A divided Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted to settle five lawsuits that challenged one element of the far-reaching land-use regulations put in place by the previous board.
At issue in the cases was the previous board's decision to change the zoning of a number of parcels from rural commercial to residential, a change property owners said sharply reduced the value of their land.
Properties zoned rural commercial allow the development of businesses such as carry-out restaurants, banks and veterinary and dental offices. Owners of such properties also can seek special permission to develop hotels, private schools and crematoriums, among other projects.
Proponents of settling the lawsuits said it was in the county's best interests and cited legal advice they said they could not disclose. Opponents said the county should have fought to defend the changes, which they said were intended to promote safe and orderly commercial development.
Board members voted 5 to 3 at their meeting Tuesday, with Chairman Scott K. York (I-At Large) absent, to direct the county attorney to settle the cases and launched the process of amending the county's zoning map to reclassify the disputed parcels as rural commercial. The board majority also called on the Planning Commission to amend county plans to establish rural commercial districts "in strictly limited situations."
"The county attorney made a recommendation, and we agreed with it," said Board Vice Chairman Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac), who said he could not comment further because the settlement is not finalized.
Supervisor Lori L. Waters (R-Broad Run) joined Sally R. Kurtz (D-Catoctin) and James G. Burton (I-Blue Ridge) in voting against settling.
"There are public safety concerns due to the location of these cases," Waters said.
Several of the parcels are on Route 15 near Point of Rocks in the county's northern end. One property is in the Ashburn area. The board resolution to settle the cases noted that the Point of Rocks parcels are adjacent to an existing rural commercial business and that the Ashburn area land also abuts rural commercial property.
Kurtz and Burton supported the disputed zoning changes as members of the previous board. Kurtz said the county supports commercial activities in Loudoun's villages and towns and argued that having rural commercial establishments "strung out" along Route 15 would be hazardous.
"We have difficulty with the commercial that's already there," Kurtz said, citing a history of accidents near Point of Rocks. "This was a matter of public safety, and I felt we should defend it."
The suits were filed last year on behalf of Gas Mart Corp., Nellco LLC and Four Sons Family LLC.
James P. Campbell, one of the attorneys involved with the court challenge, said it "certainly" would be safe to develop commercial establishments near Point of Rocks.
Scores of lawsuits challenging other aspects of the county's zoning rules -- such as those requiring 10, 20 or 50 acres per home in western Loudoun -- are making their way through the court system.
Campbell said he was encouraged by the county's willingness to settle on terms "acceptable to both" sides.
"I think that's good news," he said. "This resolution is one resolution. We hope others will follow."
Supervisor D.M. "Mick" Staton Jr. (R-Sugarland Run) said the resolution was imperfect, but the best that could be reached. "Sometimes the choices you have to make -- one is bad, and the others worse," said Staton, who declined to provide details. "It's a specific thing to these specific cases."
Waters added, "There are ongoing discussions about the remaining cases, and different types of cases, and each one is being examined on its individual considerations."
The board also voted Tuesday to put a $108 million bond referendum before voters in November. The vote would have two parts, with one question seeking authority to borrow $15.4 million to build community centers in the Dulles area and in western Loudoun, to purchase land for a park in Lovettsville and to construct the Franklin Park Performing Arts Center. The much larger $92.6 million referendum would go toward funding school construction.