A Virginia judge overturned a zoning board's decision yesterday and granted a group associated with political extremist Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. permission to operate a summer camp in Loudoun County.
Culpeper County Circuit Court Judge Vance Fry, ruling in a case that had become a rallying point for county residents troubled by the arrival of supporters of LaRouche in the Northern Virginia county, said the Loudoun Board of Zoning Appeals had no basis under Virginia law to deny the group permission to operate the camp.
Concerns about LaRouche's political views, which dominated public hearings over the camp earlier this year, are not valid grounds for rejecting it, the judge said.
The ruling, which Fry announced from the bench after a day-long hearing, gives Campaigner Publications Inc., the LaRouche-affiliated group, authority to open the camp for children of its employes on a western Loudoun farm this summer.
"The judge made the right decision," said Robert J. Segan, attorney for Campaigner Publications. "The board of zoning appeals made their decision based on the 'Lyndon LaRouche factor.' Obviously, that's not a decision that can be justified as a matter of law."
Fry heard the case after Loudoun's two Circuit Court judges said they could not be impartial over the dispute. It grew out of a February decision by the county zoning board denying an application from Campaigner Publications, which publishes pro-LaRouche political materials, to operate a summer camp for the children of its employes on a farm in western Loudoun.
The group had operated the camp last summer. Rising anger over LaRouche's presence in Loudoun made the camp the focus of several public hearings that drew hundreds of residents to Leesburg.
Loudoun County Attorney Edward J. Finnegan argued yesterday that the camp should be rejected because it was incompatible with county land-use plans, which seek to maintain farmland in the area.
At the hearings before the zoning board and the Loudoun Planning Commission dozens of county residents gave other reasons for their opposition.
Many charged that LaRouche would seek to use the camp as a youth indoctrination center or paramilitary training facility, charges denied by the camp's supporters.
Others, including Loudoun County Supervisor Frank Raflo (D-Leesburg) complained that LaRouche, who lives on a guarded estate near Leesburg, had waged a campaign of intimidation to stifle opposition to the camp.
Officials with Campaigner Publications said the opposition was motivated by political bias against LaRouche, a perennial presidential candidate who last year moved his political operations along with several hundred employes to the county from New York.
"A ruling against them [Campaigner Publications] would have put a political test on the use of property," said Segan.
Finnegan charged yesterday that Fry did not address the land-use arguments he had made in the case. He said he would return to the zoning board to seek a decision whether to appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court.
Typically such appeals take months, which makes it unlikely that Fry's decision will be overturned before the camp opens.
Raflo and others have stated that their camp opposition has been a success because of the attention it has focused on LaRouche.