, Four Thirty Seven Development Corporation, agreed to dedicate sites for three schools.
Conversations have also begun between County Attorney Stephen P. Robin and the owners of 1,178 acres on the Potomac River in eastern Loudoun known as the Cascades tract. An investors group headed by Warren Montorri of Shannon and Luchs has sued the board to rezone the property from A-3 to PDH-12 to allow construction of 3,215 houses, townhouses, garden apartments and high rises.
In addition, litigation is underway between the board and the owners of three other tracts, two in the Leesburg area and one near Sugarland Run, which together could add some 9,400 residents to the county.
Many of Loudoun's undeveloped areas are zoned A-3, including some eastern locations where water, sewer, roads and schools now exist. This apparent contradiction between rural zoning and suburban services has caused the board of supervisors much trouble in its efforts to control growth in these areas, especially when developers have offered to limit the density of their projects to three units per acre or less, as called for in Loudoun's still effective 1969 comprehensive plan.
One developer who has used this contradiction to his advantage is B. Mark Fried, a partner in the Springfield law firm of Fried, Fried, and Klewans, who has successfully pursued rezoning of four tracts in eastern Loudoun in the last 18 months to allow future construction of some 900 houses. One of these properties, the 80-acre Gateway to the World near Sugarland Run, was rezoned by the board of supervisors under court order April 17, following a trial argued by Fried's wife, Barbara.
"I think the board has now seen the light," said Fried. "They've realized they cannot stop zoning. They've lived in fear of growth without ever experiencing it. But now they've adopted a more realistic attitude."
The board's loss of the Gateway case, considered by many supervisors the county's strongest case, undoubtedly contributed to its current mood of reconciliation. But the high-water mark of its antigrowth spirit was more likely set by its loss of the Lamko Woods case Dec. 22, 1976, which cleared the way for this year's development of the 123-acre Forest Ridge subdivision in Sterling Park.
In that case, developer Jim Lewis agreed to provide certain amenities to the residents of Forest Ridge, following his victory in court, although he was not compelled to do so. That may have shown the board the advantages of cooperating with a reasonable applicant, according to Trocino.
The losses of the Gateway and Lamko Woods cases "knocked the socks off everybody," said Broad Run District supervisor Carl Henrickson, the only board member favoring an appeal of Gateway to the Virginia Supreme Court.
Henrickson acknowledged a new willingness to negotiate on the board's part, as illustrated by the Woodstone agreement, but said it was an interim measure rather than a new trend. The board negotiated Woodstone because no experts could be found to argue the county position, he said. "But once the new comprehensive plan is in effect, the area for negotition will be gone."
Until then, the supervisors will be more or less compelled to negotiate with rezoning applicants, given recent court decisions. In Lerner v. the Board of Supervisors, for example, Circuit Court Judge Rayner Snead admonished the board for cutting off talks with potential developers of a regional shopping center in eastern Loudoun.
"If the county sets up a master plan," said Judge Snead, "and says it's a guideline and sets out standards for specific areas and a contractor relies on the plan when he buys land, works with county officials, says 'What else do you want?' and they say 'That's it,' isn't it only reasonable for the board to say, 'Look Mr. Developer, we have all of these problems you haven't covered yet,' rather than 'Chop! off with your head?'"
Judge Snead ruled against the board in this case Jan. 30, strengthening the role of master plans in future rezoning decisions and spurring Loudoun officials to complete their new comprehensive plan, which is not expected until late this summer.
There is one factor now playing in favor of slow growth partisans, however, and that's the virtual disappearance of sewer capacity in eastern Loudoun in the last year. According to Sanitation Authority director Ken Shelton, only 47,000 gallons a day of uncommitted capacity remains in this part of the county, enough for fewer than 200 new houses. About 800,000 gallons a day of capacity has been committed to developers who are not now using it.
This shortage of sewer capacity might well slow down development despite successful rezonings, at least until Fairfax County completes its planned pump-down to the Lower Potomac Treatment Plant near Ft. Belvoir. That project, which could add one million gallons a day to Loudoun's sewer capacity, according to Shelton, is waiting for federal funding and will probably not be operational until 1980 at the earliest.