Loudoun County supervisors held a closed session yesterday to discuss legal challenges to county growth restrictions but decided, for now, against settling the lawsuits before them.
The supervisors were met at yesterday's meeting by more than 100 activists, landowners and others keen to see how the board will resolve suits seeking to overturn building curbs imposed by its predecessors.
Supervisors would not say what was discussed in yesterday's closed meeting.
"We went into executive session, and I'm going to honor the executive session," said board Vice Chairman Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac), who would not say whether he or his colleagues will decide to defend more than 100 lawsuits against the county or move to settle them.
Supervisor James Burton (I-Blue Ridge), a holdover from the previous board and a supporter of its growth restrictions, said Monday that supervisors could have settled key cases as early as yesterday. After the meeting, he called the lack of a formal board decision a positive development.
"No action was taken, and that's good news, in my mind, right now," said Burton, declining to comment further.
The strict building curbs being challenged by the lawsuits were put in place last year after three years of often fierce debate on the future of the nation's fastest growing county. They were enacted by a board controlled by slow-growth advocates who were then ousted in November by a slate of Republican candidates, many of whom say they favor relaxing those restrictions and allowing more growth.
Virginia law allows boards to meet in secret to discuss litigation. Settling the cases could in essence rewrite county plans and zoning rules. At issue in the lawsuits is whether tens of thousands of additional houses worth billions of dollars will be allowed to be built in the county.
Many who gathered in the county government center in Leesburg yesterday held dueling signs -- some printed, some hastily scrawled with markers.
"Save taxes, Don't cave!" read one held by a slow-growth activist. Another, a cartoonish blue sketch with a tsunami of houses towering over a Loudoun map, read "Don't Flood Loudoun."
Members of the pro-development group Citizens for Property Rights and their supporters held signs reading, "Loudoun Says No to Snob Zoning" and "Don't Waste Taxpayers' Money. Settle Lawsuits."
Jack Shockey, the group's president, brought a bottle of Elmer's glue with him and passed it to a supervisor to send the message that supervisors sympathetic to his membership's cause should "stick together."
"Anything that revises this smart-growth mentality in Loudoun County, I'm, 'Hip, hip hooray!' " Shockey said.
Many who came out to monitor possible settlements yesterday were among those who supported the previous board's slow-growth policies. They said they were concerned because the supervisors have been meeting for months in secret to hash out their position on matters put in place after years of public debate.
"Whether you come down on pro-growth or slow growth, the process they are using here is just wrong," said Susan Klimek Buckley, a former assistant county attorney in Fairfax County who lives in Loudoun's Cascades neighborhood. "I'm appalled at what they are trying to do in executive session."
Supervisor Mick Staton Jr. (R-Sugarland Run) said board members are working to find the best resolution for the county.
"We've been having these executive sessions for months. Sometimes we make progress, and sometimes we make no progress at all," Staton said.
Staton, who has been critical of some aspects of the restrictions put in place last year, blamed "misleading rhetoric" for causing undue concern about the lawsuits. He said many of those gathered yesterday advocating all-or-nothing legal confrontation over zoning issues were misguided.
"Sometimes you have to consider the possibility that you settle and work out a compromise and retain the majority of what you've been working for, rather than demand everything, lose the case and end up with nothing," Staton said.
"My question to some of the people in the audience is: Do you want three-fourths of a loaf or no loaf?" he said.
Some activists said they remain concerned that a majority of the board has decided to settle many key lawsuits, which could affect how many houses can be built throughout the county.
"The guillotine is still up there," said Joe Maio, founder of the political action committee Voters to Stop Sprawl.
Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling), a longtime critic of the zoning rules put in place by his colleagues on the previous board, said he expects agreements will be reached in most of the cases.
"The bulk of them will be settled," Delgaudio said.