The Loudoun County Planning Commission turned down last week a developer's request to build 15 houses on a 130-acre parcel of the 2,056-acre Beacon Hill Farm near Waterford.
Last week's public hearing was the fourth since the Beacon Hill Farm Associates II partnership bought the Catoctin Mountain farm from Saudi Prince Talal two years ago for a little less than $16 million.
Commission members voted it down 5 to 1, citing lack of suitable access roads and proper drain fields for sewage septic tanks. The commission also said it wanted to see subdivision plans for the farm's remaining acreage before proceeding with a decision on this parcel.
James Boyd voted for the proposal, Carol Carington abstained, Patricia Richardson was absent and the remaining members opposed it.
"The whole purpose of the agricultural district in the first place was to allow farming to continue unaffected by people who might move into the area," explained commission member Lynn Adams. "This proposal doesn't do anything to accommodate farming in the area."
"I don't believe you can turn down a subdivision on the basis of a series of minor items," Bill Thomas, an attorney for the partnership, said after the meeting. "The agricultural district has nothing to do with it. I don't think we're supposed to worry about our neighbor's manure."
The Planning Commission's decision came after a two-hour public hearing at the School Board annex in Leesburg before a standing room-only crowd, some of whom watched through open doors from an adjacent room.
Frequently the crowd of 250 cheered or clapped at the end of each of the 15 speeches made against the proposal, often forcing commission Chairman John Stowers to rap his gavel for silence.
"Shall the Catoctin Mountains become a billboard to developments or an inspiration to the public?" Powell Harrison asked the commission. "These mountains are the gateway to western Loudoun. What message do we want to convey to visitors comming here?"
"It's not very often that you find a subdivision of 130 acres in Northern Virginia with only 15 lots on it," Thomas said. "I understand that a lot of people would prefer nothing happens to this farm. But, as property owners, we have the right to do what we want with our property."
In May, the Planning Commission and the Board of Zoning Appeals approved a proposal for the partnership to build a golf course and private club on the property. Construction has not begun on the course.
The Board of Supervisors will make the final decision on the 130-acre parcel.