Nineteen Round Hill landowners, backed by a countywide coalition of environmental groups, have sued the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors in an attempt to overturn the Aug. 7 rezoning of 1,330 acres near Round Hill.

Sterrett v. Board of Supervisors, filed last week in Loudoun County Circuit Court, seeks to have the court declare the rezoning, one of the most controversial in the county's history, "illegal, invalid and void." It contends that the supervisors illegally violated the area's growth plan, called the Round Hill Area Management Plan, by approving the Intergate Co.'s plans to build 1,100 houses and 150,000 square feet of commercial space.

The management plan, adopted in January after 10 years of study, calls for no more than 672 houses on the Intergate property.

The 1,330 acres border Round Hill on the north, east and west.

County Administrator Philip A. Bolen said the lawsuit "was not unanticipated." He said the county would not comment on specifics of the suit, but said that "generally speaking, plans {such as the Round Hill Area Management Plan} are guidelines, and as guidelines, there is a latitude of interpretation."

Bolen said the county has been sued by residents in the past, but he could not remember a case brought by as many landowners.

Work on the Intergate project will not stop while the case is in court, Intergate Vice President Bruce DeAtley said. The company still is finalizing plans for open space within the development and is at least a year away from beginning construction.

The landowners are represented by Daniel D. Smith, a Leesburg lawyer, and are supported with the "time, efforts and money" of On Common Ground, a coalition of 12 environmental groups in the county, including Citizens for Eastern Loudoun's Future, Friends of Route 15, the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Waterford Foundation. On Common Ground is raising funds for the homeowners, who could spend $10,000 to $100,000 on the lawsuit, depending on how long it remains in the courts.

Mary Hockersmith, the coordinator of On Common Ground, said the coalition believes that by approving the rezoning, "which violates the newly adopted Round Hill Area Management Plan, a part of the county's Comprehensive Plan, the board has rendered all growth plans useless." She said citizens should be outraged that 10 years and $40,000 in tax money were spent on the Round Hill plan, only so it could be violated on the first test.

She said the citizens tried petitions, public hearings, meetings and letter writing to prevent the rezoning, and having failed, "we reluctantly must turn to the courts."

Margaret Sterrett, one of the landowners who brought the suit, said most Round Hill area residents wanted fewer than the 672 houses called for in the management plan, but were satisfied that residents, planners, developers and county officials who had a hand in creating the plan had finally reached a consensus.

"Now, everybody should live by it," she said.

The supervisors, who voted 5 to 3 to approve the rezoning, wrestled with the question of whether their action would violate the plan. Eventually, a majority agreed with Supervisor Steve W. Stockman (R-Broad Run) that "the plan is a guide. It is not law."

Supervisors in favor of the development argued that a mixed-use development of "villages," which is called for in the Intergate application, would be better than developing the property at the existing zoning, which calls for one house every three acres.

The suit, which also names the developer, the town of Round Hill and others, also contends that the supervisors "without authority" have given Intergate a monopoly on development in the area, including the right to provide all sewer and water services.

The Intergate property is outside the Round Hill corporate limits and thus the Round Hill Town Council had no official say in the rezoning. Town Attorney Eric Zimmerman said he will attempt to free the town from participation in the suit for that reason.

However, the council repeatedly endorsed the project against the wishes of a majority of town residents. Intergate will use town water and sewer for the project and will pay the town thousands of dollars in hookup fees.

DeAtley said his company worked with county officials and the council for three years, and made two major revisions to its application before winning approval last month.

"We're disappointed that the case was filed," he said. "We don't think there is any basis for it."