With two members absent, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors last week killed by a 3-to-3 vote a proposed amendment to a subdivision ordinance that Supervisor Steve Stockman said was necessary to attract industry to the county.
The current ordinance, which became effective Dec. 1 after nearly three years of debate, defines all land divisions as subdivisions and allows no subdividing without a special waiver. That waiver, combined with other paper work required by the new ordinance, could delay development projects 60 to 90 days, Stockman said. The proposed amendment would have allowed developers to avoid going through the Planning Commission if they were dividing their land into no more than two parcels, each at least 20 acres.
Seven lucrative commercial development contracts in eastern Loudoun are being delayed by the new ordinance, Stockman told the board, and they may fall through, costing tax dollars. The new ordinance, he said, has had a "chilling effect" on all such development in the county.
County officials say the ordinance was adopted by a 7-to-1 vote in November because the old one was a "patchwork quilt" that had a myriad of problems. Among other things, they said, it allowed owners to subdivide their land into 10-acre lots without going through the Planning Commission process, a practice some supervisors saw as leading to the loss of farmland. According to supervisor Frank Lambert, who said he voted for the ordinance "with reservations," farmers had been subdividing their land into 10-acre lots against the time they would not be able to pay their bills or their taxes or farm their land any longer. "If you actually wanted to buy one of those lots today you would be refused," Lambert said. "It was simply a kind of insurance for the farmer that he doesn't have now."
Stockman was the dissenter in November.
Stockman said his reason for proposing the amendment was Finance Director Kirby Bowers' explanation for Loudoun County getting A and A1 bond ratings last month. Bowers had said, "Our commercial and industrial picture looks good for the future, but it's not in the ground yet." County officials had hoped for higher bond ratings from the Standard & Poor's and Moody's bond rating agencies in New York.
Said Stockman, "We say this county needs a better tax base; we say we don't want to raise taxes; we say we want a better bond rating. But the 5,000 acres that can be commercially developed in the county could sit idle with this new ordinance. Those acres already have water and sewers and roads. Their development is compatible with our comprehensive plan. But this ordinance could result in Loudoun losing some valuable development unless we amend it." Stockman said he got his information from Loudoun real estate broker William Bryant.
Chairman Frank Raflo said he voted against the amendment because the ordinance was nearly three years in the making and has been tested for only two months. "I saw no reason to put the staff to all that work again just because Mr. Stockman knows some real estate broker who doesn't like it."
Another Stockman proposal -- putting bumper stickers on cars that would identify their occupants as convicted drunk drivers -- was defeated in a 5-to-1 vote. The Broad Run representative said he based his proposal on a recent newspaper story that said 10 convicted drunk drivers in Midwest City, Okla., had been ordered by the municipal court to put such bumper stickers on their cars. Some board members said the proposal was unenforceable. Said supervisor Anne Kavanagh, "If your 16-year-old son were convicted of drunk driving, whose car would the sticker go on? Yours or your wife's?"
In other business, the board accepted a report from its internal operations committee that included a proposal to evaluate the county administrator and the county attorney formally. According to committee chairman Andrew Bird, elected officials are accountable to the voters, county officials are evaluated by their superiors "but the process of evaluating our top appointed officials has always been rather loose."
The performance appraisal form that the board accepted includes such judgments as:
* Meets the board's overall objectives and goals.
* Represents the Board of Supervisors and the county.
* Determines future county needs.
County Administrator Phil Bolen, County Attorney Edward Finnegan and the eight-member board may change any part of the form before it goes to a formal vote in April. Bird said the board has no problems with Bolen and Finnegan. "This is an ounce of prevention, not a pound of cure," he said.