The proposal to rezone 662 acres of the former Vint Hill Farms Station, the largest such request in Fauquier County history, stirred a response commensurate to the task Monday night.
In a scene reminiscent of the controversial Waterfield residential development hearings more than a year ago, hundreds of residents filled the Warrenton Middle School auditorium to hear, cheer and jeer about 60 speakers who talked about the strengths and weaknesses of the plan offered by the quasi-governmental Vint Hill Economic Development Authority.
The hearing on the Vint Hill proposal preceded a hearing on another controversial issue, on a special exception for the Black Horse Inn, so some in the crowd stayed from the time the Board of Supervisors' meeting started at 6:30 p.m. until the last public hearing was closed about 1:15 a.m. Tuesday.
The Vint Hill hearing, which lasted more than three hours, could be the last significant public input on the matter before a Dec. 20 board meeting, when the supervisors could vote to approve the proposal.
Officials of the Piedmont Environmental Council and their supporters urged the supervisors to delay the decision on the Vint Hill rezoning and pass it over to the next board, which will take office Jan. 4. The new board will have a majority that favors stricter curbs on development, unlike the current board.
The deed to the 695-acre parcel was transferred from the Army to the authority in September after a long debate over what to do with the land. In 1995, the Board of Supervisors approved a reuse plan that encompassed, in broad strokes, the theories of attracting high-technology companies to the property--theories that form the basis for the rezoning proposal.
Once the deed was transferred, the land automatically reverted to an agricultural zoning classification, which means that board action is needed for the new uses envisioned by the authority. Its plan would rezone 257 acres for about 300 new residences and 404 acres for as much as 3.1 million square feet of industrial and commercial space. An additional 32 acres, not included in the rezoning proposal, is owned by the Federal Aviation Administration, which plans to build a major facility.
Jim Stone, president of Concerned Citizens for Fauquier County, said at the hearing that more time is needed to consider the proposal because the proffer package is not lucrative enough. The authority has valued its proffer package at more than $11 million, a figure that some supervisors have disputed.
"Get what the county needs now, because you won't be able to get it later," said Stone, whose group has opposed most of the major development projects in the county in recent years.
Other speakers said the Vint Hill proposal should be delayed because it makes unrealistic assumptions about the availability of transportation money that will be needed to accommodate increased traffic around Vint Hill.
Supporters of the proposal said the time for approval is now.
Former county administrator R. Steven Crosby said a delay would lead to "paralysis by analysis," what he called a favorite tactic of slow-growth activists here.
The speakers included Michael Siegel, a Washington-based economist hired by the Piedmont Environmental Council. His analysis indicates that the Vint Hill proposal would create thousands more jobs than the authority estimated originally.
The higher figure would result in a higher tax burden for current residents, Siegel said, because the extra jobs would lead to an increase in population and a corresponding increase in services required for the new residents.
"The size of the development is far beyond the size that is necessary to create the 3,000 to 4,000 jobs that the EDA says is their goal," Siegel said.
But Morgan Ott III, a Marshall farmer, said the goal of creating more jobs and thus expanding the local tax base is the only way to support agriculture and keep property tax rates low.
"Farming is a noble profession. But nobility doesn't pay the bills," he said, calling Vint Hill "a gift" that would raise new revenues.
Some of the speakers suggested that the private citizens appointed by Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) to serve on the authority's board would benefit from the proposal, a suggestion those members strongly denied.
The supervisors voted unanimously to table the issue until their meeting Dec. 20. Board Chairman Larry L. Weeks (R-Scott) said in an interview after the hearing that he thinks the current board will give its blessing to the Vint Hill proposal then.
"I think the majority on the board would like to see this brought to conclusion," Weeks said.
Action Postponed on Black Horse Inn Request
In other business, the Board of Supervisors also tabled Lynn Pirozzoli's request to amend her original special exception permit for the Black Horse Inn on Meetze Road outside Warrenton. During a public hearing on the request, several speakers took Pirozzoli to task for failing to abide by the terms of the permit, which was granted last summer.
Pirozzoli indicated in a sketch submitted with her original application that she would hold wedding receptions in an area hidden by a hill. Without applying for many of the required permits, she instead built a patio and erected a tent about 135 feet away from her neighbors' home.
Those neighbors, unsettled by noise from the receptions, went to Fauquier zoning officials, who backed them in an attempt to persuade Pirozzoli to move her tent or at least limit the activities there.
"The real question is whether special exceptions are going to be enforced," said John Sherman, owner of the Ashby Inn, speaking against Pirozzoli's request. "We all have to abide by the rules."
Merle Fallon, one of Pirozzoli's attorneys, argued that special exception rules are not enforced consistently. He said that of the 28 similar special exception permits granted in the county for hosting certain types of outdoor events, only six permits received site plan approvals within one year. Pirozzoli's failure to have an approved site plan was one of the issues raised by zoning officials.
Pirozzoli said she is asking the board for the "flexibility that would allow my small business to survive."
Fallon said he would continue negotiations with the county and the neighbors until the supervisors' Dec. 20 meeting.
Putting Weighty Matters Behind Him
Before the public hearings began Monday, Supervisor James R. Green Jr. (I-Marshall), who will retire from the board at the end of the month after 20 years, delivered a commentary on the increasing complexity of county government that drew laughs from the audience.
"I did weigh the board book," he said, holding aloft the packet of materials that supervisors receive in preparation for each meeting, "and it weighed 8 pounds, 2 ounces.
"Used to weigh about a pound."