A request from a developer to be given preferential treatment by zoning officials sent sparks flying at the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday, shedding light on the increasing burden that the county staff is under to accommodate Loudoun's rapid growth.
The clash was touched off by a request, which after sharp debate the board rejected on a tie vote, from the Intergate Co. Inc. to have their plan to build a large complex of automobile dealerships along Rte. 28 in eastern Loudoun "fast-tracked" through the county's zoning procedures. Intergate wanted planners on the county staff to give top priority to evaluating their proposal, instead of the first-come, first-served basis by which most rezoning applications are reviewed.
The county has granted fast-track status to some developments, including Potomac Park, Xerox Corp.'s multibillion-dollar commercial and residential project near Leesburg. But county planners opposed giving preferential treatment to the Intergate project, saying they were already handling a maximum work load.
The county staff is having trouble meeting deadlines for the 200 land development and rezoning applications now before them, and fast-tracking for Intergate would lead to further delays, said Loudoun planning chief Frederick P.D. Carr.
But some supervisors said Intergate's request should be granted nonetheless.
"This boom won't last forever . . . and we should take advantage of it while we can," said Supervisor Steve W. Stockman, arguing that large developments such as Intergate's deserve faster approval than other projects, so that the county can reap the largest amount of new tax revenue, even if the economic climate now fueling growth should turn sour.
Other board members strongly disagreed.
Small projects "are just as big an issue to the small people as the big projects are to the big people," said Chairman James F. Brownell. " . . . There's more to running this government than getting industry in here as fast as we can."
Supervisor Ann B. Kavanagh asked Stockman and fellow Republican Andrew R. Bird III, who also favored the fast-track request, if they would be willing to direct some county staff members away from the redistricting of supervisors' districts to accommodate the Intergate request. The redistricting project, also prompted by massive growth in eastern Loudoun, has been strongly supported by both Stockman and Bird.
That suggestion prompted an angry, fist-banging response from Bird, who charged that the reason the county staff is overburdened by zoning requests is that the county has made its land-use procedures too complex and restrictive.
"What are you willing to give up?" Kavanagh said to Bird. "Andy, you can't have everything."
The Intergate request eventually failed on a 4-to-4 vote. Supporting the fast-track measure were Republican Supervisors Bird, Stockman and Frank I. Lambert, and Democrat Betty W. Tatum. Opposed were Democratic Supervisors Kavanagh, Thomas S. Dodson, Frank Raflo and Republican Brownell.
Tatum argued that the board needs better criteria for deciding what type of developments can be granted fast-track status, and said she will reintroduce Intergate's request once those standards are devised.
At the same time that Loudoun's rapid growth is giving headaches to the county staff, it has caught the interest of the prestigious Institute of Government at the University of Virginia.
The board unanimously approved extending an invitation to the institute to make Loudoun the subject of a study of the problems of local goverments confronted with rapid expansion. Institute Director James A. (Dolph) Norton had requested the invitation, after then-chairman Raflo suggested the idea to him last year.
Norton said in a letter to Raflo that he wanted to send a senior staff member along with one or more graduate students to Loudoun "to take a look at the changes in Loudoun County, the demands these changes place on government, and the strengths and weaknesses of the government as it seeks to meet these challenges."
Raflo called the institute's interest "flattering," and said their study would provide a valuable, independent perspective on the county's problems.
"It won't be one of those things where you pay someone a lot of money to tell you what you want them to tell you," he said.