A Charleston, S.C., developer, deterred by a hostile reception from residents of the Middleburg area, has backed down on his plans to carve up a 389-acre farm about 3 1/2 miles from the town limits.
Last week, developer Donald V. Hyde announced that he had withdrawn his proposal to build 61 housing units on a farm north of Middleburg.
Instead, the developer said he would divide the property into five or six sites of about 50 acres each and a 100-acre site.
Hyde's company, Hunt Country Properties, purchased the property, now known as Trough Hill, in April for $2.4 million from Henry Loomis.
"My consultants said I should consider backing down because of reaction in the community," Hyde explained last week. "They recommended that I reconsider my proposal."
Grafty, Sheridon and MacMahon, Hyde's consultants and the financiers of Trough Hill, are based in the Middleburg area.
"Had I known there would be the emotional reaction that resulted, I would never have proceeded with the plan in the first place," Hyde added. "It's not my policy to challenge zoning laws, especially when it can have the perception of threatening people's life styles."
"There's an antidevelopment feeling around this area," said Ann MacMahon, one of the investors in Trough Hill. "A heavy density development is probably not a wise thing to do here."
"The plan was changed because everybody thought it was an intelligent thing to do," MacMahon said. "There are two or three other places in the area being sold off in 50-acre tracts and that provided the key as to what was acceptable and would make everybody happy."
Area residents reacted to the subdivision proposal shortly after April 17 when Hyde submitted his 61-unit proposal to the Loudoun County Planning Commission. Although the plan appeared to meet western Loudoun's rural A3 zoning restrictions (one house per three acres), residents complained that local water supplies and services could not support such a large development.
Administrators from Foxcroft School for girls, which borders the controversial site, told the Middleburg Town Council that the proposed development would adversely affect the school.
A Foxcroft hydrology instructor said the subdivision would put severe demands on the groundwater supply, which, he said, was already stretched to its limits. School officials also said they thought approval of the development would give a green light to greater development of western Loudoun.
County authorities also had concerns about the water supply. The county Department of Natural Resources completed a preliminary review of Hyde's proposal June 8 and questioned the land's capability to provide adequate water and drainage for 61 units.
"Looking at the soils on this property, a county soil scientist said approximately eight of the proposed sites don't have soils suitable for draining, and that there were quite a few other lots that were questionable," said DNR environmentalist Natalie Pien. "We're not sure what type of geology is under this site. When we get to a property of this size, we automatically get concerned about groundwater supply."
Several residents asked Middleburg town officials to protest the subdivision plan. However, officials said they were powerless to act because the site was outside the town's jurisdiction.
But Middleburg Mayor Loyal McMillin did comment on the project in his weekly column in The Loudoun Times-Mirror: "The number of wells that have gone dry during this period of drought have certainly been an indication that all is not well with our underground supply . . . . Now is the time that we should consider our water usage fully as carefully as we consider our land usage. The prospect of having to use recycled water is distasteful to us."
The controversy came to a boil last week when more than 300 residents attended a citizens meeting on the proposed development at the Middleburg Community Center. The meeting was one of several that had been organized since April by the Goose Creek Association, a local nonprofit, conservation citizens group. Goose Creek is a stream encircling western Loudoun County.
"Our purpose is to inform the community on developments that might adversely effect the area around Goose Creek," said Rodion Cantacuzene, the group's president. "In this case the developer submitted a plan for the development of a block of houses that in my opinion was a threat to the local water supply."
Rather than informing the community about the 61-unit development, the Goose Creek meeting became a forum for the announcement of Hunt Country Properties' new proposal of from five to six houses, which the developers had made earlier in the day.
"As far as I'm concerned, they reacted to the concerns of the local people and generously withdrew their application," Cantacuzene said. "We had no expectations whatsoever that this would happen. All we wanted to do was inform the community. We weren't going out there waving a bloody shirt."